Working with scientists, engineers and planners over the past twenty years, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to coach introverts – and found them to be great clients. They have a quality I love: they listen.
But I want to go on record: introverts come in many shades
And the nuances of introversion aren’t always obvious in the on-line articles that list their five leadership characteristics, items like:
- They listen.
- They think before they speak.
- They use time alone to think, read, envision, research, and brief themselves.
- They prepare.
- They stay calm under pressure.
Good stuff – and good for extroverts to know about.
Except that introverts aren’t all cut out of the same cloth.
“Being an introvert is about where I gain and drain energy, not about my social or leadership skills.”
In the interests of full disclosure: I’m an introvert. This fact came as a surprise to me because I was classified an extrovert when I first took the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).
But ten years ago when I re-took the test, I had become an introvert. My first reaction: Aghhh! I’m not supposed to be an introvert! I’m a teacher/trainer consultant – I’m outgoing, energetic and think well on my feet. And I have this crazy love of speaking in public?
These are things that extroverts do, right???
But as Buelow reminds us, the introversion/extroversion distinction tells me where I get my energy – and what drains me. Sure, I can do big out-in-front-of-people events. But I bookend those highly social experiences with quiet “just me” time.
Speaking doesn’t drain me. But when I think about going to big gatherings or networking events with lots of small talk, I want to run for cover.
My friend and colleague, Jan, is a real extrovert. When we teach or work together, she’s the one who can go out drinking with clients when the day is done. In contrast, after I’ve spent a day teaching or running a retreat, I’m ready for a long break, or better yet, time at home in my writing/retreat cabin.
Yet the distinction introvert/extrovert isn’t an either/or one. Most of us carry some aspects of each. And our flavor of introversion/extroversion is nuanced by factors such as:
Our personality. I’ve known introverts who were commandeering and others who preferred not to assert themselves.
Our experiences and training. Many of the senior officers I have worked with were introverted – yet the Army gave them the training they needed to become super public speakers and gracious socializers when on duty.
The different facets of introversion. The MBTI breaks introversion into five facets – and this is where it gets really interesting. Here are the extroversion vs. introversion dimensions:
Initiating vs. receiving: whether you’re socially outgoing (you introduce people) or reserved and like to be introduced.
Expressive vs. contained: Whether you’re demonstrative, self-revealing and easier to know or more controlled and private.
Gregarious vs. intimate: Whether you join groups, want to belong, and have a broad circle of friends or seek out individuals, intimacy and one on one contact.
Active vs. reflective: Whether you like to interact, want contact, and like to listen and speak or whether you are prefer more space, like to observe, and prefer to read and write.
Enthusiastic vs. quiet: whether you are lively, energetic and seek the spotlight or quiet and prefer calm, solitude and being in the background.
My client John (name changed) rated high in the five facets of introversion. The quietest member of our leadership class, he was competent. thoughtful and analytic. He showed little expressiveness when he spoke, which wasn’t often, and his class mates, who valued his contributions, kept egging him to speak up.
My client Jodi, however, had a more balanced profile as an introvert. She rated high on expressive and enthusiastic – extrovert categories – and medium on receiving and intimate – introvert ones. She was much easier to get to know than John and spoke up easily in class, yet didn’t have the same “drive” to hear herself talk as her highly extroverted colleagues. She listened well.
And me? Well, I rated off the chart on expressive – in other words I’m open and easy to know – and I’m also enthusiastic. But I still have many introvert categories such as preferring intimacy, reflection, and responding to rather than initiating social contact.
So none of us, introverts or extroverts come in just one shade. And just to be clear, in case any of you have actually read any of the 50 Shades of Gray trilogy, introversion is not a form of bondage.
In fact, knowing who you are and owning your own strengths can be a path to freedom.