Care and Feeding of Your Introvert

I originally wrote this post for another site, but it remains to be one of my most commented / referred essays.  It fits in here.

Myths About Introverts

I was recently in need of some educational credits for a certification, and I decided to check out a book about introverted leadership. To my dismay, I quickly discovered that the book was written by an extrovert. I gave up about halfway through the small tome, feeling somewhat icky.

After stewing on the issue for a while and writing a scathing review on Amazon, I decided to set the record straight regarding those whom society has judged based on their personality types. I have a personal hypothesis that geeky pursuits tend to appeal more towards introverts for a number of reasons, and so introversion may be overrepresented in that crowd. Feel free to use the following as a quick and easy reference for understanding the introverts that walk among us.

Myth: Introverts are shy and socially incompetent.

The first thing you need to understand about introversion is that it is all about energy. Where does your energy come from and what causes you to burn it? Introverts live in their heads, where they indulge rich and vivid imaginations. They charge their batteries with solitary activities where their minds are free to wander and explore. By contrast, extroverts live outside of their head, processing their thoughts out loud and gaining energy through interactive experiences.

Introverts are not shy. They simply do not feel the need to verbally share every thought that crosses their mind. Find a topic that interests an introvert or something about which they are passionate and you will find more conversation than you bargained for. At times, an introvert may seem unresponsive, but in fact they may be internally processing what is being discussed. Unfortunately, conversations often leave introverts behind, moving on to other topics before they have fully processed their thoughts. This reinforces the stereotype of shyness.

Myth: Introverts are afraid to speak in public.

Speaking in public is a skill, just like social skills or any other. It can be developed and honed through practice and training. You would be surprised at the number of actors, instructors, and professional speakers who are actually introverts. Anyone can be afraid of speaking in public, and being an extrovert does not give one a natural advantage at the skill. We have all seen the person who gets to a microphone, is obviously quite nervous, and then won’t shut up. Their abundance of words does not make them a good public speaker. It makes them an embarrassment. An introvert that overcomes a fear of speaking and hones that skill may actually make a better speaker, remaining succinct, entertaining, and on topic.

Myth: Introverts don’t like to socialize

Correction: Introverts don’t like to socialize with large groups of strangers making small talk about topics that do not interest them. To an introvert, that is a waste of words and emotional energy. Introverts prefer small groups of close friends discussing things about which they are passionate.

Myth: Introverts don’t have any friends.

Think in terms of breadth versus depth. An extrovert is more likely to have a broad group of people they refer to as “friends,” but an introvert might refer to those same people as “acquaintances.” Placing value on their private lives and thoughts, introverts may bring fewer people into that inner circle. It is mostly semantics. Introverts may have many friends, but only a few that they consider “close friends.” Extroverts are certainly capable of deep relationships, but may not draw clear boundaries between those and others they know.

Myth: Introverts are a minority.

This is actually a myth that stems from bad data that has been quoted and requited until it has become its own source reference. ((Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength, by Laurie Helgoe Ph.D. – an excellent read, if you are so inclined)) The collective results of years using instruments like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator has shown that introverts, like most personality traits, represent half of the American population if not a little more. The problem is that we have created a culture that values extroversion. Professional expectations, the entertainment industry, and pervasive myths place introverts at a cultural disadvantage for success.

Myth: Introversion is a disability to overcome.

Baloney. Knowing that I am an introvert does not communicate anything about my skills and abilities. It tells me how I gain and spend my emotional energy; what will feed my soul or drain me. I don’t need to “overcome” anything in order to communicate effectively, manage people, or be productive. I just need a little self awareness.

Introvert husbandry is not such a difficult line of work. If you find yourself in a position to care for an introvert, understanding how their brain works will go a long way to smooth the road in developing your relationship. If you consider yourself to be an introvert, remember that a little self awareness is good for anyone. Understand the myths that exist out there, the expectations of an extroverted society, and your own natural tendencies, and you won’t seem like such a weirdo.

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