The sound of your ringtone cuts harshly through the silence, filling you with trepidation. Who is calling? Why? Can’t they just text?
Your mind goes into a frenzied debate: Should I answer?
You take too long. The caller gives up, the ringing stops. A new anxiety grips you: Did I miss something important? Why is answering the phone such an issue for me?
You aren’t crazy
If the above scenario sounds familiar, it’s likely that you have devoted some time in your life to wondering if something is wrong with you.
You might feel slightly different from the rest of the society. Here’s the good news: you are not crazy and roughly around a third of people feel the same as you. We are the introverts.
Understanding your introversion is a substantial gift to yourself. It affects how certain situations will make you feel, and knowledge of this personality trait empowers you to live your best life.
How to recognise an introvert
Introversion is often misunderstood, with many people confusing it with shyness. You do get shy introverts, but being shy is not a prerequisite for being introverted.
Shy people tend to experience social interaction as a good reason to develop a dry mouth and sweaty palms. The introvert, however, simply prefer to avoid being social more than what is necessary.
Extroverts get their energy from spending time with other people, actively interacting. Introverts get their energy from within themselves, and need to spend time alone to re-energise.
This explanation is true, but only touches upon the real difference between introverts and extroverts. Looking at it more closely, it’s all about the amounts of stimulation you can handle.
According to the late Bernardo Carducci, director of the Shyness Research Institute, Indiana University Southeast, an introvert’s brain shows higher levels of cortical arousal than an extrovert’s.
This means that introverts’ brains are already highly stimulated. Very simply put, introverts are naturally in a higher state of excitement than introverts.
That is why additional stimulation from the environment can be too much. In any social setting there is bound to be noise and a variety of people. For an introvert, this excitement is excessive.
Looking back at our example in the beginning, you might wonder why some introverts can’t stand phone conversations.
Certified life coach, Lisa Petsinis, explains that phone calls are an unexpected intrusion of privacy. Introverts don’t like surprises, and place a high value on their privacy.
Furthermore, she states that introverts use all the clues available to them to interpret and analyse conversations.
During a phone call, the introvert can’t see your body language and facial expressions. They have to analyse even more intensely now, leading to anxiety and even exhaustion.
Can you identify with these typical qualities of the introvert?
As individuals our personalities are not set in stone. Even two introverts can have vastly different personalities, but you will find many of these qualities in an introvert:
- Don’t try to talk about the weather with an introvert. They prefer meaningful conversations over making small talk.
- That guy who is sitting in the cinema on his own? Chances are that he is not strange and creepy, but just an introvert. They are more than comfortable with their own company.
- Introverts prefer one-on-one conversations over conversing in a group. They prefer listening to what you have to say over speaking.
Some feel writing is the easiest way to express themselves.
- The introvert in your life might become increasingly outgoing the better you get to know each other. They are more comfortable with people they know well.
- They are thinkers and daydreamers. They take their time to make decisions and rarely say something without thinking it through first.
- Introverts prefer a small group of close friends over a large circle of friends.
- Introverts boast a keen sense of self-awareness. They are in touch with how they are feeling and generally know themselves quite well.
In contrast, extroverts can be described as people who seek out social stimulation. They feel at home in large groups of people, love attention and do not enjoy being on their own.
They are friendly, open, adventurous and can be impulsive. Where an introvert prefers to think things through, extroverts work through the situations that they face by talking about it.
The introvert in the office
Being an introvert in the corporate world does come with challenges.
You might already be perceived incorrectly during your job interview if the interviewer doesn’t have a clear picture of what it means to be an introvert.
The office environment today is fast-paced, performance driven and almost seems to be designed for extroverts. What are the introvert’s corporate challenges?
In the office, quietly getting on with your task is not always an option. Your manager’s personality also comes into play here, but odds are that they will often check in with you.
The massive emphasis on outperforming the competition and bringing in the big bucks leads to your work being scrutinised by both manager and colleagues.
This leaves the reserved and private introvert feeling like they are living under a magnifying glass – overexposed and vulnerable.
The smartphone becoming part of our lives has led to a culture of always being available. A colleague can send you an email after hours, straight to your phone.
Many people find it difficult to ignore these, or even feel that they can’t as they will risk falling behind or getting into trouble.
Besides, if you don’t respond fast enough, said colleague can simply pop you a quick WhatsApp message to ask you to sort out their request.
Now think back to the time before smartphones (if you are old enough). If your home phone rang after a certain time at night, it was either rude, or to notify you of an emergency.
Alose time to recharge, essential to the introvert’s wellbeing, is getting harder to come by.
Open plan offices present a great challenge for the introvert who values privacy. Not to mention the amount of small talk that happens in this environment.
The chatterbox colleague next to the introvert can be a cause of great frustration.
People tend to develop very skewed perceptions of introverts in the office, easily viewing them as unfriendly, or in a bad mood.
Introverts might resort to wearing headphones to block out the noise, and then get perceived as unapproachable and anti-social.
At lunchtime, you might see him enjoying the break on his own, only to be labelled weird and unfriendly. In some cases the introvert becomes an outsider who gets overlooked.
Then there is team building. The introvert’s nightmare. Social events outside of the office are a way for managers to improve relationships within their teams, and to lift office morale.
Sadly, the introverts usually dread these events. It should be said again: they don’t hate their colleagues. They just prefer meaningful discussions in small groups, or one-on-one.
Can introverts perform at work?
Clearly the introvert faces great challenges at the office, and if you are an introvert, it may seem daunting, even hopeless. Is it even possible for an introvert to perform in his work environment?
The answer is a resounding yes. Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, said:
“There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.”
The introvert who understands how to harness his unique qualities can indeed achieve great things. Quietly, of course.
These are seven ways introverts add value to the workplace:
According to clinical psychologist Dr Clinton Moore, the introvert’s ability to think deeply enables him to be an expert problem solver.
He is able to think through a certain situation until he has a full understanding of it, and then consider multiple solutions to the problem at hand.
Now, picture a typical office meeting. The extroverts are discussing the matter, looking for solutions in their conversations. This is okay, it is their way of doing it.
The introvert, however, is sitting quietly. It is easy to assume that he is not interested in what is going on, he is not getting involved.
Do not make that mistake. His mind is busy, he is actively trying to solve the situation at hand. The fact that others can’t hear him doing so does not make him less effective.
Being a keen listener and observer puts the introvert at a great advantage.
They are naturally able to absorb insight and knowledge from those around them, and use that information to further their career path.
- A company that requires working from home will actually do better with introverted employees. Extroverts battle to cope spending so much time on their own.
- In an office environment arguments, gossip and drama are likely to rear their ugly heads. The introvert is the one who will be least tempted to get involved in these things.
Remember, he is wearing his headphones and getting on with the job.
- Decision-making is an integral part of life at work. An introverted employee is less likely to be impulsive. He can be relied upon to make well thought out and informed decisions.
- Being introspective and self aware makes it easier for the introvert to notice, accept and correct their own mistakes.
- Introverts excel at leadership. According to Dr Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength, introverted leaders are more attentive to those working under them.
“They have focused conversations with their team members in order to learn their skills, passions and strengths.
Once they gather all of this information, they can use what they’ve learned to help each team member be more efficient and happier at work.
Career solutions for the introvert
It is certainly not all doom and gloom for the introvert who chooses a highly social career. Enough alone time and acceptance is enough for the quiet guy to shine.
Fortunately, there are also options for extreme introverts who will not cope in such an environment.
This is where being always-connected can be a life-changing plus, as it enables more and more people to work from home.Not only does this cater for the introvert’s needs, but less resources are being consumed at the office, in time leading to money saved.
If you find yourself in a career that is too draining, there is always the option of making a drastic career change. Entrepreneurship is an economic buzzword these days with good reason.
It allows a person to create a business out of the things they are good at and enjoy. Working by yourself, for yourself can be the key to a fulfilling life for certain personality types.
The options are endless. On the creative side, you might be a talented photographer, artist, writer, baker, tailor, designer, chef… all things that can become a business.
We are required to choose a career path early in life. Guide your introverted child towards options that he finds interesting and that suits his needs as an introvert.
Once again, from becoming a proofreader to a pilot, many options exist for quieter types.
History has produced extremely successful introverts thus far. These include names like Albert Einstein, Meryl Streep, Elon Musk and Barack Obama.
There is simply no reason to think that your introverted personality will hold you back in life.
5 things you didn’t know about introverts
Don’t mistake introverts for sad wallflowers. Here are some interesting and rather surprising things you didn’t know about that mysterious, taciturn girl:
- Introverts are often creative, as time alone gives them the opportunity to indulge in these types of activities.
- It is said that many introverts enjoy rainy weather, because of the white noise it provides. Rainy days are also less stimulating than bright, sunny days.
- While extroverts are motivated by feeling happy, introverts prefer to tackle tasks in a neutral emotional state. Psychologist Maya Tamir of Boston College claims that happiness is an arousing emotion that can cause introverts to feel distracted from their task.
- Introverts can enjoy being social. They are not sad, grumpy people who want to be alone all the time. Social interaction is just not something they will actively seek out.
- A study by The Gifted Development Centre in the USA showed that 60% of gifted children are introverts, and 75% of highly gifted children.
Introvert, extrovert, or somewhere in between?
Introversion and extroversion lies on the opposite ends of the personality spectrum, but there is plenty going on in between.
Psyhologist Jonathan Cheek identified four kinds of introversion.
He also stated that most introverts are a combination of the four types:
Social introversion People who score high in this category prefer to stay at home, or, if they have to socialise, prefer small groups. There is no social anxiety, it’s just a preference.
Anxious introversion Similar to social introverts, but with the exception of experiencing stress about having to be social. This group might lack confidence and are overly self-conscious.
They experience social interaction as awkward, and many of their thoughts are centred on what could go wrong.
Thinking introversion These are the daydreamers. They are introspective, thoughtful and self-reflective. Imaginative and creative, they easily get lost in a fantasy world they created themselves.
Restrained introversion These are people who function at a slightly slower pace. They will not blurt out something without taking the time to think about it.
They also take a bit longer to get going, both physically and mentally.
There is nothing wrong with them, but they just need a short ‘adjustment period’ between waking up and starting to work, for example.
If you feel like you don’t really identify with either introversion or extroversion, it is entirely possible that you lie somewhere in between. That would make you an ambivert.
The ambivert strikes a convenient balance between introversion and extroversion. They possess qualities of both personality types.
This group of people can alternate between introverted and extroverted behaviours, depending on what is appropriate for the setting they find themselves in.
According to Barry Smith, professor emeritus and director of the Laboratories of Human Psychophysiology at the University of Maryland, 68% of people are ambiverts.
Imagine waiting in a doctor’s room with a few strangers. The extrovert might strike up a conversation, while the introvert would rather page through a magazine while they wait.
The ambivert has the ability to ‘read the room’, and either starts chatting or keeps quiet, depending on what feels appropriate.
A rude thing you need to stop doing
There is one thing that many introverts have in common. That is being asked a rather impolite question: Why are you so quiet?
If you have asked this question, it is time to stop.
Introverts are quiet because they are observing and listening. And perhaps silently wondering why you are talking so much…