The world is split into two types of people, me and everyone else. More helpful than that, it is divided between Introverts and Extroverts. The world is ruled and dominated by extroverts, perhaps because introverts don’t want to speak up. Introverts make up roughly a third of the general population but are often overlooked or worse still looked down on as being a bit miserable or unsocial.
As an introvert I can say this is entirely untrue and there are a great deal misconceptions dished out to us more quiet folk. To a degree what makes extroverts happy, isn’t what makes introverts happy. Extroverts respond and enjoy external stimulation whilst introverts are more self reliant and self-reflective. That doesn’t mean that introverts aren’t happy or indeed don’t like meeting people but they do often like their own company.
One of the basics that most on both sides of the divide can agree upon is that extroverts gain energy and enthusiasm from interactions and events whilst introverts gain their energy from solitude, peace and quiet and me-time.
Lots of people confuse shyness and introverts but this isn’t necessarily the case. Extroverts who enjoy the company of lots of people can by shy and rather observe events rather than be the centre of attention themselves. Introverts can be very at ease with speaking and dealing with people, it is just that they don’t require the external interactions in the same way as extroverts do.
Lots of public figures can also be introverts. Bill Gates would happily speak to convention halls of hundreds of people but he never gave the impression that he were the life of the party. Indeed some actors and musicians are introverts; they enjoy the craft of acting or making music but want nothing to do with the fame or the media. Shy people fear public interaction, introvert people just don’t live for it like extroverts do. Of course you do get shy introverts too.
Extroverts often like to talk and be the centre of attention. Introverts talk when they feel they have something worth saying. Sometimes they’ll like listening to extroverts talking away, other times we’ll think to ourselves better to stay quiet and be thought an idiot than talk a lot and confirm it. Introverts generally don’t like small talk. Partly because it is hard work feigning an interest in things that don’t really matter, if they are going to take the time and effort to meeting people then they at least want to make it worthwhile and not talk about work, the weather, your kids. As introverts don’t like hearing other people small-talk, they also don’t like doing it themselves because either they are uncomfortable with doing so or because they know how bored other peoples small-talk is to them that they really really don’t want to do it themselves.
Introverts do need their moments of quiet, they don’t just need them, they like them. For me, often the best day imaginable is to do what I want to do, on my own. If I had the choice to have an all expenses day out with 10 friends or have the house to myself then I would enjoying my own space every time.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy going to the cinema or eat out but in my own way I can make my own entertainment and happiness by myself. More extroverted people tend to think this is a bit sad but this is often because as extroverts they prefer the company of people and to be actively doing things, when they don’t they feel lonely and sad. Introverted people generally don’t get lonely at least not for much longer periods of time than it would take an extrovert to get bored stiff.
When we do meet people, introverts prefer a different style of interaction than extroverts. Introverts tend to have fewer friends but value them and know them all the better for it. We relate and have fun with people in different ways. When we have people round to our home, my wife would invite as many as could fit in the house or garden whereas I’d much prefer one, two if necessary but not 6, 8 or 10 friends. We choose quality over quantity. Extroverts tend to have very wide circle of friends but to a more superficial level. In a way, if you are friends with an introvert you should be honoured as that means they think you are worth the effort and energy. All the introverts I know are the same, they all like their friends much more than the average extrovert.
Introverts can also be great leaders. In my experience it is the extroverts that get listened to at work. If a manager is an extrovert and they have extrovert staff, they won’t both listening to the introverts as the enthusiasm of the extroverts makes the decision for them. Even when they are both clearly wrong and everyone else who hears it knows it. People like Abraham Lincoln and Gandhi were both introverts and introverts can be excellent speakers as they are more likely to prepare beforehand rather than try and rely on natural speaking talent which though they might have, often they don’t have as much as what they think they do and it doesn’t take an introvert long to pick up when an extrovert is taking nonsense. By not engaging with introverts, companies and countries are in effect not using their people to maximum effectiveness in a similar way to how it used to be when women were not encouraged to work or hold public office or ethnic minorities were barred from certain professions.
As well as the negative stereotypes levelled at introverts, often assumptions are made that introverts are “more intelligent, more reflective, more independent, more level-headed, more refined, and more sensitive”. Many, perhaps even the majority of scientists, writers and artists have been introvert from Albert Einstein to Marcel Proust and Charles Darwin to Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh of course also suffered from depression which is something that introverts are more at risk from because they spend more time analysing things than everyone else. Extroverts of course are just as intelligent and clever but sometimes their best work or inventions are done when they are having a contemplative moment.
Are you an extrovert or an introvert? There are no hard and fast rules and it is possible to have a middle ground where people are similar, extreme extroverts that you either love or hate and would like to shut up just for a moment and extreme introverts who people might think are about to shut up that extrovert forever!
I like getting my energy from active involvement in events and having a lot of different activities. I’m excited when I’m around people and I like to energize other people. I like moving into action and making things happen. I generally feel at home in the world. I often understand a problem better when I can talk out loud about it and hear what others have to say.
The following statements generally apply to me:
- I am seen as “outgoing” or as a “people person.”
- I feel comfortable in groups and like working in them.
- I have a wide range of friends and know lots of people.
- I sometimes jump too quickly into an activity and don’t allow enough time to think it over.
- Before I start a project, I sometimes forget to stop and get clear on what I want to do and why.
I like getting my energy from dealing with the ideas, pictures, memories, and reactions that are inside my head, in my inner world. I often prefer doing things alone or with one or two people I feel comfortable with. I take time to reflect so that I have a clear idea of what I’ll be doing when I decide to act. Ideas are almost solid things for me. Sometimes I like the idea of something better than the real thing.
The following statements generally apply to me:
- I am seen as “reflective” or “reserved.”
- I feel comfortable being alone and like things I can do on my own.
- I prefer to know just a few people well.
- I sometimes spend too much time reflecting and don’t move into action quickly enough.
- I sometimes forget to check with the outside world to see if my ideas really fit the experience.
Most introverts are good at putting on an act if needed. They can go to a function or party and talk each and everyone in the room to death if needed. Due to societal pressure that everyone be extrovert and overtly confident, introverts often have to act this way but deep down and often not that deep, they’ll be looking forward to getting back home and having a cup of tea and some peace and quiet. Whereas for an extrovert, meeting all these people is energising and fun, for introverts it can be a bit draining and need some time to get over.
At any company event I have been too the attendees can be split into groups. Those who were clever enough to find a good excuse not to attend. Those who are forced to attend and hate every minute and would much rather just talk to the one or two introverts in quiet about something meaningful but they can’t because they can’t here themselves think or speak due to the others competing with each other and telling the whole room how brilliant they are.
Some of the differences could even be down to nationalities and the way people are brought up. Being English, we weren’t ever encouraged to believe that we were the best children even if we were. Some societies such as British, Japanese and German just have a natural inclination towards a quiet reservation. Being loud or a little extrovert can come over as overbearing or even rude as it breaks social taboos. Many Mediterranean and Arab countries are less strict and don’t have so many societal rules to stay quiet whereas America is at the other extreme in that many people are brought up to believe they are important and the best in a way that wouldn’t happen in China. There are also big differences between people in a city and people in the countryside. Someone from a busy city in a quieter country like London or Tokyo are probably going to be more outgoing than someone living in a tiny farmstead in the USA. It’s impossible to generalise though as there are still millions of introverted Americans and extroverted English.
I live on the edge of London and find it all too loud and busy even though there is a big grassy field right opposite my home. I would quite happily live in a farm in the middle of nowhere with no houses or roads in sight, especially now we have satellite tv and internet! Being in such a busy city is torture and would be like having a vegetarian have to eat meat every day of their lives. I can’t think of anything that I like about living in a city. What other people love about cities is precisely what I can do without.
I do think though that society and world in general value extroverts more than introverts. Life often focuses on the extrovert side of life even to the detriment of the 30% of introverts. Take politics for example, usually these days it is the politician that can talk best to a camera that wins an election. Talking to a camera is great but it wasn’t too long ago where the top politicians were people who had more ability and less of the superficial chat show host talents.
Andy Murray who just won Wimbledon is quiet and doesn’t like giving interviews or doing PR. He is probably the worlds best tennis player right now and yet lots of people badmouth him as being weird, temperamental and a loner. He started tennis because he liked tennis and perhaps because someone somewhere thought he might be good one day. He didn’t play tennis to be everyone’s best friend and be a party animal. Perhaps if his critics had been quieter and spent more time on their talent then maybe they might have amounted to something like he did.
Television is full of people with no discernible talent. I don’t expect television to be full of brainy types who can speak several languages though it is wonderful that we have Stephen Fry and Brian Cox. However most of the shows are orientated towards extroverts and their strengths. Singing contests, dancing contests. Contests where people with no special talent try to emulate other people who have no special talent but at least they are professionals.
Why can’t there be tv talent shows that respect a different way of life instead of dancing why not find the best woodcutter, farmer or engineer. Instead of singing badly why not find the person who can best assess the works of Aristotle, Mills and Rousseau.
Twenty years ago television presenters in Britain at least used to be experts. They might have been all ugly or all old but they knew what they were talking about. Now all historians are young and one I saw said the topic he was discussing wasn’t his speciality but they obviously chose him because he was loud, outgoing, easy to understand and yet superficial. People who present shows are all loud and overly energetic and not only talk like a 10 year old but act like they only have an understanding of the issues that a 10 year old might have. Why? Because television and society doesn’t value the introvert traits of quietness and seriousness. Everything has to be superficial and extrovert, the biggest, the best or the most extreme. When a tv show or film comes along and is serious and substantial, usually it is a big hit as most extroverts also appreciate at least a little quietness and depth.
How long will the trend continue to feature ordinary people on news reports giving their uniformed, often wrong but extroverted opinions on unimportant matters. Children given national air time to say how brilliant something and that seeing a z-list celebrity was the best day of their lives. Firstly, good for them. Secondly I really really don’t care and would much rather hear what the best day of a 100 year old life is.
Job adverts all insist that applicants be ambitious, confident, upbeat, people-persons, the louder the better. Yet there is no proven correlation between the person who talks the most and the one who has the best ideas. Talking a lot can mean there is a lot of chaff amongst that wheat. Personally, I don’t even bother applying for these sort of jobs which means not only am I missing out but they are too as they’d rather have a loud person rather than a qualified one. Introverts tend to get on and do the job, hard bits and all without complaining while the extroverts have their long meetings and sales lunches.
We hate being coerced into doing group activities like work parties. If you want to spend time with me then I’d gladly do that but not you and half a dozen other people. You chat with them and then call me next time. We don’t want to be more outgoing, we don’t want to speak up at least not until extroverts listen up. We don’t want to make more or new friends. We want people we can rely on. As the saying goes, friends help people move but real friends help people move dead bodies.
Asking an introvert to be extrovert is like asking a left handed person to right with their right hand, its cruel and it doesn’t really work. What’s more it is really rude thinking and even telling someone that there natural character is wrong or not as good as someone elses is. If we really are an official 33% minority maybe it is time we got our rights protected not to be told how to behave by everyone. Yes it is saturday night but we are as happy reading in bed or watching a DVD as you are going out and getting drunk and on Sunday morning we’ll still be happier and probably richer too!
Being introverted can mean you miss out on chances and opportunities or that people think you are stupid or weird whilst extroverts can be in danger of going over the top and appearing self-centred. Of course, neither introverts or extroverts have all the answers and like most things in life, things would be best with a mixture of both sides.
Don’t feel sorry for us introverts if we are on our own, the chances are we are having a great time. I know I never get bored and in the end whatever makes us happy, it is whether we are happy that counts.