Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Inner Power: Being an Introvert in an Extraverted World

I'll say it now, I'll say it a thousand times, 'til I'm blue in the face: Being an introvert in a world where extravertedness is considered "the norm" is tough. It's exhausting, not only to BE an introvert where extravertedness is often rewarded with friendship, leadership opportunities in the workplace, and greater opportunities to advance in a person's life and career, but it's also exhausting to have to explain your introverted nature to the rest of the world. These explanations never do the introvert justice either, because, frankly, extraverts (a.k.a. "normal" people), can't wrap their minds around how an introvert can be an introvert in the first place.

I was born an introvert. When I came out of my mother's womb, I didn't cry, but silently observed my surroundings for the first time (until, of course, the doctors made me cry, to make sure I was "normal"). As a small child, some of my best times were spent creating imaginary worlds with my toys, pencils or crayons. I didn't crave interaction with others. I was happy on my own. Socializing with other kids made me anxious. Every time we'd go over to a new house with new children, I'd be overwhelmed with dread, even though, once I got there and got going, I'd play along just fine.

People think that introverts are antisocial, but that's a common misconception. The reality is that interacting with others is extremely emotionally taxing for us. We feel comfortable in our own heads, with our own ideas, and our own understanding of the world, and interacting with others is like actively translating one language into another, in real time. Sure, we can do it, but, when push comes to shove, we prefer speaking in our native language.

Really, I'm not antisocial. I can actually be quite charming:

I've found that, throughout my life, I've encountered some very insecure extraverted types, who need constant validation through enthusiastic interaction. Typically those types of people end up being deeply insulted by me. They take my lack of gregariousness, my selective conversations, and thoughtful, careful demeanor as a personal affront, or sometimes are just profoundly annoyed by me.

At certain points in my life, I've been bullied by these types, those who interpret these traits as an indication of laziness, inattentiveness or stupidity. Extraverts tend to take a very "at face value" approach when it comes to personalities, and, not only that, but those who are the loudest, the "squeaky wheels," if you will, appear to them as being the smartest, most focused, most interested, and leadership-quality individuals.

I must twist a little wry smile at this assumption when I think about how my French grandfather used to say, Ce sont les tonneaux vides qui font le plus de bruit. (Empty barrels make the most noise). 

I'm not saying that all people who speak up are not as intelligent as those who are more reflective, but, after sitting through meetings with extraverts, who tend to fire off mediocre questions, or make mediocre points in rapid succession, while someone like me takes all of the information in and formulates a very thoughtful idea or question at the end of the discussion, or perhaps even afterward, after I've had time to research and understand the subject better, I think it's wrong to assume that just because someone is quiet and observant, that he or she just isn't clever enough to think of something to say.

Those who don't understand introverted folks and make these assumptions, as I mentioned, can turn into bullies, particularly in the workplace. I can't tell you how many times I've heard:



"What's wrong? You look mad [sad, upset, etc.]"


"You have a faraway look on your face. Are you daydreaming?!"


"You don't talk enough!"

The list goes on. This kind of bullying sends me further into my shell, of course. Not productive.

I've had employers and coworkers become angry with me for not scheduling enough one-on-one, in-person meetings. While I take ownership for some of these instances, I always consider that meetings are a two-way street. If you want to meet with me, put it on my schedule. I think maybe they'd get it if I explained being an introvert to a person who was an extravert like: Imagine that, every time you wanted to talk to another person, you'd have to recite the full Pledge of Allegiance. That'd become pretty tiresome, right? You probably wouldn't want to schedule a ton of meetings. Well, that's the amount of energy that I have to expend every time I meet with a person. 

Maybe they'd get it? In my 33 years of history with extraverted personalities, I doubt I'd make any kind of revelatory breakthrough, but it's worth a shot.

Mostly, the onus has been on us, the minority (one in four people are introverts), to change our ways, to expend more energy to "convert" to extravertedness for our eight hours or so in the office, in hopes that we don't offend too many people and can be recognized just enough to advance in our work. Still, introverted tendencies break through this facade. We aren't compelled to constantly reach out to others, we don't think well on our feet, and we work to establish quality over quantity (something all but lost in today's world). 

Last night, I was discussing with another introverted friend how we introverts needed to start a movement, to get people to be more understanding toward people like us, particularly in the workplace, because it takes all kinds of people to form a healthy society. I guess that movement begins with informing the bullies and those who are offended by us. We could say things like:

"I am interested in this subject, but I need more time to reflect on it."


"Stay tuned: I might have something to add to this topic, but I need some time to think about it."


"I'm not ignoring you, I'm just really 'in my head' a lot of the time. If you'd like to share something with me, please feel free to set up time to meet."


"I am not always very expressive when I'm concentrating on something."


"I'm not anti-social, I just need time to recharge my thoughts between meetings/social interactions"

Oddly enough, the more we introverts talk about ourselves, the more people might understand us and see us as "not so weird." 

It's a start anyway. We "lone wolves" need to stick together!