Bennis Inc. | I’m an “I”—Understanding the Inner Workings of an Introvert
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I’m an “I”—Understanding the Inner Workings of an Introvert

I’m an “I”—Understanding the Inner Workings of an Introvert

One week ago, I would have considered myself an outgoing, social extrovert…but that was before I saw the results of my Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. According to this highly regarded test, I’m quite an introvert. Should this really come as a surprise to me? I mean, I did choose a career in which I work by myself 90% of the time. I hate talking on the phone, often answering voice mails with emails. And I only check-in with my own family about once a week. Yet, there are so many ways to identify someone as an introvert that are far more common and far less socially awkward than what the generalizations would have you believe. We’re not all hermits, we aren’t necessarily shy and we can still be the life of the party. So what really does define an introvert? I can only speak for myself and am by no means a psychologist, but these are some of my own qualities which may help explain why Myers-Briggs calls me an “I.”

I get my energy from being alone. This took me the first 20 years of my life to really identify. I couldn’t figure out why I would go to a party, have a great time, but after so many hours – like the flip of a switch – feel an even greater desire to go home. I’m very much a social person and enjoy interacting with people, but as an introvert, it requires a great deal of my energy. Once this energy is depleted, I want nothing more than to be some place familiar and alone. I need to decompress. Because both my office and my work schedule are flexible, I recharge during the day and appear much like a social extrovert when I’m with family and friends in the evening. The only time I ever really notice my need for downtime is when I don’t get enough. It’s not that I can’t function when this happens, I just might be a little less energetic and a little quieter.

It might be ridiculous to consider a cat a close friend, but with a face like this who could resist?

I have a few, very close friends. In both relationship and proximity, my “closest” friends are Scott and my cat Pinot…compounded by the fact we all live together. Rather than having many broad friendships, I prefer to put my energy into fewer, but deeper ones. Who I’m closest with at any given time may vary, but my number of close friendships remains fairly consistent. One of the most difficult aspects of being an introvert is that I don’t have a need to be around other people. That’s not to say I don’t like people, but I just don’t need to have daily social interaction to thrive. Because of this, I can go weeks, months even years without seeing someone who I consider a really close friend. To me, closeness isn’t dependent upon frequency of seeing each other, but to my friend – especially one who is an extrovert – this may make the relationship feel distant and out of touch. This is something I’m trying to make a better effort to overcome.

When I spend time with someone, I like it to be substantial. Closely linked to my statement above, when I do set aside time to be with someone, I like it to be for several hours, if not more. It’s not in my personality to “drop by just to say hi” or “swing by for a quick drink.” If I’m taking the time to get ready and go somewhere, I want to stay for more than a few minutes. For the longest time, I envied people who could just casually hang-out with friends, watching TV, going shopping, picking up a bite to eat. They made it look easy when everything I pulled together had to be so structured and formal. I now realize that as an introvert, I’m not inclined to casually hang out because for me it’s an energy loss not an energy gain. So when I do spend time with someone I like it to be substantial because it’s not likely to happen as frequently as it does for an extrovert.

I’m more thought-oriented than action-oriented. Another way to put this is that I do most of my living internally or mentally. I thrive in a work environment that’s completely serene – no people, no noise, no artificial light. I’ve been told this is unrealistic and like working in a vacuum. I don’t disagree; it’s just how I work most effectively. I can and have worked in other environments that were quite the opposite. I still accomplished my tasks, but I never felt like I was working as efficiently as I could if I were alone. Another good example of these differences is to ask someone what they like to do on vacation – a time often dedicated to relaxation. An extrovert might enjoy sight-seeing, exploring the social nightlife or taking part in a lot of activities like surfing or jet skiing. For me, a relaxing vacation is a book and the beach with plenty of personal space and no agenda. By the 5th day, sure I’m starting to crave some excitement and that’s the point. When I come back from vacation I’m completely recharged and ready to tackle whatever life has in store.

The bottom-line: My experience of better understanding my own personality through Myers-Briggs has also given me a better understanding of the personalities of those around me. I’m now able to see that many of my frustrations with someone often stems from us not understanding or respecting each others’ personalities and why we can both experience the same situation, but process it differently. You would think I would have understood the “everyone’s different” concept long before last week – and I thought I did – but there’s so much more to it than that.  Rational behavior and right answers are completely subjective to each individual person and how they would handle a situation. The goal should not be to make someone believe your viewpoint, it should be to meet them halfway.

Stephanie Shirley

stephanie@bennisinc.com