Your Professional Field Guide to Be a Rockstar Introvert (Part 1)
Finally, Introverts are getting into the mainstream of the collective consciousness. Books and articles are now springing up on the topic and just now, I saw a retreat for Introverts. It’s a good time to be an Introvert.
The biggest issue I have with most things I read on the subject of being an Introvert is the translating all of that into practical, useable advice. If I’m an Introvert, I want to know not only “What does this mean to me?” but also “What do I do with this information that will help me with [fill in the blank]?”
Most of the time, when we take an assessment, there’s this big “so what?” factor that comes along with it. With the advent of the Internet, personality assessments abound. Who doesn’t like to hear more about themselves? But once you know what you’re classified as, it then begs the question of what good that information is to you. Even if you haven’t taken an assessment and have only surmised your personality type, what does that mean in the day-to-day arc of your life or career?
The short answer is: not much. It’s like learning about the formation of granite: interesting, but does it do anything at all to change your behavior, make a difference in your career or advance a cause? Again, no. Knowing you’re a specific personality type does you no good if you can’t do something useful with the information. (Like this thought? Tweet it!)
So in this post, I’d like to give you both insight into your personality as an Introvert and how it works on the job.
The Introvert Personality
The central concept to understanding our personality is the use of our energy. When I first heard that, it really didn’t mean much to me. I’m sure someone else reading this has the same reaction. (We just didn’t connect the dots.)
Energy in the context of your personality means the personal energy it takes to do something, even if all you’re doing is setting in a meeting. Think about going to a daylong seminar or even a project you work on all day. It’s the kind of thing that really has no physical expenditure but nevertheless, at the end of the day, you’re pooped. Not because you used your energy to move around, but because your brain was working overtime to soak up all of the value you were there to obtain. Rarely does anyone talk about the fact that your brain uses up energy almost faster than a good workout at the gym.
It turns out the primary difference between an Extravert and an Introvert is how their energy is created and spent. For an Extravert, their battery is recharged through their environment or “outside” of their head. The things you commonly equate with an Extravert, like speaking more than we do, are an energizing activities for them, as is being interactive with others. For an Introvert, those very things can suck the life out of us. Our energy is restored inside our head through more internally focused things like working on a solitary project, listening to music or reading. When we are around others or interact with others, it spends our energy.
If you begin with this basic understanding of energy creation and expenditure, it starts to make abundant sense when you then start equating energy to some of the behavior that goes with it. Below is a quiz I developed to help you self-identify your personality type. It’s also designed to show the contrast between Extraverts (“E”) and Introverts (“I”). I should point out that you have other facets to your personality than just Introvert and Extravert, but we are only focusing on those two right now.
Personality Orientation Assessment
Instructions: This is a “forced choice” assessment, meaning at each line, you should select the statement that is truer for you or reflects you more than the other statement. You will notice the other statement may apply to you as well, but you must pick the one that applies to you the most between the two.
Scoring: Once you’ve made a selection for each line, tally your X’s in the left column and in the right column. This should give you a good idea of which type you are.
|X if yes||Extravert||X if yes||Introvert|
|Attuned to external environment or things surrounding you||Drawn to inner world or thoughts, memories, information, ideas and impressions|
|Prefer to communicate by talking||Prefer to communicate in writing|
|Work out ideas by talking them through||Work out ideas by reflecting on them|
|Learn best through doing or discussing||Learn best by reflection, mental “practice”|
|Have broad interests||Focus in-depth on your interests|
|Sociable and expressive||Private and contained|
|Readily take initiative in work and relationships||Take initiative when the situation or issue is very important to you|
|Energized by interacting with people and speaking||Energized by yourself|
|Oriented to people and action||Oriented to thoughts and feelings|
|Use trial and error with confidence||Consider deeply before acting|
|Scan the environment for stimulation||Find stimulation inwardly|
|Lively, energetic, seek spotlight||Calm, enjoy solitude, seek the background|
|Interactive, want contact, listen and speak||Onlooker, prefer space, read and write|
|Want to belong, broad circle, join groups||Seek intimacy, one-on-one, find individuals|
|Demonstrative, easier to know, self-revealing||Controlled, harder to know, private|
|Sociable, congenial, introduce people||Reserved, low-key, are introduced|
|Gregarious, expressive||Quiet, contained|
|Initiating, enthusiastic||Receiving, intimate|
Now that you’ve taken this brief assessment, you should be in “so what?” mode. Never fear, read on…
The first thing to notice is that more than likely, you had some X’s in both columns. While the Meyers-Briggs folks believe you’re either one or the other personality type, I’m in the camp that says you are “mostly” one or the other. That means you aren’t always consistently behaving as an Introvert. You may have moments when you’re a bit more “E,” and vice versa.
There is also a vital but little-known aspect to our personalities, and that is versatility. It turns out that as we travel through life situations, we learn we must adapt to the situation in order for it to produce the best results. We aren’t always aware we are adapting; when you adapt enough to various situations, it becomes fairly automatic. As an Introvert, we learn in which situations we can be more chatty or demonstrative without sucking up all of our battery life, like when we’re with our family.
As Darwin said, “Change is central to our existence.” Which means that both the “E” and “I” do adapt, and the ones who adapt the best — the most frequently and the soonest — will be the most successful in life and work. You can probably think of people whose personality is rigid, and you know these are the people having the greatest difficultly and who are usually seriously unhappy.
Take heart if you are one of those rigid people! (Or even slow to learn to adapt.) Adapting is a learned skill. Some people who are particularly self-aware pick up adaptation skills very naturally. For the rest of us, we can learn to adapt. What you may have thought was the domain of some very lucky people is now yours, should you choose to do so.
I’m going to really dive deep into adaptations, but first, it’s important to dispel some Introvert myths.
Myths and Misconceptions
1. Social Anxiety Is Part of the Introvert Personality
When it comes to our personality type, there are a lot of notions attached to it that aren’t entirely correct. What I’m speaking of is when you hear any of the following traits:
- Dislikes people
If you take Webster’s definition of an Introvert, those things are certainly characteristics you could include.
Webster’s definition and synonyms:
- Reserved and shy
- Turned in upon itself: marked by being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one’s own mental life
- Bashful, coy, demure, modest, diffident, retiring, sheepish
When people speak broadly about Introverts as shy and antisocial, they aren’t entirely correct. There are other things going on with a person besides their personality. Usually a shy person suffers from social anxiety and may be systemic to being Anti-Social. So, yes, you could attach those elements to the word “Introvert,” but not to the personality of Introvert. This may be a bit of a fine distinction, but I think it is a distinction worth noting.
I point this out is because your personality is a given, just like your eye color. Social anxiety is developed for a variety of reasons and is something that can be reduced with focus and professional help. You can’t change your personality, but like social anxiety, if you have problems with your behavior that are driven by your personality, you can make some adaptations or changes to improve your situation. In other words, both the issues that stem from Social Anxiety and the issues that stem from the Introvert personality have solutions, but they are different.
There are many other mental health diagnoses that have these characteristics. I think that like many things, when you start seeing the more extreme examples of behavior, you aren’t talking about a personality as much as you’re talking about a disorder.
My point is that some people mistakenly think if you’re an Introvert, it’s a problem or something that needs to be fixed. If it’s your personality you need to appreciate that there is nothing wrong with you. If you’re suffering from social anxiety and it’s impacting your life, you may want a professional to help you. It’s interesting, if not slightly unfortunate that no other MBTI personality seems to have the baggage associated with them that Introverts do. Oh well.
2. Introverts Can’t Perform in Some Professional Occupations
This myth really bothers me, especially as a career coach. Granted, there are some occupations Introverts may be more drawn to, but I’ve seen highly successful Introverts in all occupations. I’ve seen them as managers, leaders, sales people, actors, teachers, doctors and police. An array of Introverts are captains of industry, including Warren Buffet and Bill Gates. President Obama, who is at the highest post politically in the US, is also an Introvert. There is simply no merit to the myth that we can’t be successful in all jobs. It’s just not true.
To summarize, there is no right or wrong when it comes to personality type, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with being an Introvert. Unfortunately, the word “Introvert” itself does seem to have “problems” associated with it, but I guess that is our burden to bear.
Now that you know a little about how being an Introvert affects you in the workplace, stay tuned for next week’s post in which we’ll discuss how you can change or adapt your Introvert tendencies for better career success.
What does being an Introvert mean to you? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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