Let's hear it for the introverts!
First of all, I need to make this clear - I am an introvert.
Yes, I have an active social media profile which screams of self-promotion which I work on daily; I am a presenter, speaker, teacher, coach and performer - and one of my most well received sessions is on public speaking; I have many an album of photos with friends - usually getting them involved with something I'm doing in front of a camera, and I am a pretty good organiser and host. But I'm an introvert.
The terms “introversion” and “extraversion” are colloquially understood as “extraverts are outgoing and introverts are quiet loners”. This – albeit common – misunderstanding is an oversimplification of psychoanalyst Carl Jung’s original approach. According to Jung[AT1] these two concepts are attitudes – “Each person seems to be energised more by the external world (extraversion) or the internal world (introversion)”.
As with any preference, an extravert can perform well in a quiet setting, and the introvert vice versa, they are best energised by situations relating to their preference. (There are also “ambiverts” who are people who may enjoy specific group company and specific quiet pursuits.)
If you don't believe me, let's break down what you do see (and let this also be a lesson on why social media is NOT real life!):
I present/teach/perform - all of which I am skilled in, all of which I have planned and rehearsed meticulously. I know my job so I can speak on many subjects within its overall field, and with regards to acting - I can express lines beautifully (rehearsal, planning and talent in interpretation & delivery) but have you ever seen me improvise? I don't do it - and I'm very bad at it!
I coach - again - I'm good at my job. I know who my clients are, I reflect on their notes, I know my craft so can use it to provide appropriate support - again, my interactions are defined.
I have an album of group activities - most of which I've organised - you know your role as a host (or as a theatre director) and you can worry about how everyone is rather than make small talk (which I'm terribly awkward at); and let's look closer - it's generally with the same people...the ones with whom I'm really comfortable!
I instigate getting others in front of a camera - yes, as I said, I'm very professional and very persuasive!
I enjoy solitude, it gives me time to re-energise. Like many of you who feel similar, it’s not that we “introverts” can’t deal with social situations (despite the above, some of you may still assume I'm an extravert) – but, as I said, I know my job, I can “turn it on” when occasion calls (my husband calls it my "Carnival Queen persona"), but it's extremely exhausting and I need time to myself to recharge. If I hang around at home, it's not personal to you - it's personal to me...and also because I don't want to make you feel awkward at my awkwardness if "Carnival Queen" isn't fully tiara-ed up!
However, I'm probably also lucky because while my authentic self likes to curl up with my dog and a book, my adaptive self is - well - good at the social charm. (This may be because of the profession I'm in, perhaps it's just a skill that I was able to learn naturally). But that's the key - it is a learned skill - and it is that (ie the ability to learn) which needs to be praised - if any of it requires praise. And, as such I also wanted to list why introversion, even without an outgoing adaptive persona, has a huge amount to be positive about:
1. The world is full of “social” and “solitary” situations.
If you need others to help you recharge after working alone it is not always easy to find people exactly when you need them – everyone has their own life. As an introvert, solitary time may be refreshing, and you are likely to be quite self-sufficient in your recharge pursuits.
It may be worth, however, being mindful of the small group of people with whom you do feel comfortable and try to make plans to see them once in a while – just as an option.
2. You don’t often need someone else to motivate you.
If you want to do something, you might find that “how to” video or seek out the information yourself. You don’t mind trying things out on your own, you enjoy your own company on walks and over a meal or a coffee.
However, you may find it can be hard to ask for help sometimes – so remember that there is often a lot of help out there, but it’s also ok to choose carefully who you come back to. It’s ok to cancel after the initial enquiry.
3. You’re never “lonely”.
Loneliness is sometimes confused with “isolation” – the latter is being physically alone, the former is a feeling of sadness because friends and family are not there. You may be very happy knowing your friends and family are around, but you don’t need to see them all the time.
Don’t fear telling people, you love them, you think of them, but you don’t always need to see them. It’s ok to enjoy solitude. Maybe find different ways of showing you care such as a handwritten note or a video message.
4. You’re less affected by social media “competition”.
It seems everyone is an “expert” these days and it can be quite easy to be influenced into thinking you need to do certain things a certain way. Not you though, rather than seeking external validation (which you may never receive) you are quietly confident with what works for you.
However, keep an open mind when it comes to alternative options. When you have more choices available, you can be even more effective – so watch, read and learn widely, but know it’s ok to still choose a tried path.
5. You’re not usually “bored”.
You’ll often have enough to keep you occupied, but that doesn’t mean you’ll always make efficient use of time. Especially not if you have a tendency to get focused “in the zone” to the exclusion of other things.
Have a routine, and try to stick to it as much as you can, for example if working from home try to keep relatively set hours for work and breaks, as well as separate locations in order to separate business and pleasure. Checklists may also work well for you.
6. You think things through.
Often, when others are thinking about what they are going to say next, you are pondering the situation and so when you make a contribution it’s good one. The only problem is that sometimes, the conversation may have already moved on.
Consider using a notepad to write your ideas and thoughts so that you have something to refer to . If “put on the spot” you can look at your ideas and remain unflustered.
7. When you have a comfortable social circle you really can be "you"
Sometimes if you have built up an image and people are attracted to that image, you can be conflicted over whether you want to show "the real you". As an introvert, the image is often work-related, and as such that "professional uniform" can be hung up without surprising your nearest and dearest.
However, be open to introducing more people into that circle of trust.
8. You HAVE said social circle with whom you can be "you"
Linked to the above point, I have clients who often say to me "I'm invited to everything and I don't want to go"...or "I have so many 'friends' but no-one I connect with." As an introvert, you will likely have taken time to build your friendship network, so you aren't at a loss for people you can call and say "I've had such a day..." - you are not expected to "be strong" for everyone because some people see beneath what you project.
One thing I learned however, is that it's important to keep building your solo confidence. It's wonderful to have core friends, but it's also tempting to think that you need them as part of your protective armour. Once in a while try pushing yourself to do something new, or something you have wanted to do - on your own.
There are indeed advantages if your preference falls on the introversion side of the scale, but as behaviour is so dynamic, sometimes the best we can always do is:
- How am I best energised? (eg. With people I love? Alone? Engaged in a hobby?)
- How often do I do this?
- How can I make more time for it?
…and then do it.
[AT1]Jung, C. G. (1921) Psychologische Typen, Rascher Verlag, Zurich – translation H.G. Baynes, 1923.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; watch her psychology & coaching masterclasses on YouTube Or catch her hosting Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV where she and her team discuss how psychology affects our behaviours in the workplace and what we can do about it. Follow her on Twitter/IG @draudreyt