Pretty much since the day I showed up for kindergarten, I’ve noticed that entire swaths of life seem to come easier to a certain type of people—and I wasn’t that type. Years later I learned what those people are called. Extroverts.
From the first bell of recess, extroverts had the advantage. They had the swings, they had the foursquare balls, and they had some sort of magical ability to tackle the chaotic playground scene with ease. As an adult, I understand the value of recess but, as a kid, I was often semi-traumatized and always drained by it (other than that fabulous stretch in third grade when two friends and I played Charlie’s Angels every day).
Let’s face it: Recess, the lunch room, the school bus, class discussions, and (God, help us) group projects are dominated by extroverts, and we introverts have always had to work a little harder to stay in the game. (Even when it’s not a game we particularly care to be in.)
I love extroverts.
This is not a bash against extroverts. Lord knows we need you. You get us out of our heads and help us to lighten up a bit. You break the ice when we’re frozen in silence. You lead our society in great and powerful ways. And you start the wave at the baseball stadium. We have great respect for you.
But if it’s been a while since you stopped to notice the gold mine of interpersonal value that introverts hold—or if you’ve been sitting right next to one and forgot to notice her—we need to talk. Because the thing about introverts is it’s easy to miss us. But when you do, you miss out on a lot.
WHAT ARE introvertS?
First, let’s get clear on what an introvert is—and isn’t. Unfortunately, the dictionary perpetuates unhelpful stereotypes. According to my handy online dictionary, the first definition of an introvert is “a shy person.” And “shy” means “bashful, easily frightened away; timid, suspicious; distrustful.” I’m here to say that, sure, some introverts are some of those things some of the time. But most aren’t. And none of those things are the main point.
The biggest difference between an introvert and an extrovert is what energizes them (and what drains them).
Many introverts are highly social, verbal, and friendly but, eventually, interacting with other people will drain their energy and they’ll need to retreat to a quiet space to recharge. That’s because introverts get their energy from being alone. Extroverts, on the other hand, gain energy from social settings. They’re generally more assertive, loud, and energetic, and they’ll resist quiet time alone.
Thus, by their very nature, extroverts gravitate to the top of the hill at recess, to the front of the class discussion afterward, and, later, to the top of the agenda at the office meeting.
But the loudest voices are not always the brightest, and when they’re the only voices being heard, things can get really off balance.
According to Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain (a favorite introvert of mine), one third to one half of the world is introverted. So, if we’re consistently leaving out introvert perspectives and contributions, we’re only about half as good as we could be together.
So here’s why you need us:
1. We listen.
Extroverts like to talk, introverts like to listen—in group settings especially. This means we often hear more of what’s happening. We catch things others miss. This makes us a great asset in meetings and an important addition to negotiations or any important discussion. Just don’t ask us for immediate feedback. We require time to process.
2. We see more and hear more than most.
It’s not just our silence that helps us listen. Most introverts have a heightened sensory awareness—so we literally see, hear, and feel things others don’t. We pick up on interesting details, and we value them. We are more easily moved by beauty, pain, and emotions. Some of us verge on empathic, picking up on intangible truths that others miss completely. This means introverts are often the artists, writers, philosophers, and counselors who help others discover the meaning and beauty in life—or the engineers and scientists who observe, improve, and reinvent life. Introverts make highly insightful colleagues and truly perceptive observers.
3. When we say something, we mean it.
Introverts don’t use words lightly. We are thoughtful and intentional. So, when we do speak up—especially in group settings or meetings—it’s usually worth your time to listen. In a world filled with an over-abundance of words, this can be a valuable and refreshing trait.
4. We’re focused and persistent.
If you’ve got a problem that needs solving, trust it to an introvert. Our favorite way to work is independently and, once we’re on a problem, we don’t give up easily. We are less distracted by new opportunities and possibilities. We can invest the time and energy required. And we can delay gratification in order to produce solid answers and quality results.
“It’s not that I’m so smart. It’s just that I stay with problems longer.”
– Albert Einstein, confirmed introvert
5. We make great friends.
An introvert’s ability to listen, desire for deep relationships, and natural persistence can produce strong, devoted friendships. We often make safe and trusted confidants. Introverts prefer one-on-one interactions vs. group interactions, and we’d rather have a few close friends than a large collection of acquaintances. If you’re looking for a friend who will truly hear you and value you, choose an introvert.
6. We value self-awareness.
Introverts place a high value on knowing and understanding ourselves. We notice our mistakes and reflect on how we can do better. This can make introverts great employees and partners—because we’re aware of our strengths and weaknesses, and we have a built-in drive to improve.
7. We’re careful.
This is one area where the dictionary definition is correct. Introverts tend to think more before taking action. We don’t rush to decisions. We are generally more averse to risk and more slow to warm up. These traits, when balanced with the extrovert’s bend toward risk-taking, can be an important balance for any group or society to have. Both risk and caution are needed to move us all forward productively.
8. We’RE HIGHLY CREATIVE.
We introverts spend a lot of time in our heads. We are deep thinkers, and our minds are constantly wondering, imagining, remembering, analyzing, planning, and dreaming. This gives us access to expansive creativity and vibrant insights that translate into innovative ideas, solutions, and inventions. When we share our thoughts, we can often provide a fresh, unique perspective that others had not seen. There is also evidence that quiet, independent thought breeds more creativity than group brainstorming sessions or loud collaborations. We introverts have known this all along. Give us some time alone and we’ll be far more creative and productive than we are adding random thoughts onto a conference room whiteboard.
“There is zero correlation between the gift of gab and good ideas.”
– Susan Cain
9. We’re quietly changing the world.
One of the most important things to know is introverts have no less intelligence, passion, or skills than extroverts—and, in some areas, we have more. So if you’re talking so loudly or moving so quickly that you forgot to stop, listen, and include the introverts in your life (or business), you’ve missed out. But be warned: Introverts don’t always sit around waiting for the chance to be heard. Often we just find a quieter, more compatible place to go and do our incredible things.
10. We let you have your spotlight.
I mean, really. If the whole world was extroverts, you’d have a much harder time finding someone to sit back and let you take the stage. We introverts are happy to fill that role—but don’t forget: We can rock the spotlight too. We just don’t always want to.
Give us a minute.
Some people go for years thinking the quiet people around them must not have anything of value to say. And, yes, we introverts do need to speak a little louder at times. But when an extrovert-heavy group or an extrovert-focused institution (Hello, schools! And many offices!) can adjust just a bit to make room for the introverts, delightful surprises await.
If you really want to see us introverts shine, invite us to coffee. Sit still. Turn down the volume. Ask us for our input. Give us a challenging assignment—and the space to complete it. Give us a heads-up before the brainstorming session so we can come prepared with great ideas. Give us a minute to collect our thoughts. Because once we do, you’re in for a treat.
P.S. Hey, fellow introverts. Did I miss anything? Add your insights in the comments!