Ever since Susan Cain came out with her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, more people are declaring their introversion as a badge of honor. There are now tons of blogs, forums and periodicals devoted to introversion and personality theory, which means this is getting more exposure and there are more people I can nerd out with on this subject. Sweet!
But, as with any new fad topic that gets ingested by the masses (hello, Presidential election?), the views become polarized, and we forget that the world is actually nuanced and complex. It’s those annoying, chatty extroverts vs. the calm, quiet introverts. And while there are now articles about different kinds of introverts, there seems to be one area the zeitgeist can’t let go of: how much –or how little – we talk determines the camp in which we belong. Some things are like seats on an airplane; no one wants to be in the middle.
Even the title of Susan Cain’s book snarks at those who tend to speak more prolifically; the world is full of obnoxious people who won’t shut up. But what people seem to forget is all introversion and extroversion mean is: where do you derive your energy? In other words, how long can you be around people before you feel worn down?
Now, I am an introvert. I’ve taken the Myers-Briggs several times, and am squarely an introvert each time. I prefer low-key, solitary activities. Being in crowds causes me to shut down. When I take the Metro in the morning, if it’s really crowded, just being in the presence of all of those people exhausts me before I even get in the office. I’m not one for loud, crowded environments where you can’t have a good conversation, like a bar.
But here’s the thing. I do like to converse. In fact, I have come to the realization that I talk. A LOT. As in, I ramble, over-share background details, and am long-winded. I have a lot of ideas in my head, and everything feels connected. My mind jumps from one topic to the next, and it’s hard for me to stay focused. My ideas sound awesome in my head, but tortuous to others. I also have a bad habit of thinking out loud, or literally talking myself through something. No, it’s not an invitation to brainstorm or provide unsolicited advice. When I speak aloud, I add concreteness to the craziness that is in my head, and I can action it.
However, I still have to function the workplace, my marriage, and around others. I recently came across this article from the Ask a Manager blog, which provides great tips on being concise at work. Reading this was a breath of fresh air. People had some awesome insights not just for work, but in general, and there were many people like myself who struggled with this and were also classically introverted.
Now, this article advises people who suffer from verbal diarrhea in both spoken and written word. I will play my introvert card and adamantly state that I am naturally a better writer than speaker. When I write, I can carefully craft what I want to say and omit the fluff. Even writing this piece, I probably deleted 20 instances of the words “just”, “literally”, “like”…along with numerous unnecessary articles (the, that, etc.). However, the Allman Brothers hit Ramblin’ Man (or woman) sums up my oral communication.
I don’t want to extrapolate this quirk to other introverts, but clearly there are others out there who require solitude, but can talk your ear off. So how can this be?
As an introvert, I spend a lot of time in my head. I’m always thinking, and my thoughts are like a cute little chickadee jumping quickly from branch to branch. Despite how quickly the stream of consciousness moves in my head, the stream is also deep and meandering. Meaning, I naturally prefer depth instead of breadth, but I will eventually circle back to the original thought. It just takes me a bit longer. Like the Beatles song Long and Winding Road.
When I write, I have more time to let the thoughts playfully jump and explore before getting to the point. I can step back and edit what comes out, ensuring that the point is clear and makes sense to a reader. Unfortunately, a verbal exchange is not like that. There is a time limit to process what to say before it gets awkward. And sometimes, my brain and mouth are not in sync.
Why? Because multitasking!
According to this study, introverts struggle with social exchanges because it’s basically multi-tasking. Not only are you trying to compose your point, you have to gauge social reaction and monitor and change your behavior accordingly. Extroverts, who are better at processing many things, but not as deeply, can naturally respond quicker. This is an advantage for social situations, so they can quickly read a room when talking. The “wow, I need to tone down the fluff and get to the point” alarm sounds more quickly.
Today’s world demands so much of us, even to the point the most extroverted reach their breaking point. We are hooked to our smartphones and computers, which provide information instantaneously. The downside is that it’s programming our world and our brains to function this way. We can adapt to a point, but we are not computers. Perhaps this is why Susan Cain’s book and #netflixandchill are so popular. All this stimulation is making introversion vogue.
But not all introverts are alike. True, some of us just prefer not to talk or naturally have better filters. We love to talk, we just don’t like the noise.