Last week we told you we were going to start a series on personality types, and today we’re going to look at the frequently discussed yet often misunderstood topic of introversion and extraversion, represented by the I or the E at the beginning of your test results. (Side note: do you have your test results?? If not, hop over to 16personalities.com after this to take the quick test, and see if it lines up with what you discover here.)
Before we get into the topic at hand, I want to clear up a common misconception: Your type doesn’t change over time. MBTI theory asserts that we are all born with a particular wiring, in the same way that we are born with a certain blood type or a predisposition to be right- or left-handed. In the “nature vs. nurture” debate, this is part of your nature. Your nurture (how you were raised, who you live and work with, where you live, what your value system is, etc.) affects a great deal, so you may have to peel through several layers of learned behavior to get to the heart of your natural wiring. But it’s inaccurate to say “well, I used to be extraverted, but now I’m introverted.” It would be the same as saying you used to have B-positive blood but now you have A-negative (another side note: there’s been speculation that blood type can change, but…not really). Our behavior may change, we will mature, we will find people who draw out the best and worst in us, but the components of our natural wiring will remain fundamentally the same. So, let’s cross out that notion, okay?
MY TYPE CHANGES OVER TIME. Well done.
With that in mind, here we go! When you hear the words “introvert” and “extravert,” what do you think of? Chances are, you think of social interaction, am I right? Maybe you think of those who avoid social interaction and those who thrive on it. Maybe you associate negative feelings with one or the other.
The prevailing misconception about this topic is that extraverts are others-centered and introverts are self-centered, or at least a bit anti-social. We may not put it in so many words, but deep down that’s what many of us think. We see extraverts craving time with other people and we see introverts craving solitary time, and that’s the conclusion we draw. But introversion and extraversion are simply NOT about how we view other people. Some of the most selfless and loving people I know are introverts. I mean, Mother Teresa was an introvert. MOTHER TERESA, people! And sometimes the main reason extraverts love social gatherings is because they love a chance to be in the limelight.
Okay, full disclosure, I might be an introvert. And so I might a bit protective of our reputation. But if I’m at all biased in our favor, then I can be critical of us too, because on the flip-side, there are introverts who do use their introversion as an excuse to be anti-social. I’ve done it before. And we can be confusing, too. Take “social introverts”: These introverts have all the appearances of extraversion at times, but at other times may seem incredibly quiet or withdrawn. More on THAT another time. And in defense of extraverts, most of them aren’t limelight-loving narcissists. In my experience, most extraverts truly have a love for other people that motivates them.
The point is, this topic is not about who’s nicer or friendlier or better at interacting with others, because extraverts and introverts can both be good or bad at those things. So right now, let’s also take that thought and wipe it right out of our heads. We’ll cross it out to symbolically represent our enlightenment:
EXTRAVERTS ARE FRIENDLY AND INTROVERTS ARE UNFRIENDLY.
So, okay, if our type doesn’t change, and if that first letter isn’t about whether or not we actually like people, what DOES it mean? Simply put, introversion and extraversion are about what we draw our energy from. Extraverts draw their energy from external stimulation — the world of activity and social interaction — whereas introverts draw their energy from internal reflection — the world of thought and quietness. What this means is that introverts and extraverts may spend much of their day doing many of the same things, but the activities that are filling one of them up are depleting the other. Send an introverted and an extraverted photographer into a three-hour family shoot, and the introvert may smile and interact happily with everyone there and yet want to go crawl into a hole afterwards, while the extravert is making plans to go out to dinner with everyone later. Send those same two photographers into a quiet room to edit the photos a few days later and the extravert may start bouncing off the walls with boredom while the introvert gets lost in the work and doesn’t even notice time passing by.
Neither of these is better or worse! The world needs both. Families and companies benefit from both. We don’t want to use our introversion or our extraversion as excuses for being exaggerated versions of our types, but we also shouldn’t compare ourselves negatively against others on points like these. Instead, what we need to do is recognize how we’re wired and then make choices that allow us to operate independently and cooperatively in the healthiest ways possible.
A few more observations about introverts and extraverts:
Both introverts and extraverts will occasionally break these molds. Use this information to be understanding of those around you, but not to put them in boxes!
Are you that photographer I mentioned earlier? The one who loves his or her clients but wants to retreat into solitude after a shoot? If you’re an introvert (or an over-worked extravert, but more on that another time too…), this is totally normal. Feeling wiped out after extended social interaction, even interactions that you enjoy, is one of the hallmarks of introversion. So, hooray, no need to fret! However, this does NOT mean that it’s appropriate to use your introversion to just mentally check out. CHOOSE to keep doing good work. CHOOSE to continue loving your clients and serving them well. But also, choose to not stack the next day too full. Choose to go home afterwards and decompress. Knowing you’re an introvert should not cause you to interact less with your clients and loved ones, but it should help you to stop comparing yourself to your highly extraverted friends, associates and family, and it should help you to frame your time around your busy days in healthier ways, so that you are able to more effectively pour into your clients, your family etc.
Maybe you’re the other photographer I mentioned earlier, the one who loves his or her clients but can’t handle extended periods of silence. Maybe this inability to buckle down in solitude makes you feel like you don’t have a good work ethic. But if you recognize that you are an extravert, then recognize that you legitimately need interaction with others to feel filled up. Just like I said to the introverts, it doesn’t mean you get to peace out of your work. Still CHOOSE to do your work well, even if you feel antsy. Still CHOOSE to focus and work hard. But if you have the freedom to move your schedule around at all, it would maybe be wise to not jump straight into work first thing in the morning, but rather to start your day out by meeting a friend for breakfast or coffee. Or run an errand to the grocery store, so that you are giving yourself the opportunity to be around and receive that external stimulation that is integral to recharging an extravert. Even spend some time listening to music that is loud or upbeat. If you start your day out with social interaction and/or external stimulation, you are likely to do better work when you get started.
When it comes to this topic I say: Show grace to each other. If there is an introvert on your team or in your family, recognize that by 5 pm they are probably going to be feeling very depleted, and if you are wanting to be an intentional and influential leader it would be wise not to schedule important conversations for that time of day because they truly won’t be at their best. If you have extraverts on your team, look for when they are at their best. Some of them may legitimately be at their best in the morning when they are feeling enthusiastic about the day ahead, but many won’t really have their full energy until a little later in the day when they’ve had a chance to get filled up by the world around them. Recognize the tendencies of the people on your team and in your family, and respond to them in a way that draws them out instead of shutting them down.
Extraverts, consider whether your enthusiasm is energizing the people around you or depleting them. Introverts, recognize if your withdrawal is providing some freedom to the people around you, or if they’re feeling shut out. This is not about everyone else needing to be okay with who you are. This is about recognizing who you are and then using that knowledge to be a more effective and influential person to the world around you.
Which camp do you fall into? And how are you going to use this knowledge to be a more influential leader, in your relationships and in your business?
While you consider your answers to these questions (and please share them with us!), enjoy the following graphics, featuring our introverted and extraverted adorable stick figure dudes.
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