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.
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?