Alistair MillerOne of the things I have noticed over the years is how the media, and society in general, like to pigeonhole people.  We seem to love sticking people into boxes and putting a label on them.  This is definitely the case with introverts.  Now I know when you talk about introverts there will be a certain amount of generalisation.  You have to generalise if you are talking about a group of people.  But not only does society tend to pigeonhole introverts, it also seems to misunderstand them as well.

However, having met quite a number of introverts, particularly over the last few months, one thing that strikes me is our diversity.  The stereotypical image of an introvert is that:

  • we spend all our time on our own
  • we are poor at social interaction
  • we are quiet
  • we don’t have much to say
  • we are slightly nervous and timid.

Whilst a lot of these negative perceptions arise from a confusion of shyness with introversion (they are not the same thing!), there also seems to be an assumption that ALL introverts suffer from these issues.

But if you take a look at the Myers-Briggs test, they have 16 different personality types.  They have Introversion or Extroversion as just one aspect of someone’s personality, with three other ways of looking at our own personal mix.  Our introversion is just one facet of who we are.  Admittedly it is an important part of our makeup, but it’s just one part.  For instance, one introvert might be very intuitive and like to make their decisions based on their gut feeling.  Whereas another might consider themselves much more practical, and would want to get a good sense of the facts before coming to a conclusion.  One introvert might like talking about their feelings.  Whereas another introvert might find that idea unbearable and would want to keep their feelings distinctly private.

Plus we are all on a sliding scale of Introversion and Extroversion.  You can have ambiverts in the middle, who are equally introverted and extroverted, all the way across to people who are extremely introverted or extroverted.  The impact of someone’s introverted side on an ambivert, as compared to someone who is incredibly introverted, might be much less.  For example, the effects from being around people for a long period of time, on their energy levels and stimulation levels, might differ to a large degree.

So I get a bit wary when I hear all these assumptions about how introverts must be x and how they must behave like y.  I see introversion as a useful starting point for asking who someone is.  It gives some background information on what their preferences are.  It can also help with people’s self-acceptance.  With so many negative, and frankly misleading perceptions being bandied around about introverts, an actual understanding of why we behave the way we do can be invaluable in accepting who we are.

We are not anti-social.  It’s just sometimes, being around people for prolonged periods of time, can be exhausting for us.  We’re not short of opinions.  But we like time to think through the points we want to make and how we’re going to make them.  We’re not timid.  It’s just we like to give a considered opinion, after listening to both sides of the story.

So whilst I am an introvert myself and work with introverts, I certainly see a variety in the people I meet.  It’s for us to understand our unique personalities.  And to appreciate the uniqueness in others.

Alistair Miller is a Career Coach at Introvert At Work who specialises in helping Introverts with their work related issues.  He has been coaching for 6 years and intends to use his coaching to bring greater understanding and acceptance of the Introverted style of working.