For years, I’ve bragged about turning a social disability of talking too much into a lucrative career as a professional speaker. My loquaciousness (that’s “blabbing” for you non-talkers) works well for my job but can be a challenge for my wife who has spent the last thirty-one years becoming a professional listener. Thankfully, she rarely rolls her eyes.
To this point, I’m reading a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. In the book, she describes how introverts function in a world that seems to put a greater value on being an extrovert. It’s a wonderful read and I related to it in some surprising ways.
You see, most people would describe me as an extrovert since I’m very comfortable in front of a crowd—as suggested by my career. I also enter new situations relatively comfortably, I hold my own in most conversations, and I am quite charming to boot (Note: this is a personal opinion that may not be shared by others).
But, here’s the interesting thing. I’m also an introvert.
I value my quiet time. Reading is a fun activity for me. And working alone in the yard is like therapy. Plus I don’t mind being alone with my charming self to boot.
So, I’m comfortable being with people and I’m comfortable being apart from them.
The term for this is ambivert. While it sounds like a flexible vegetable, it perfectly describes my conflicted personalty. Here’s how it works:
I’m energized when I’m around people and as a result, I tend to go into performance mode. I talk, I tell stories, I share jokes, and I connect with others. But I get a bit overwhelmed if I’m around people for too long or when I have to mingle with new acquaintances for an extended period of time. Ironically, that’s what I do for my job—I travel all over the country speaking at events and interacting with people I don’t know. Go figure.
But here’s how the ambivert plays out. When I’m onstage, I’m talking in front of people and that fires up the extrovert/performer in me. However, it eventually drains me and I don’t have much extrovert left to interact during the meals, the receptions, and the book signings.
My challenge is managing my ambivert-ed-ness by balancing the need for human connection with a counter need for being alone. If I get drained, I have a tough time functioning. However, if I find ways to recharge, I handle both situations much better.
In the book Quiet, Cain shares a number of different research studies that suggest most work environments don’t understand that people may need time alone to be their most productive. There are meetings, brainstorming sessions, and open work spaces which all work against an introvert’s desire for a quiet place to be creative. And ironically, the extroverts don’t function much better either because they spend their time talking and interacting without getting enough done. The organizations that recognize the need for quiet space and interactive space can change the work environment so that they are both introvert- and extrovert-friendly. Because, everyone doesn’t work or function the same way.
For instance, a friend of mine, who is an introvert, can withstand a group situation for a few hours and then he completely shuts down. Once we were having dinner with a dozen other people and towards the end of the meal, he simply stood up and said, “I’m done. Goodnight.”
We all laughed because we understood his introverted-ness had had enough. He needs quiet time during his day to balance the people time.
Similarly, another friend is not comfortable being alone. She needs to be with other people or she gets a bit stir crazy. So, she’s always planning the next event where she’ll be able to hang out with friends or family. She loves an environment where there are work groups and brainstorming sessions.
The key to managing the introvert and/or the extrovert in us is to recognize which way we lean and to make sure we recharge the right part of us. Here are some tips:
- If you are a true introvert, make sure that you schedule alone time during your day. If your job requires you to be around a lot of people, take breaks where you can recharge your battery. And then make sure you have some alone time at home as well. You don’t have to be a hermit or ignore your family but just realize how you benefit from time away from people.
- If you are a true extrovert, make sure you’re not forced to be alone too much. Plan activities with others. Be purposeful with your relationships and get together with friends and family on a regular basis. You can also join volunteer organizations or local community groups as a way to create regular interactive time with people.
- And if you’re an ambivert like me, just be balanced in your time with and without people. For instance, when I lived near a Starbucks, I would often go there to write. I liked the energy of the people around me but since I didn’t know most of them, I didn’t have to interact with them. It was a way to channel the extroverted energy into an introverted activity. And then when I’d had enough of the noise and activity, I went home.
While our society may suggest that extroverts are more valued for their leadership and outspokenness, introverts often think about and develop the life-changing creations in our world. So, we need both. And if we can figure out a way to attend to our own particular “vert”, then we can live a much more balanced life.