Good morning, good afternoon or good evening, wherever you are
“My name is Lauron Buys, and I am an Introvert.” I’ve never been to an AA meeting, but it seems similar to how I and millions of others might internally face most interviews, meetings, networking functions, gala dinners and cocktail parties. There are valid and scientific reasons why we dread that step through the door to occasions, as we shall see in a moment. Yet, it needn’t be like that. This newsletter, then, is an attempt to show how Introverts can get in their own way, and what they can do about it. I will attempt it by using three myths about Introverts (there are many more), two truths about them (likewise), and one way forward (Hmmm!).
First, a quick disclaimer. This newsletter is written from the perspective of Introverts and how they experience the world. The newsletter is not intended to be a comparison of Introverts, Extraverts and Ambiverts, nor is it by any means saying one is better than the other. In fact, all three have much to contribute to the world, especially if and where they find ways to work together using their respective strengths.
Three myths of Introversion
There are many myths regarding being an Introvert, most of them perpetuated by Introverts. I will deal with three of them today, in the hope that they are perhaps the most recognisable and self-destructive and, hence ones that we can all learn from. Remember, these are myths – and the very meaning of “myth” is that it’s not true.
Myth #1: “I’m definitely not an Extravert, so I must be an Introvert”
Carl Jung first developed the idea, but to him the terms described the direction in which one’s “psychic energy” flowed; Introverts preferred to focus on their inner feelings, dreams and fantasies, while Extraverts would focus on outward tangible realities – not just other people, but things. Even Jung, however, apparently acknowledged a third, larger group who didn’t fit into either category. This was apparently largely overlooked as his ideas trickled down, with certain distortions, to the public.
Myers and Briggs famously found that 56,8% of the global population “prefers” introversion – however, this was because they only used the two extreme personality types as options.
The studies of psychologists, Curt and Anne Bartol, however, went wider than the two options and showed that “roughly 16% of the population are Extraverts, and another 16% are Introverts, and the remainder (68%) are Ambiverts.”
I decided to conduct an anecdotal study over the last week or so. The result: very few people see themselves and out-and-out Introverts or Extraverts as the responses were spread across a continuum. At a cognitive level, I think we all understand and believe that introversion and extraversion are not the only two personality types, yet we tend to exclude any other options in our discussions. We will tend to ask: “Are you an Introvert or an Extravert?” or say: “John is quite the Extravert”; never, it seems: “Oh Susan, she’s an Ambivert, I’m sure!”
Moreover, we often use our introversion as an excuse (we’d probably say “reason”) for some of our behaviour – why we withdraw in meetings, why we don’t want to mix with others, why we want to be alone, and more.
Myth #2: “Something is wrong with me”
Introverts are often wracked with self-doubt, second-guessing and plain old overthinking. Some of this self-talk might look like the following:
- “Something is wrong with me, I should be more outgoing.”
- “Being an Introvert is a character flaw and it needs to be fixed.”
- “Introverts are not good team players. I am not a good team player.”
- “Why am I in my head so much?”
These are not one-off thoughts – they are constant with the natural consequence that we very soon believe these stories we script for ourselves. We withdraw in meetings because, after all, “she always has the answers and will probably say what I want to say any moment” or “Perhaps they’ve already covered this, I’ve been so deep in thought I may have missed it!” And so, the perpetual cycle continues.
One of the models in Transactional Analysis consists of a quadrant matrix the parameters of which are: I’m okay/I’m not okay and You’re okay/You’re not okay. This is then how we relate to ourselves and others. As you can see, there are four possibilities:
- I’m okay, you’re okay
- I’m okay, you’re not okay
- I’m not okay, you’re okay
- I’m not okay, you’re not okay
Some healthy Introverts might be okay with I’m okay, you’re okay. Some other more confident or arrogant Introverts might even say I’m okay, you’re not okay. I would assume, however, that at some point of holding this point of view, they will start getting in their own way. This myth, however, is about the third option: I’m not okay, you’re okay. Once again, this is a story scripted by us and very seldom factual.
Often when I hear my coaching clients telling me their story in a way that conforms to this myth, I do a simple exercise with them. I ask them to draw two tick boxes. Next to the one, I ask them to write, I am okay. Next to the other, they write, I am not okay. Over the eighteen odd years that I used this exercise I have literally only had two people tick the “I’m not okay” box. The others all tick the “I’m okay” box notwithstanding the fact that their narrative in that or several sessions has been consistently “I’m not okay”. Their explanation is always that, until faced with these two options, they always thought they were not okay, but in that moment realised that they were okay – but that there was some work to be done. In that moment, they started re-writing their script.
Myth #3: ”I am just like that!”
The third myth contains a life sentence, “I’m just like that, always have been and always will be!” In this instance, then, we have not only scripted our narrative over years but we have programmed the document so that it can never be edited.
Unfortunately, this belief is the very definition of what Carol Dweck described as a fixed mindset in her globally acclaimed book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. By comparison, she argues that a growth mindset – the belief that abilities can be developed and the desire to embrace learning, challenges and setbacks as sources of growth – creates the drive and resilience that influence success in virtually every area of life.
Using the language I have been using above, this amounts to the ability to rescript those narratives that are not working for us into ones that serve us better.
2 Truths of Introversion
Truth #1: Introverts are more sensitive than Extraverts
We all feel comfortable in different situations. Some people can think of no greater pleasure than sitting in a library; to them, even the thought of going to a techno club is unfathomable. Others are the polar opposite: there is no place they feel more at home than among a throbbing mass of people and it would drive them crazy to spend a single evening in the library. Why the stark difference?
I’m told these reactions are controlled by the human brain’s emotional switchboard – the amygdala. The amygdala is apparently the first place our sensory organs send every stimulus received from the outside world. Then the amygdala decides our response to the output.
It turns out that the amygdala of high-reactive people is extremely sensitive. Since these people have particularly strong reactions to external stimuli, they end up preferring low-stimulation surroundings, such as libraries, and tend to mature into reserved and thoughtful people: Introverts.
On the other hand, it is difficult for the brains of low-reactive people to respond to new impressions. That is why in their childhood they remain unaffected by normal stimuli and seek out more stimulating environments, eventually becoming nonchalant, lively Extraverts.
This is also why Introverts, being highly sensitive, process information in an unusually thorough way, taking more time observing and getting more involved with the subject matter than those who are not highly sensitive. Consequently, highly sensitive people find profound conversations about values and morals far more stimulating than the superficial anecdotes of a colleague’s recent holiday.
Truth #2: Introverts have a great deal to contribute
Both Introverts and Extraverts have qualities that can be extremely valuable to the people in their environment. The same is true of Ambiverts who are somehow more adaptable moving back and forth on the continuum between extreme Introverts and Extraverts.
Introverts, having a deep sensitivity, may be able to develop that deep (self-)sensitivity and direct it at others in a caring, empathetic manner.
In a book, Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts, Susan Cain and her co-authors say that “there’s a word for ‘people who are in their heads too much’: thinkers.” We Introverts know at some level that we are thinkers – the only question is whether we use our thinking to serve us or to get in our own way.
In her other book, Quiet, Cain argues that, in the workplace, an extraverted leading style is ideal when the goal is to complete simple tasks as quickly as possible. However, introverted leadership qualities are imperative if team members want to get involved and contribute their own ideas.
She adds that another difference between extraverted and introverted leaders became quite clear in the 2008 financial crisis. Extraverted leaders tend to make quick decisions based on little information. And many such leaders had, indeed, made risky investments with their companies’ funds. When the bubble popped though, they paid dearly for their reckless risk-taking. By contrast, introverted leaders usually amass a lot of information before making a decision. Companies with introverted leaders were thus less severely affected by the crisis, having invested their money less precariously.
The one way forward
Having said all this, the western world appears to have become an Extravert world. Put simplistically, this has happened over the last two hundred years or so as once quiet, respectful rural people moved at an ever-accelerating pace to the cities where the struggle of the fittest was with each other. And the wheels that squeaked the loudest got the oil! Some people got louder, and some got quieter, and sometimes got lost in the traffic.
Einstein is reputed to have said that the biggest question we all answer in our lives is whether the world is friendly place or a scary place to be feared. Too many Introverts have over time chosen the latter and chosen to find quiet places where they can be more comfortable. The more complex they have made this process, however, the more their choices haven’t served them – and have led to their introversion getting in their own way.
As Viktor Frankl wrote, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is a power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
This is a proactive response we must make – and I fear that too many Introverts have chosen to rather be reactive and withdraw. Rather proactively choose to be okay! I have spoken above about the continuum between introversion and extraversion – with ambiversion covering a large section of that continuum. The truth is that most Introverts come out to play from time to time. They move along the continuum a little to a place they are still fairly comfortable with, for a while, and “play” – and when they’ve had enough, they go back to their quiet place. The tragedy though is that those Introverts who have a more fixed mindset tend to do so less and less as they become more and more reactive, and ultimately less and less of themselves. Those who choose to have more of a growth mindset might stretch themselves a little further along the continuum each time they come out to play – and they might find that they come out to play more and more, although certainly not all the time and not necessarily across to the other side of the continuum. In this way, they are able to be more fully themselves and able to be at their best more of the time.
Choose to be okay. For example, if you are scared of not knowing an answer to a question, instead of waiting for someone to ask you the dreaded question at the cocktail party and being placed under the stress you just knew would happen, walk up to them and ask them a genuine curious question about them and listen to their answer. Then ask them another question based on what they replied. At least you are in the conversation, your confidence will grow and before you know it, you will be adding value to the conversation. When you’ve had enough, respectfully withdraw, and wait for another opportunity.
Whatever your particular fear, choose to be okay, rewrite your script and find a way to proactively come out to play. If you think about it, you’ll find a way – after all, you’re a thinker, and you’re okay. Don’t let introversion keep you in the shadows of life.
“My name is Lauron Buys – and I’m okay!”
I’d love to hear your comments of the views and ideas I have shared this week. Please feel free to email me on email@example.com.
If you would like to find out more about how you might achieve, and apply, transcendent leadership so that you are able to consistently rise above current challenges, drop me an email (also at firstname.lastname@example.org) so that we can explore together how my Transcendent Leadership Coaching Programme might help you lead yourself, your team or your organisation in these times.
I look forward to hearing from you.
In the meanwhile, please take wearing your mask, washing your hands and social distancing seriously at this time. Keep safe and keep well!