An Introvert in an Extrovert’s World

Being an introvert in an America that only values extroverts sucks. The Meyers-Briggs study of the 1960s estimated 25% as being introverted, but that was without any firm evidence. According to a 1998 Meyers-Briggs Institute study, however, 50.7% of the population are introverts, with males at 54.1% and females at 47.5%. I put what the data says up front because most extroverts seem (at least to me) to think that introverts make up only about 10%.

Workplaces and schools, in particular, are designed for extroverts. The average space per square foot required for an office worker that the real estate market recognizes has dropped (at least in the greater Seattle area) from 250 sf per employee to 175 sf as more and more workplaces shift from cubicles to open space. For introverts in Seattle, this creates increased levels of stress and anxiety, especially when businesses do not provide places of quiet for introverts to recharge during break times.

One of the worst activities for an introvert is the “let’s get your group to bond by doing a stupid game” idea. Whenever I hear this, I shut down. I’ve been accused of being a negative influence in these activities, but it’s simply my defense mechanism kicking in against what I see as a worthless, meaningless game that couldn’t provide a more shallow method of bonding.

For introverts who are students, the only thing worse than getting called on in class is being forced to work on a group project, especially if there’s a dominant extrovert in the group. Teachers often seem to not understand that introverts and extroverts work very differently, in styles that can really clash, especially when the teacher does not provide enough oversight or guidance.

This idea of Groupthink, which is the idea that the most creativity and productivity comes from working in a group, is anathema to many introverts. I don’t mind brainstorming with others, but I get far more accomplished on my own. For me, this is because extroverts tend to dominate the groupthink and, generally, have little to no empathy for introverts.

Introverts need time to think, and that usually means quiet. Extroverts seem to thrive on “energy” (i.e., noise and speed) and often act as if introverts are stupid or inferior because we aren’t as “fast on our feet.”

As I watch our current presidential campaign, it seems to be dominated by extroverts. We have been force fed for a long time (at least since I was young) that good leaders need to be “charismatic.” However, in today’s society, being charismatic no longer has anything to do with character, but with personality. The former is a reflection of the internal person, or who the person really is, while personality is a reflection of how a person portrays themselves to the rest of the world, or the person’s veneer.

I’m not trying to bash extroverts, but I am trying to increase awareness of the needs of introverts in an extroverted world. Introverts can operate in such a world (many introverts are very loud, but that is a coping mechanism), but to be our best, we do need quiet and alone time. We especially need extroverts to be empathetic rather than dismissive.

If you want to read a great book on this topic, try Quiet by Susan Cain. Should be required reading for every extrovert in a leadership position.

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