Know Thyself: Why Introversion and Extroversion Myths Do Our Work a Disservice
I’m a little frustrated with some of the myths out there about introverts and extroverts. Partly because I’m a struggling converted extrovert, and in part because I see these myths as barriers to doing our best work.
When we operate with these misunderstandings, we’re not able to tap into the true powers of our introversion or extroversion.
If your job requires you to get on stage, like mine does, to speak to a room of people, that doesn’t mean you’re absolutely an extrovert. And just because you enjoy reading doesn’t mean you’re an absolute introvert. We can be outgoing and people-oriented and still be an extreme introvert. We can be quiet and shy and still be an extrovert.
It’s not about your social preferences; it’s about how you recharge, and get yourenergy.
When you’ve had a grueling day at work, would you rather go home to be alone? Or do you walk through the door and immediately think, “Who can I hang out with?”
Extroverts are innately social. They are invigorated and recharge by being around others. Introverts are energized through introspection and alone time. Some of this has to deal with how introverts and extroverts process sensory stimuli. Introverts are much more sensitive to incoming information than extroverts, which causes them to use more mental effort to process the stimuli in any given setting. For example, introverts tend to crave deeper, meaningful conversations to inspire them while extroverts thrive on multiple conversations and small talk.
But...what does all of this have to do with unleashing our best work?
Myth: I’m introverted, so I don’t like people or social situations.
Reality: I’m introverted, so I need pockets of alone time to recharge my batteries.
What does that mean for my work?
Be patient with yourself. As an introvert, it can take you longer to immerse yourself in a task or project. Sometimes, at least in my case, it can take 45 minutes to find my flow. But once you are in your flow state, you’re able to stay locked in on the work for longer amounts of time than an extrovert may be able to.
Another thing to take into consideration is your work environment. Open working space is becoming more and more the norm for most offices. This can be draining for an introvert. Try to score some better real estate in the office by a wall or in a more enclosed area so you feel more enclosed and not exposed from all sides.
How can I recharge?
When you’re going at 100 miles per hour, you have to be strategic about finding small pockets of time for yourself. It’s vital to avoid burn-out.
Take an honest assessment of your life: What are you doing when you get home? What are you doing in the morning? What are the introverted-like activities that help you start your day?
If your answer is none of the above, make finding some “you” time a priority. If your recharge activity is catching up on some television, you’d be better off getting up early and sitting down on the couch with a coffee before heading in to work.
Small tweaks can lead you to your best more charged up and focused work.
Myth: I’m an extrovert, so I’m amazing at networking and public speaking.
Reality: I’m an extrovert, so I crave stimulation.
What does that mean for my work?
I’m going through a conversion from being introverted to more extroverted, and it has changed the way I work in incredibly interesting ways. Before this flip, I was able to do intensive, deep dives into my work for long periods of time. While it took me longer to get there (like I mentioned above), I could sustain that state effortlessly.
Now, I find myself thriving on sprint tasks lasting maybe 45 minutes at a time. This all has to do with stimulation. Extroverts crave constant stimulation, making open office settings incredibly appealing to them. They love brainstorming meetings and throwing everything out on the table. They enjoy talking through their problems in big groups. At times, it requires talking out loud to even think through a situation properly. An introvert’s nightmare.
Find your working style and let your peers know. Figure out ways to bring everyone into the fold, so the process is beneficial to all.
How do I recharge?
Like with introverts, it’s important for you to honestly assess yourself. What makes you feel alive? What inspires you to do your best work?
Take a new class or join a club. Volunteer and meet new people. Extroverts crave that stimulation of social situations, which make them feel inspired and invigorated. Find ways to light that passion afire.
Recently, I noticed a pattern in my energy when I would get home at the end of a day. Some days I felt on fire and other days my mood was damped and, truthfully, just bad. I wondered why and started to pay closer attention to my sleep and eating habits, but couldn’t find any correlation. Then one day it hit me — phone calls in the car. On days I was quiet and reflective (introverted) I was low energy upon arriving and days where I dialed and talked (extroverted) I was ready to get down on the floor and play legos, or whatever invented game-of-the-day my kids had made up. Whether it was a business or personal call I found myself being charged up — which is the opposite of who I am...or, rather, who I was.
Before I go, here’s one caveat:
These traits aren’t all-or-nothing.
We are humans and as such, we are incredibly complex and beautiful beings with a massive amount of variations and needs. Nothing is one-size-fits-all. Understanding yourself and those in your care can take time and effort, but your brain and work will thank you for it.
Until next time,