So I sit in the corner at parties, eat lunch by myself, and keep my nose in a book. That doesn’t mean I’m an introvert or unworthy of human company. I just prefer socialization on my own terms.
Introverts have gotten a bad rap over the years. They’re said to be shy, uncommunicative, anxiety-prone, fearful of crowds, friendless, and alone (except for the occasional cat). They don’t go out much or talk much. They have boring hobbies like knitting and reading and stamp collecting. Some people even believe introverts are suffering from a mental illness.
Extroversion is touted as the norm. Extroverts, it’s said, have more friends and better conversations. They go out more and have social calendars, or in some cases, social secretaries. They have exciting careers in business or law or politics. (They’re also known to have “Type A” personalities, prone to stress-related illnesses – or giving them to others.) Extroverts are widely admired for their accomplishments. They “blow their own horn” instead of fading into the background. They’re people-persons (though not always people-pleasers).
There are lots of books about overcoming introversion, as if it’s a thing to be conquered or cured. They purport to change introverts’ communication styles so they can get along with “normal” people or even with extroverts.
I’m not saying that it’s bad to be an extrovert. I’m just asking why introverts are so discounted in society. Where are the books that teach extroverts to be more introverted? Where are the seminars? The podcasts?
Introversion doesn’t mean the person is a hermit. It doesn’t mean introverts are unhappy being the way they are. It doesn’t mean a person is lacking in intelligence or afraid of relationships or dull to speak to. In fact, those are qualities that can be found in extroverts as well. Extroverts can be unhappy if their relationships are superficial. They can have trouble toning down their enthusiasm in order to have a private, meaningful conversation. And they can certainly be dull to listen to.
Get inside an introvert’s head, however, and you may find a rich and interesting place. Those hobbies and interests that extroverts consider boring have subtleties that an introvert can unlock. An introvert can be extremely knowledgeable on a variety of topics – some seemingly useless, like the complexities of poetry. Others may be more broadly interesting, such as how language affects business or political behavior. And some of their hidden interests can just be fun, like which amusement parks have the best rollercoasters.
Introverts may seem hard to get to know, especially at parties. But there are secret passwords that can unlock their vitality. Read any good books lately? is a good, reliable one. What’s the weirdest movie you’ve ever seen? Are cats better than dogs and why? What’s your idea of the perfect vacation? If you’re an extrovert, you can probably think of ways to work these into conversations – for example, when you’re talking about your recent fabulous vacation or when your kids want to get a dog.
When you hit on a topic that an introvert knows or cares about, you can see their eyes light up and their faces become more animated. Their voices change from dull and quiet to enthusiastic and interested. They may even venture a question about your favorite author or childhood pet or dream vacation. Once you get an introvert started on a conversation, it can be as interesting, vibrant, and knowledgeable as anyone else’s.
You may even make a friend or find a resource. If you ever need to know something about journalism or psychology or model trains, you have a person to turn to – and maybe even a budding friendship.
The trick is not to automatically assume that an introvert is dull or has a one-track mind. An introvert may be into both gardening and archaeology, or both blues music and what the best restaurants in town are. Include an introvert in a group outing. He or she may say nothing at first, but can really open up with a few well-chosen questions or comments and follow-ups. (I studied that in college, but I never really understood XYZ. My friend says that movies are all about superheroes these days – why is that? My kids want me to take them hiking. What’s a good place to do that? What should I wear to a winter wedding? Which should I get – a PC or a Mac?)
Above all, do not assume that introverts are all alike. They’re as varied as extroverts. They may take a little more time to get to know, but in the end, it’s worth it.
And if you are an introvert, don’t despair. You don’t have to turn yourself into an extrovert to be worthwhile. You’re fine just the way you are!