People closest to me will tell you it’s true.
I’m more comfortable in a one-on-one conversation than in a conversation with several people. I’m not fond of being the centre of attention. I often prefer to “sleep on it” rather than make a decision on the spot. I come across as reserved rather than gregarious.
Do any of these things sound like you? If so, then maybe you’re an introvert, like me.
It’s these behaviours, along with a few others, that signal a preference for introversion, which according to various studies comprises anywhere between 30 and 50 per cent of the population.
So what made me think that introversion is a topic worthy of writing about? World Introvert Day is on January 2.
World Introvert Day
In 2011, January 2 was declared World Introvert Day, a day to celebrate, better understand and appreciate introverts, a group that tends to feel misunderstood.
Why take a day to acknowledge introverts?
Susan Cain is the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, a book that has been on The New York Times bestseller list for more than seven years. Cain argues that modern Western society has become one in which an "extrovert ideal" dominates and introversion is viewed as inferior or even pathological.” Cain contends that everyone loses when the traits and capabilities of introverts are misunderstood and undervalued, leading to "a colossal waste of talent, energy, and happiness.”
Or, as PositivePsychology.com encourages us in the Practitioner Digest, "...do not overlook the quiet introvert—a closed book holds just as much as an open one."
What introversion is and how it differs from extroversion
In his book called Psychological Types, published in 1921, Carl Jung first used the terms introvert and extrovert to describe differences in how people draw energy. He posited that extroverts draw energy from the “outer world” or stimuli, while introverts draw energy from within—the “inner world.”
When an introvert starts their day feeling fully charged, interactions and exposure to other stimuli over the course of the day draw on the “energy battery” which becomes depleted over time. The introvert needs to retreat periodically in order to recharge their battery.
The extrovert, on the other hand, draws energy from external stimuli—including people, activities, sounds and sights—almost like a solar-powered battery.
In addition to how each personality finds energy and responds to stimuli, other differences seen in the behaviours of introverts and extroverts are shown in the illustration below.
Myths about introverts
There are common myths about introverts.
Introverts are aloof - For instance, because introverts are often quiet, people tend to think they’re shy or aloof. In reality, they may simply be content to listen. Or they may be processing internally what someone is saying. They tend to be happy waiting for a turn to speak or speaking only if they feel they have something worthwhile to say.
Introverts lack confidence – It is not unusual for an introvert to be perceived as lacking confidence, perhaps because they appear quiet and tend to think before verbalizing a response. I recently had a conversation with someone where I mentioned I am an introvert. She responded saying, “Oh, that’s surprising. You come across as very confident,” as though the two things are negatively correlated.
Introverts are anti-social – It is not uncommon for people to label introverts as anti-social. But, according to Cain, this isn’t accurate. “… it's just that introverts are differently social. So they would prefer to have a glass of wine with a close friend as opposed to going to a loud party full of strangers.”
All introverts are created equal – We can expect all introverts to be the same about as much as we can expect all extroverts to be the same. Certainly, a preference for introversion is a key component of a person’s temperament that is shaped by their neurobiology. According to research by former Harvard professor Jerome Kagan, temperament—including introversion—can be predicted by the physiological responses of infants as young as four months. But, psychologists also tell us that personality includes a complex mix of behaviours we see when we factor in cultural and environmental influences and personal experiences.
You’re either an introvert or you’re an extrovert – Building on Jung’s work, researchers have more recently discovered that introversion is not an either-or proposition. Think of introversion and extroversion as a spectrum.
If you have a very strong preference for introversion, you may be towards one end of the spectrum. A strong preference for extroversion would place you towards the other end of the spectrum. Those who have neither a preference for introversion or extroversion—sitting between the two on the spectrum—are thought to be ambiverts.
Why a preference for introversion or extroversion matters
My strengths as an introvert are different than those of my more extroverted family, friends and colleagues. I think deeply and process carefully. I listen well. I bring a sense of calm.
When we understand ourselves and our preferences, such as whether we are an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert, we’re in a better position to capitalize on our strengths. And we’re also in a better position to be alert to our blind spots.
Talking about these differences in how we function with those we lead, live or work with can build greater understanding and mutual respect, enhancing our ability to successfully collaborate.
Regardless of your preference for introversion or extroversion, the best thing you can do is tap into your strengths—which is usually those things you’re most comfortable with—and also be willing to challenge yourself, enhance your abilities, and be in the world as your best self.
University of Pennsylvania professor and organizational psychologist Adam Grant suggests, “But no matter your type, flexibility is a quality we can all embrace. Think of your personality as serving like an anchor—instead of constraining you, it keeps you from drifting too far as you pursue new possibilities.”
Cheers to you, dear introvert, extrovert and ambivert
World Introvert Day draws attention to the quieter ones among us (which is interesting since introverts typically don’t like attention drawn to themselves).
I think it draws attention not just to differences, but also to the richness we find when we interact with others representing different temperaments.
Think about what happens when we achieve more self-awareness, better understand each other, and each bring our authentic selves and unique gifts to the table. Individuals, teams, organizations and communities are bound to thrive more.
If you found this article interesting or helpful, please share it on social media, or with your favourite introvert, extrovert or ambivert.
NOTE: This article was updated in December 2023