Extravert or Introvert

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Are You an Extravert or an Introvert?

introvertExtroversion and introversion deserve special attention since extroversion – the personality characteristic described as having high energy levels, enthusiastic, action-oriented, and talkative – is especially valued in the Western world. Extroverts are described as more socially aware, actively leading and encouraging interaction and stimulating environments. They like being the center of attention, the straw that stirs the drink. Not too surprisingly, research suggests a high correlation between extraversion and emotional stability with high self-esteem or self-confidence. A pair of American psychologists, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, described in their book “The Invisible Gorilla” that people also tend to ascribe high intelligence and competence to those with high self-confidence, even though there is no correlation. In fact, their studies showed that when groups select leaders, 94% of the time they choose those people speak first and most forcefully, not the smartest, not the most experienced, not the most thoughtful.
As a consequence of their perceived leadership abilities, extraverts are over-represented in executive suites. According to a 2010 Harvard Business Review article, 96% of managers and executives display extroverted personalities. The same article reported that two-thirds of senior corporate executives believe that introversion is a barrier to leadership. Even introverts like Emma Watson, the young actress who played Hermione Granger in the popular Harry Potter series, laments, “If you’re anything other than an extravert, you’re made to think there is something wrong with you.”
If you are one who feels uncomfortable in new social situations, you are not alone since an estimated 10% to 35% of the general population have similar discomfort to varying degrees. Psychologists explain that your uneasiness is generally rooted in a “greater sensitivity to physical stimulation” so that you are more aware of the sensory inputs around you that the typical extrovert. From a layman’s perspective, this sensitivity means that you process more information more thoroughly before acting than someone who has less sensitivity. In fact, brain research indicates that people with this trait have greater neuron excitability, synaptic transmission, and nerve connectivity.
Fortunately, society is beginning to recognize that extroversion and introversion has both strengths and drawbacks depending upon the environment where the behavior appears. Dr. Adam Grant, psychologist and author of New York Times best seller “Give and Take: A Revolutionary approach to Success” detailed many of the myths surrounding the two traits in a 2014 Psychology Today article:

  • 1. Introverts spend about the same amount of time with other people as extraverts and enjoy it just as much.
  • 2. Extraverts report more energy when they’re being talkative and assertive – but so do introverts.
  • 3. While introverts anticipate more anxiety than extraverts about public speaking, their anxiety has little to do with introverion-extraversion, but whether the audience would be hostile and fears that they would bomb.
  • 4. Introverts and extraverts are equally successful managers, generally differentiated by the type of employees managed and the culture of the company. For example, where employees are passive, looking for direction, units led by extraverts were more profitable. Conversely, where employees are proactive, units led by introverts excelled.
  • 5. Extroverts tend to engage more aggressively in social networking, building larger networks but less intense relationships than introverts. It should also be noted that introverts can be equally successful in networking, since shyness – Approach/Withdrawal – is a different temperament trait.
  • 6. Extraverts generally feel more positive emotions than introverts, but don’t transfer the same positive feelings to others. In fact, extraverts tend to elicit more negative emotions in others than introverts.

Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”, relates the example of a comparison of the two personality types by evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson. ‘“Shy” animals forage less often and widely for food, conserving energy, sticking to the sidelines, and surviving when predators come calling. Bolder animals sally forth, swallowed regularly by those farther up the food change but surviving when food is scarce and they need to assume more risk.’ This difference is known as the “trade-off theory of evolution, in which a particular trait is neither all good nor all bad, but a mix of the pros and cons whose survival value varies according to circumstances.”
Fortunately, whether you are predominately an extravert, an introvert, or an “ambivert” (someone who shows the behavior of both traits in different situations which is where most of us fall), you have the ability to adjust your actions as necessary to reach your goals. While your temperament is relatively stable, your personality is fairly malleable. Many popular screen stars and business leaders are actually shy, introverted people who have learned to play a role or replicate a behavior as necessary. Cain uses the term ‘pseudo-extraverts” to describe such people and there are more of them than commonly realized.

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