The introversion extroversion balance

I recently watched a great TED talk by Susan Cain, called “The power of introverts.”  Susan, who has written a book of the same name, talks about how, in a culture where being social and outgoing are prized, being a true introvert can be difficult.  People who prefer to be alone, do their own thing, or shy away from socialising or collaborating with others, often seem unusual.

But Susan argues that introverts have their own talents and abilities, which we should make room for and encourage.  She argues that we should celebrate the diversity that introverts bring to the world.

This talk rings true for me, not because I am an introvert, but because I live with one.  Often people think that you are either an introvert, or an extrovert – one or the other.  I don’t really think it’s so black and white.  Rather, I think everyone sits on the introvert/extrovert scale somewhere…some are simply further down one end than the other.

I myself definitely sit on the extroverted end.  I enjoy the company of others, but not just socially.  I am my happiest when I am sharing ideas, talking and working with other people.  I prefer a job where I get to interact with people for most of the day.  I find being with others energising; it gives me the feeling that I’m contributing to the world with purpose.  I collaborate at work, engage with others all day in my programme of study at uni, mentor people in my volunteering and enjoy spending time with friends.

That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy being alone.  In fact, I find that I spend so much of my day interacting with others, that some quiet time alone at home at the end of the day is a great way to stay balanced.

This is possibly why it works so well that my partner is an introvert.  People often think that being introverted means shunning the company of other people.  That’s not exactly true.  It’s more that introverts – who often enjoy social occasions or collaborating with others at work – simply need more time alone to recharge their batteries.

As Susan Cain says in her book:

“Introverts…may have strong social skills and enjoy business parties and meetings, but after awhile they wish they were at home.  They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues and family.  They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and…they tend to dislike conflict.  Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.”

As I understand it, the key is that while extroverts find being with others energising, for introverts it costs something.  So they need more time alone to stay balanced.

I find that it’s quite a different way of being in the world.  But if you respect the boundaries of introverts, then they often make excellent friends, colleagues and partners.  They tend to be better listeners, excellent observers, and more accepting of quiet time; while also able to engage in insightful and intellectual conversation.  I appreciate the differences.

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