Volume 3, Issue 3, 02/12/09
It's not that easy to spot an introvert. I say that because it
was recently pointed out to me by an Introvert Energizer reader.
She wrote in response to my suggestion, a couple issues back,
that the Nobel physicist Richard Feynman was an introvert.
I have a superficial knowledge of Feynman from a book of his I
haven't read yet. I glibly assumed that someone with his depth
of focus an introvert trait would be an introvert. This
writer, knowledgeable about Feynman, corrected my assumption
and pointed me in the direction of information about him that
certainly paints the picture of an extrovert and makes me even
more interested in reading my book.
I have several introvert friends who tell me people have a hard
time believing they're an introvert. I periodically get that
Of course knowing whether somebody's an introvert or an
extrovert isn't a particularly hot topic. No doubt everybody
knows those two words and has at least a vague notion of what
they mean. But it works not to know very much, because it's
not a main way we identify ourselves.
Essentially, almost since the psychoanalyst Carl Jung coined
the terms "introvert" and "extravert" early in the 20th century,
introverts have had a bad rap. And American society is very
extroverted. And until recently, research has suggested that
the ratio of extroverts to introverts is 3 to 1. So from an
introvert's perspective, it may be just as well that we aren't
routinely identified. (Not my point of view, but a
The research about how the brain works is changing the way we
think about lots of things, including introversion and
According to temperament research, based on our genetics we're
born with a personal "set point" on the continuum between
extreme introversion and extreme extroversion. Our set point
is the place where we function best.
Philosophers and scientists have speculated about people's
tendencies to be inward or outward-focused for many centuries,
long before Jung presented his theory and coined the
terms "introvert" and "extravert". But now science has
documented that introverts and extroverts are a physical
reality - it's not just an attitude or a state of mind.
As I've written in previous issues, those introvert/extrovert
set points have to do with how our brains and nervous systems
work. Introvert bodies are designed to function best with
inward focus, extroverts' with the focus outward. Introverts
get energized when we're focusing inward on thoughts, ideas,
impressions, and drained when there's too much attention outward.
For extroverts it's the reverse they're most comfortable
focusing on people and things.
But what's my point? Well
. it's not that easy to spot an
introvert. After all, introversion may be a physical trait but
the brain and nervous system are invisible. Plus, we're on a
continuum lots of variation possible.
Plus, introverts don't have a choice about focusing on the outer
world (behaving like an extrovert) it comes with being in a
body. Plus, if we've got a lot of energy stored up, we may be
acting like an extrovert because it feels fine. Plus, we may
even be trying to be an extrovert because it's easier to fit in
Plus, human beings are complex, multi-faceted. And it's easy
to make wrong assumptions.
But I think my underlying point is that spotting introverts is a
good thing. Including spotting ourselves as introverts. A few
months ago I attended a gathering where I had many opportunities
to talk about my work (coaching introverts). I was struck with how
often people asked questions aimed at wondering whether they're
an introvert I wasn't expecting that much uncertainty.
(And it's not uncommon for people to think they're both
extroverted and introverted, "depending on the situation". But
the research suggests that, just as with being left or
right-handed, everyone tends toward one side or the other of
I think spotting introverts is a good thing because our culture
is long overdue on tapping into the potential of the gifts
introverts have to offer. (Think quieter, slower, more
thoughtfulness, for starters.) And spotting introverts is a
good thing to do because being an introvert is no small challenge
in the 21st century. The more conscious we are of temperament,
the better we can work with the challenge. I'm all for making
it a hot topic.
End of food for thought on to a practical idea:
A Practical Idea for Introverts and Extroverts
Talk to someone you haven't before, about whether they're an
introvert or an extrovert find a way to have the conversation.