At some stage of your life, you’ve likely used the terms extrovert and introvert to label another, even yourself.
Imagine this, you’re at your work Xmas party. An hour into the social gathering, you have recognised that one person, Matthew, has been doing the most talking by a significant margin. You feel yourself become indignant, as you recognise the struggle of others to express themselves and share their story about the most memorable events of the year. Indeed, Jane hasn’t even had the opportunity to speak yet! Then again, Jane might be able to interrupt Matthew if she weren’t so shy. You feel yourself become mentally exhausted in contemplating this disparity in communication and look for an easy way out. “Matthew is just an extrovert, and Jane an introvert”, you say to yourself as you push the thought from your mind. As you go home that night, you lie in bed, wondering whether you’re an extrovert or introvert. “I’m definitely not obnoxious like Matthew, but I’m not a pushover like Jane”.
We can all be forgiven for making such a quick decision about another’s extroversion/ introversion, without carrying out any personality tests whatsoever! The extroversion/ introversion dichotomy is one of the most popular phenomena addressed by pop psychology. This has resulted in many misconceptions about the phenomenon. It has contributed to the relative ease in which we throw around these labels. Commonly, people recognise extroverts as loud and obnoxious, and introverts as quiet and timid. This thinking drives us to form negative biases and pre-conceptions about individuals we consider to be extroverted or introverted. Ask yourself this question: if you’re introverted, are you more likely to automatically have positive feelings towards introverts or extroverts? You will find most people will identify positively with those they consider similar to themselves.
Psychological Science of Introversion/Extroversion Phenomenon
The psychological science concerning the introversion/ extroversion phenomenon is deeply complex, and concerns attentional demands and the processing of external stimuli, and the quality of these stimuli such as social interactions. Additionally, the phenomenon functions more as a continuum rather than a category. This is consistent with how psychologists think about other aspects of personality such as achievement-oriented thinking, aggressive tendencies, and openness to experiences. Whilst an in-depth understanding of the causes of the phenomenon are unlikely to help the average person. The ability to recognise the differences between extroverts and introverts can be deeply helpful when communicating and interacting with such people in our work and personal lives. It allows us to move beyond simple definitions and negative biases which accompany these terms.
Introvert or Extrovert?
Intensity and Frequency of Conversation
You will find that introverts prefer fewer and shorter conversations with individuals they don’t already have a close bond with. While, extroverts are willing to engage in numerous and lengthy conversations with relative strangers. If Alice, the new administration assistant is more content with listening to you speak than engaging you directly in conversation. Be mindful of thinking that Alice doesn’t like you. It may be that Alice falls on the introverted side of the continuum. On the other hand, imagine that you’re meeting your partner’s childhood friend for the first time. This friend, Claire, is extremely eager to engage in conversation and you find it difficult to get a word in with her. Don’t assume that Claire is uninterested in what you have to say. It may be that she is more extroverted. With Alice, it’s important to match her level of communication and not pressure her into communicating. Similarly, with Claire, be mindful of your urge to get a word in. Use this as an opportunity to develop your listening skills, and pick up on obvious moments where a break has been afforded to contribute to the discussion.
Risk Taking Behaviours
Introverts are less likely to take risks. They tend to be more contemplative, considering the implications of different choices before taking action. This allows introverts to make logical decisions which minimises the potential of negative outcomes. If you have a friend you suspect is introverted, it’s important to recognise that they may need more time to make a choice. Don’t demand instant answers, rather, acknowledge the usefulness of a thought-out choice, and provide the time needed to arrive at an answer. Conversely, extroverts are more action-oriented, and may be eager to take risks. This allows extroverts to seize opportunities which might not otherwise be available with careful deliberation. If you have a family member who could be considered extroverted, and is always ready to take a risk. Simply recognise this is a consequence of their psychological make-up. Consider the opportunities which could arise with novel experiences. It’s important here to keep a cool head, and respect your family members independence.
Source of Stimulation
Introverts and extroverts require different sources of stimulation to ‘recharge their batteries’. Whereas extroverts are more likely to find externalising stimulation rewarding (e.g., socialising at parties, playing competitive team sports, and attending music festivals). Introverts tend to prefer internalising stimulation (e.g., reading a book in their room, watching a movie alone, and sharing a coffee with one person who knows them well). There’s no right or wrong source of external or internal stimulation here. Both sources are valid and apt for the individual who needs them to recharge. To support your friends, family, and colleagues suspected of being extroverted/ introverted here. Consider inviting them along to activities which could match the source of stimulation they’re more likely to find rewarding. If in doubt, think about past socialising experiences – what kind of environment did your friend, family member, or colleague thrive in?
The main difference which comes to mind when we think about extroverts and introverts concerns socialising. Indeed, extroverts tend to have multiple social circles and are generally keen to expand their social network. Conversely, introverts prefer a small handful of friends who they know and trust deeply. Again, there’s no right or wrong number of friends one should have. If you have an extroverted friend, consider inviting them to events where they’ll have the opportunity to meet many new faces. If you are wanting to socialise with your introverted friend, consider keeping the event between just the two of you.