I was asked once in a job interview whether I identified myself as an introvert or an extrovert. I answered honestly by saying that I’ve always been more of an introvert. I immediately felt the weight of my answer as the entire focus of the interview veered off of my experience and talents and on to whether I would be able to speak comfortably with customers as an introvert, whether I could be an introvert and still be effective in networking meetings and whether I thought I could see myself as an effective leader in the company as an introvert. It was beyond frustrating as I started to see that they were beginning to doubt my ability to function around other human beings. They thought I would be too shy to be effective and therefore I would not be the right fit.
There’s no question that being outgoing gets you places; the more outspoken you are, the more people are likely to listen, and the more comfortable you are engaging others in conversation, the more likely you are to land that dream career. But, being an introvert doesn’t mean that you aren’t also outgoing and it certainly should not imply that you are shy.
Those who know me personally and professionally will know that I don’t care much for small talk and that I don’t freely offer up details about my life. In fact, I am a part of the small minority of people not living in a third world country that doesn’t have a Facebook page! These are typical qualities of introverts. But, those who know me will also tell you that I have a crazy sense of humor and that if they get me going on the right topic, I’ll talk your ear off!
I don’t think a single one of my friends or family members would classify me as shy. Maybe opinionated, stubborn and sarcastic, but definitely not shy. And it’s because I’m not.
So what’s the difference between being introverted and being shy? As it turns out, quite a lot! Being shy means you are reserved, timid and/or nervous around others while being introverted means that being around others is mentally draining to you. In other words, as an introvert you aren’t necessarily opposed to going to large social gatherings like a shy person might be, but you may just need a good nap or some alone time afterwards!
Extroverts, on the other hand, are able to draw energy from others. These are the types of people that can spend all day at a networking event then follow up with a group happy hour afterwards and still feel great. An introvert would most likely feel incredibly drained and exhausted after the networking event and will probably decline the invite to happy hour in favor of some alone time with a good book.
So how do you know whether you are an introvert or an extrovert? There are plenty of personality tests that can help you with figuring this out; the Myers Briggs test being the most famous and commonly used. You really don’t need a test to help you figure this out though, just think about how you feel during or after certain situations and take a look at your hobbies and the activities that make you happy.
- If your idea of a fun Friday night is being curled up with a good book and a cup of hot tea, you might be an introvert.
- If you’re perfectly content sitting in a room full of people and not saying a single word to any of them (think jury duty or office waiting rooms), you might be an introvert.
- If you prefer emails or text messages over phone calls, you might be an introvert.
- If you prefer to think about what you say before you say it, you might be an introvert.
All Jeff Foxworthy “You Might Be a Redneck” formatting aside, just be honest with yourself and know that there is nothing wrong with being a self-identified introvert. In fact, being an introvert can be a really great personality trait in both your personal and professional life.
Dr. Katherine Crowley, a Harvard-trained psychotherapist and author said, “[Introverts] are very good observers, not busy being known or making sure everyone sees them, so they’re usually very aware of others and good at picking up on themes in a meeting, and figuring out what other people’s motivations are.” This means that introverts are particularly good at picking up on group dynamics and nuances that others might not see, giving them a leg-up when it comes to avoiding social faux pas or saying the right thing at the right time.
Unfortunately, introverts can run the risk of not being assertive enough and can oftentimes be overshadowed by their more extroverted counterparts. This can lead to frustration in the workplace, unhappiness in relationships and overall discontent.
Here are a few ways to avoid those unhealthy feelings by becoming a more assertive introvert:
- Put yourself in settings you are comfortable in and it will feel much easier asserting yourself. Professionally, this can be weekly one-on-one meetings with your boss to talk about accomplishments, progress and upcoming tasks. In your personal life, it could mean foregoing the traditional first date dinner (who wants to listen to tall that small talk anyways?) for a round of mini-golf (he doesn’t need to know you are a locally famous mini-golf champion!).
- Activate your “vacation” brain. Relationship expert and author Andrea Syrtash says, “We’re not in our heads as much on vacation, and we just let things happen in the moment.” This mindset can be particularly valuable when it comes to meeting new people and may relieve some of the pressure.
- Test out your new assertiveness skills in situations where you already feel passionate. If you love animals, volunteer at a shelter; if you love cars, train to become a mechanic. It will be easier for you to work your way up to leadership positions in places that inspire you.
- Take it back to your middle school drama class and remember the number one rule in improv: Never ask a question that can be answered with a “no.” This immediately shuts down any conversation and will leave you reeling over which question to ask next. Open ended questions can take the pressure off of you to keep creating conversation and can help you engage in more natural conversation instead.
- If all else fails, and if the situation allows, bring a friend! Sometimes just having someone there you know and trust can bring out the best in your personality.
If you find you are frequently stuck in your introverted tendencies, however, and it is negatively affecting your professional, social and romantic life, it may be time to seek the help of a professional. Cognitive Behavioral Therapists can help you take an introspective look at yourself and your habits to establish and implement behaviors that can lead to a more fulfilling life.