I’m the girl at the office who gets labeled “the quiet one.” I’m often passed over in social situations by more charismatic, loud go-getters. I’m not what you would call the “life of the party.” But, I am thoughtful and studious – the book nerd – with my head down working and writing frantically all day. Some would say that I’m in my own little bubble.
When I’m in the zone, I really get inside my head and stay there until the internal chatter subsides. Then once in a while, I’ll peek up and offer a courageous “Hello” to my peers as they walk by. I’m not quiet to be weird or rude. I’m quiet because I choose to be. It’s because I’m always thinking and dreaming. And I don’t think being an introvert is a bad thing. We just get a bad rap. Keep reading to find out what’s really going on inside the mind of an introvert.
What’s Up with Introverts?
I can’t speak for other introverts, but I believe I’m wired this way and have been since I was a child. Maybe it’s because I moved away and left Germany for America when I was really young and didn’t speak English well (at first). Maybe it’s because I was bullied by other girls in school. Or maybe it’s because I was a natural teacher’s pet and would rather impress an adult than gain another kid’s approval.
As an adult, I still have fears and preferences.
Introducing myself to new people in a crowd terrifies me, and yet I started my career as a journalist interviewing people one-on-one. Speaking in public makes me uncomfortable, and yet I am able to sing in front of a crowd. Leading a meeting unnerves me, and yet I love being asked to contribute meaningful ideas to a group discussion.
How could this be?
It turns out it could all come down to simple biology – the nervous system – and how we’re all wired.
The Biology of Introverts vs. Extroverts
According to Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” and TEDTalk speaker on “The Power of Introverts,” there’s a biological explanation to why introverts get most of their energy from being alone.
“Introverts have nervous systems that react more to stimulations of all kinds, from social stimulation to the stimulation of lots of noise in a room,” Cain says. “Extroverts have nervous systems that react less and therefore crave more stimulation to feel their most alive and energized.”
Psychologist Russell Geen studied this phenomenon and found that extroverts are able to function well around background noise, for example, and introverts need less noise to work at their best. “Introverts can become overwhelmed and distracted by too much stimulation,” says NPR’s TED Radio Hour host Guy Raz.
Are We Living in an Extroverts’ World?
Unfortunately, “as a culture, we place a higher value on extroverts in all sorts of ways,” Cain continues. In fact, “our most important institutions, our schools and our work places, are designed mostly for extroverts’ need for lots of stimulation.”
Schools are designed for mini committee meetings, while work spaces are designed with open floorplans instead of cubicle walls. They tend to be noisy and overcrowded with little privacy.
Of course, social networking and teamwork are important in both cases. However, introverts, who make up about one-third to half of the population, may do their best work in solitude. When it comes to deep thinking, such as is needed with creative writing, introverts are more productive doing solo work. “You can’t really know what you and you alone think unless you are willing to be by yourself for a while,” Cain says on NPR’s Nov. 9, 2018 episode of TED Radio Hour: “Quiet: Finding Stillness in Unexpected Places.”
At the end of the day, the issue with how introverts are valued by society falls down to opportunity. Even though many introverts are just as ambitious as their extrovert peers, Cain says they are still “routinely passed up for leadership positions – even though they’re much more careful and less likely to take outside risks.”
“Culturally, we need more of a yin and yang between these two types. This is especially important when it comes to creativity and productivity,” Cain continues. “When psychologists look at the life of the most creative people, what they find are people who are very good at exchanging ideas and advancing ideas, but who also have a serious streak of introversion in them.”
(Read more about Cain and her “quiet revolution” here.)
A Third Personality Type: Ambivert
Although 20th-century Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung first introduced the terms “introvert” and “extrovert” as part of his theories about basic personality types, a third personality type has since been identified.
Research suggests that there are people with personality traits of both introverts and extroverts. These people are known as ambiverts. They tend to listen as well as assert themselves, which makes them successful in life and business.
After learning more about this third personality type, I’d like to hope that’s where I fit in.
However, personalities may be situational. After all, human beings are inconsistent, sometimes irrational, and emotional creatures. But those qualities are not our downfall, rather, they’re what make us unique.
In any case, whether we’re quiet or loud, it really doesn’t matter. Let’s ditch the labels and stereotypes and learn to appreciate all the different ways we’re wired. Then, maybe we can all work together successfully – like the human equivalent to a well-oiled (although sometimes squeaky) machine.
How do you think introverts, extroverts, and ambiverts are wired? Share your thoughts below!