How to Misunderstand an Introvert

It’s often tough for people to understand an introvert. They see them through their extroverted eyes and make many assumptions. I’m going to address four of those assumptions, so you can avoid misunderstanding any introvert you meet or already know.

Stats and a disclaimer

According to this article, the first official random sample by the Myers-Briggs organization showed introverts made up 50.7% and extroverts 49.3% of the United States general population. Myers, McCaulley, Quenk, & Hammer (1998) found that within this sample 45.9% of males and 52.5% of women were extroverted and 54.1% of men and 47.5% of women were introverted.

Other statistics show there are fewer introverts than extroverts. Regardless, I think everyone agrees that the world is dominated by extroverted thinking. Children are told to “speak up” in school. Office spaces have changed to support working in teams, even when individuals might be more productive and creative when working alone. And who usually gets the most attention? The squeaky wheel.

As always, any “label” (such as introvert or extrovert) is subject to a spectrum of personality traits, so nothing I say here is absolute. Know that I’m writing this from my perspective and based on my personality, so it may not apply to all introverts you know.

Assumption 1: I am shy

When I was growing up, I think most people viewed me as a shy person. No, I wasn’t the life of the party nor was I outspoken. I wasn’t likely to strike up a conversation with someone I didn’t know, but I wasn’t afraid to interact with others.

I am not shy. I simply don’t need to talk a lot. And I like to observe before I jump into anything with both feet. I am pretty good at figuring people out and while this may sound harsh, I won’t waste my time on those that don’t interest me.

Assumption 2: I don’t care about people

This is so untrue. Just because I don’t call my friends or family often, it doesn’t mean I don’t care. I care deeply. For one thing, it’s tough for me to show that. I’m not great at expressing emotional thoughts.

Also, I’m generally not an instigator. There are exceptions to that, but for the most part, I tend to wait for someone to contact me, even though I may think about them every day.

Don’t ask me why. That’s the way I am, as are many other introverts. I try to do better, but I can’t explain why it doesn’t come naturally to me.

Just because I don’t ask a lot of questions, it doesn’t mean I don’t care about someone. My brain just doesn’t always come up with something to say. I love to listen and will definitely ask questions about what someone else is talking about. But I’m not good at starting a conversation.

There are other ways I show people I care about or appreciate them. I bake for them. I make cards for them. I sew or knit things for them. I say “thank you”. If someone needs me, I will be there. I’m a very loyal friend.

Assumption 3: I don’t have anything to contribute

This is one area that’s definitely misunderstood. Depending on the subject, I may have lots to contribute. But in a large group of people, it’s tough to get a chance to chime in. Silence doesn’t mean I’m stupid.

I don’t interrupt and oftentimes, there’s no good time to speak up. I’m not one of those that starts repeating herself just to keep talking. I sat through plenty of those types of meetings when I was working. I’m also not one to state the obvious in an attempt to “contribute”.

Generally, I prefer to think things through before I share them, so my thoughts may be more developed than others. Someone may say something that gets my brain churning but I have to process it before I can share it. I like to think that when I do contribute, it’s worth listening to.

I need time to process information and often require quiet, alone time in order to come up with answers. I can see both the bigger picture and the details behind an idea. I can work as part of a team, but my best work is what I do individually.

Assumption 4: I’m anti-social

A blogger friend recently wrote about walking with a group and feeling frustrated because some of them spent more energy talking than walking. She asked if she was anti-social and I told her no, she’s an introvert!!

If you’re there to walk, you want to walk. It’s also a good time to think. So maybe this type of activity shouldn’t even be considered social unless your sole purpose for going is to talk!!

I used to be a member of Curves and it seemed that so many came to socialize instead of work out. My thought was, if I’m coming here, I’m going to make it worth my time!! I wasn’t unfriendly; I just preferred to focus on my workout and not chatting.

I can be very social, depending on what’s going on. I love getting together with friends and I may still not be doing most of the talking, but I am enjoying myself immensely. I tend to prefer smaller groups, however, otherwise I can get kind of lost in the shuffle.

It’s also sometimes tough for me to be spontaneous. I like things scheduled and on my calendar. So, if I say “no” when asked to do something at the last minute, it’s usually because my mind isn’t ready for it. As weird as it may sound, I often have to psyche myself up to go out, even when it’s something I’m looking forward to.

Too many days in a row with commitments outside my home drains my energy. Looking back, I wonder how I survived working. All the team activities, the networking, the constant chatter – it wore me out more than I realized.

Sum it up

This visual is a little blurry, but it sums things up pretty well.

Image result for shy vs. introvert picture

Next time you’re inclined to think someone is shy, is anti-social, doesn’t care or seems to have nothing to contribute, ask yourself if that person might be an introvert. Then give him/her a break and accept that’s the way he/she is.

We aren’t all alike. Wouldn’t life be boring if we were?

10 thoughts on “How to Misunderstand an Introvert”

  1. I’ve known I was an introvert working in an extrovert world for a long time. I think it’s part of why I never developed a go-to-the gym habit or any other outside of work activities while I was working. After all day in that extrovert environment, I needed quiet down time to recoup.

    Yeah, even now, the investment I make in connections and relationships is an effort. A worthwhile effort, but it takes energy! I know a lot of people who think it’s easy when I plan activities and “herd the cats”… they don’t realize the effort it takes.

    1. I’m not sure what I’d do if I had to start over finding friends. I have a feeling I wouldn’t and would spend my time alone or only with my husband. I might have to use my hobbies differently in order to meet people. I hope I don’t reach that point!!

  2. This was very interesting. My wife is an introvert, and I think you captured quite a bit about how she feels in social situations. We can be with a group of people with lots of opinions, and she’ll stay mum. But on the way home, she’ll voice everything she was thinking to me. 🙂

    A friend of mine who used to go to Curves complained about the same thing — people would come up and want to speak to her, and interrupting her workout. She blamed it on Curves always being in small places rather than large gyms.

    1. I liked Curves because it was in a small place but that could be why people were more inclined to chat. Sometimes the coaches were the worst offenders.

  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Linda. To your point, that nothing is absolute, it doesn’t matter to me what category a person fits into. Over time, I came to realize it works best for me to just think of all people as individuals because each of my friends (and family) have unique qualities that I value which tend to offset my way of thinking or acting and I appreciate the balance that tends to bring into my life.

    1. The labels aren’t as important as understanding why a person acts the way they do. By pointing out certain traits of introverts, it helps others realize there’s a reason behind their actions. Not everyone is accepting of individual behaviors which might be due to a lack of understanding. Or it could be that they just don’t care. Hopefully, it’s the former and this post helps with that!! Thanks for commenting.

  4. So accurate! I felt like you were describing me and did it so well. I am really trying in retirement to be more outgoing and participate, but it is hard. Thank you for the insight and knowing that I am not alone in my feelings and a weirdo!

    1. It’s easy to think there’s something wrong with us, isn’t it? I’ve finally come to terms with the way I am and no longer feel bad about it. Life’s too short. Do whatever makes you happy, especially in retirement!! Thanks Karen!!

  5. Linda no doubt “we were cut from the same cloth” . Like you, these days I often have to talk myself into going out, even if it is to something that I probably would enjoy. For me almost nothing beats spending alone time in my modest , most often untidy, home with my little dog . It’s my contention that working 40+ years in the public eye has earned me the right (better late than never) to spend my retirement as the introvert I always knew I was meant to be.

    1. Betty, that’s what’s so great about retirement. You can do it your way. Always nice to hear there are others like me!! Thanks so much.

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