Most of us think we know the difference between introverts and extraverts. Introverts seldom go anywhere, right? They’d rather stay at home and read a book. Extraverts are party animals. Wherever the action is, that’s where you’ll find them. Introverts don’t talk much. Extraverts talk all the time.
To some extent, this is true. But there’s much more to it than that.
Introverts don’t just find a hole somewhere and sit in it, protected from the outside world. They’re recharging their batteries, collecting their thoughts, and getting their feelings organized. When they’re in the outside world, they’re certainly able to be friendly and talkative some of the time. But after a while they tire out. They need privacy to regroup, think things over, and decide what it all means. If they’ve been let down by a friend, they want to mull the matter over before talking about it. Not extraverts. Too much time alone makes them antsy. When left in solitude for a long period, they get irritable. They need to talk to other people. It’s how they get their energy.
If you send an introvert and an extravert to a party together, you can almost count on the introvert suggesting they leave early and the extravert wanting to stay until the lights are turned out. The difference? The introvert is being depleted of energy. The extravert is recharging.
Here are some of the hallmarks of the two types:
• Gathers energy from thinking and reflecting in private.
• Needs plenty of time alone.
• When in social settings, comes across as reserved.
• Is drained by prolonged exposure to groups, at work or anywhere else.
• At parties, talks to only two or three people, preferably previous acquaintances.
• Suspicious of people who seem too glib.
• Doesn’t reveal personal information readily.
• Dislikes being interrupted while concentrating on something.
• Comes to life in group settings. Mixes easily in crowds.
• Needs the stimulation of social activities to function effectively.
• Knows a lot of people and considers many of them friends.
• Can work and function in noisy, busy settings.
• Isn’t distracted by the TV, radio, or conversations of others.
• Tends to dominate conversations, especially with introverts.
• Approaches strangers as easily as friends.
• Discloses personal information readily.
• Needs frequent attention and affirmation from others.
Subtleties of Introversion and Extraversion
Carl Jung, the Swiss psychoanalyst whose work on personality types opened up the field of personality typology in the early 1900s, introduced the concepts of introversion and extraversion. These ideas were further developed by Isabel Myers and Katherine Briggs, creators of the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory.
As the words introvert and extravert are used these days, they miss some of the subtleties of the original Jungian terms. Now, people think of introverts as shy, withdrawn people. They think of extraverts as talkative, outgoing types. Jung intended the words to indicate not where a person’s actions are invested but the source of their psychological energy.
Extraverts focus their attention on people and events in the external world. Introverts focus on their inner world. As personality preferences, one is no better than the other. Both are simply ways that people construct meaning from their experiences.
It’s important to remember that the functions of introversion and extraversion are preferences, not rigid personality characteristics. While introverts may be reserved and quiet most of the time, they’re quite capable of being talkative and outgoing when a topic comes up that interests them. The same is true if they’re talking with close friends about subjects of mutual interest.
Speaking from personal experience, I have friends who swear that I’m an extravert. They’re wrong. Nothing pleases me more than checking my calendar and finding that I have no appointments that day. However, when I do have appointments and they engage my interests, I look like an extravert—outgoing and enthusiastic. What I’m not interested in are meetings devoted solely to social interaction.
Are extraverts always talkative and outgoing? Not necessarily. While they are energized by the company of others and enjoy contributing to conversations, they are capable of being quiet observers. The defining factor is where their attention is focused. Extraverted news reporters, for example, may have little to say while watching and recording a public event. While they are absorbed in filming, recording or taking notes, they may be mostly quiet and observant. As soon as these extraverts have done their jobs, however, they’re likely to feel a need to talk with others about what they’ve witnessed. Introverts, on the other hand, will process the information internally first and talk about it later.
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