At a seminar I was attending recently, we were asked to divide ourselves into groups of self-described extroverts and introverts. Several people were surprised when I joined the introverts group. They pointed out that throughout the seminar, they had observed me
- approaching strangers to introduce myself,
- initiating conversations,
- asking questions during the session, and
- volunteering to speak before the group.
Surely, then, I must be an extrovert.
But not so fast… What they don’t know about me is that after the seminar I need to have some “alone” time to recharge. Whether it is reading, writing, taking a walk, or some similar activity, I need some time alone to reflect on and process the stimuli I’ve just received.
- Extroverts draw energy from external stimuli (e.g. people and things).
- Introverts draw energy from internal stimuli (e.g. ideas and concepts).
People sometimes equate introversion with shyness or social awkwardness, but introverts do not necessarily lack social skills. While shyness may be a factor for some, the dysfunction of many introverts in social settings has less to do with shyness than it does with energy. In other words, the introvert may become so content entertaining his internal stimuli that he doesn’t perceive a need to expend energy on external stimuli. My son has a t-shirt that summarizes this introvert mindset. It says:
“I’m in my own little world. But that’s okay… they know me here.”
For many introverts, therefore, the challenge of social situations is not to overcome shyness. The challenge is to recognize and appreciate the value of the external stimuli. After all, the external stimuli are a cornucopia of the things we introverts really love:
more stuff to think about.