Wednesday, March 25, 2015

With All Due Respect to Introverts

From malandarras.com - graphic about the foolishness of being extroverted

Those of you who have met me in real life, know me.  I have a good handshake and a warm smile that shows the gap between my front teeth and a little more of my big nose (five times broken) than you probably want to see.   I'm an over-sharer.  Want my opinion? I'll give it to you, in detail.  Don't want it?  That's fine too.  Let's talk about something else.  But I want to learn from you and about you, so we're going to talk.

From Tumblr 
I can also be very reflective.  I enjoy listening and learning.  Information is my drug.  Well, caffeine...but...information.  Right.  Information.  I love learning about other people.  I want to hear about their mistakes and their scars and their calculated and accidental successes.  I really enjoy thinking about those things, and processing them.  We're far more connected - all of us - than many people believe.

For all of this to matter in personal life or in business, you and I need to be able to have substantive two-way conversations that are as meaningful as introverts want, in timeframes as brief as extroverts want.  That's a tough bridge to cross.  I think the gap between the two extremes as widened recently under the tireless, web-based (and mostly anonymous) anti-extrovert tome of  "You don't understand introverts - and you're not allowed to understand us, so go away."

Don't think I "don't know" introverts.  I've been married to one for almost 15 years.  I'm a biologist (nearly 70% of biologists are introverts) and I work with engineers on a daily basis (over 80% of engineers are introverts).  Both of my parents and both of my brothers (as well as my in-laws and brother in-law) are all introverts - some of them are chattier than others, but all prefer to have time on their own, on their terms.

With all due respect to introverts, I don't care that working in an office with people, in and of itself, makes you exhausted.   Know yourself well enough to know that your skills are minimized and your challenges are maximized in a highly socialized work environment.  And take charge of it.  Don't change on anyone's account.  But change how (and probably where) you work to make sure you are valued as close to what you're worth as possible.  Go be happy.  And don't take a job where you'll be asked to be someone who you aren't.  That's not fair to introverts - seriously.

Pretty sure this has not been
scientifically verified.
With all due respect to introverts, you don't get sole ownership of ideas like "You see things.  You keep quiet about them.  And you understand."  Which I read recently online in a glorious ode to the uber-wisdom inherent to mega-introversion.   As a relatively successful extrovert scientist with three degrees,  I believe that I (like most extroverts) am able to assimilate the kinds of facts, relationships, and trends, that introverts also assimilate.  How I choose to gather those facts and figure them out is quite certainly not an indictment of my intelligence or ability to "understand the world."  And it means that you haven't quite figured out extroverts.  Which leads me to....

With all due respect to introverts, the constant meme of "you can't possibly understand us!" is incredibly ridiculous.  The internet, with its anonymous commenting, false bravado, and ability to quickly "leave" (or delete) awkward conversations with no social consequence, has led to a brave new world of introvert valuation, which is fine, except themes have started to emerge that increasingly display the thought that introversion = exceptionalism.    Since many fields (not mine) are dominated by extroverts, and I can see where in many facets of life, extroverts have traditionally run roughshod over introverts, and so some real awareness of that continued behavior (and its negative impact) is a really good thing for us extroverts.

But with all due respect to introverts, to what extent have introverts attempted to understand where extroverts (many times their boss) might be coming from?  I've seen little to no web space devoted to introverts' attempts to gain greater understanding of extroverts.  And why would you, when you can fall back on hilarious extrovert stereotypes like "Talky Talky" and "Mr. Overshare" and "The Mayor." Websites like this one brag about how introverts can be home working late on their next projects, while extroverts are out drinking and throwing money around.  THOSE FOOLS!  Here's a graphic from that website:

Source:  malandarras.com

Allow me to further clarify the above artist's intent:


As you can see, increased focus continues on extolling the traits of introversion as exceptional, with an increasing vilification of extroversion as banal and mundane, if not drunk and wasteful.  I've known people all of my life who have never asked a question about anyone else, simply insisting that everyone should work harder to understand them. Because they're so special.  A bunch of introverted, special snowflakes.  So unique, all of you.  As unique as all the talky-talkys and over-sharers that you disdain so openly (anonymously, online of course).

In the end, and with all due respect, dear introverts, we all need to do a better job of understanding each other, and making sure that ourselves and each other find the best work environments and personal relationships for who we are - to ensure that people aren't having to pretend to be something or someone they are not.

To all of you quieter people who have been told at some point during your life that if your opinion isn't heard, it doesn't matter, I'm sorry for that - it's not true.  But you will have to figure out a way to get your opinion heard - if you want it to be heard - beyond the dark halls of reddit and tumblr, which may involve going outside of your comfort zone.   With much of what we individually achieve in American society being far more results-based (and statistically / financially demonstrable) than it ever was in past generations, many prior advantages to extroverts have been whittled away or eliminated.  

However, that being said, socializing is important.  Important decisions will be made with or without you on the golf course, in the baseball luxury box, and at fancy charity auctions.  Maybe you shouldn't go - but by all means, send someone in your place.

Extroverts have been well advised to not underestimate introverts, their talents, and their potential.  In coming years, introverts will be well advised to not forget that many extrovert stereotypes they'd wish to be true won't be true often enough to save a business deal, close a loan against a hostile party, or negotiate a tough contract.  To assume that extroverts are dullards, aren't internally reflective, or aren't strategic enough to plan a few steps ahead are all the makings of a job-destroying or relationship-wrecking maneuver.








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