Understanding Extraverts and Introverts

Understanding Extraverts and Introverts AnnaC

Most people think that the word “extravert” describes a party person and the word “introvert” describes a shy person. For psychologists, however, the terms have a more accurate and complex meaning.

The concepts of extraversion and introversion come from Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung’s theory of “Psychological Type” first published in the early 1920s.  The terms were later used in the early 1940s by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers to construct the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) a popular and well-known personality inventory.

The Myers-Briggs literature uses the terms extraversion (spelling as used in MBTI publications) and introversion as Jung first used them: Extraversion means literally outward-turning and introversion, inward-turning and look at where individuals orientate their energy or get energised.

Briggs and Myers recognized that the “extraverted attitude” operates in the external world of behaviour, action, people and things and the “introverted attitude” operates in the internal world of ideas and reflection. In other words, extraverts are action-oriented and introverts are thought-oriented.

People will tend to prefer one or the other and so are labelled as an “extravert” or an “introvert”. These two terms form the opposite ends of a continuum, with a stronger or clearer preference towards the outside and a weaker, less clear preference towards the middle of the continuum.

Characteristics of Extraverts and Introverts

  • Extraverts draw energy from action: they tend to act, then reflect, then act further. If they are inactive their motivation tends to decline and they need to take a break from reflection in order to rebuild their energy. Introverts on the other hand, expend energy through action: they prefer to reflect, then act, then reflect again. To rebuild their energy, introverts need quiet time alone, away from activity.
  • Extraverts recharge and get their energy from spending time with people, while introverts recharge and get their energy from spending time alone. Both will consume their energy through the opposite process. The quote below is a classic comment from an introvert:

People empty me. I have to get away to refill.

C. Bukowski
  • Extraverts often prefer more frequent interaction, while introverts prefer more substantial interaction. For example, at a party or conference, extraverts will enjoy having short, light conversations with many different people, while introverts will prefer a single, deeper, longer conversation. A strong introvert finds random ‘small talk’ irritating and would prefer not to engage in it.
  • Extraverts seek breadth of knowledge and influence, while introverts seek depth of knowledge and influence. So extraverts can speak a little bit about a large number of topics, while introverts can speak on only a few topics, but at a very knowledgeable level. Once an introvert gets going in a conversation they often command their audience’s attention because of their deep knowledge on a topic – others realise that they really ‘know what they are talking about’.
  • Extraverts sometimes have an impulsive way of meeting life. If there is an adventure to be had they throw themselves into it, whereas introverts reflect before acting and proceed cautiously.
  • Introverts need time to warm up and may watch and observe for long periods of time before beginning an adventure or engaging with others.
  • Extraverts take the initiative in establishing relationships. It does not matter where they are or what they are doing, they will start talking to a complete stranger for no other reason than that they like to engage and like exchanging ideas, views, observations. At a party, for example, they will go up to a stranger and introduce themselves and start a conversation. Standing in a queue they will start chatting to whoever is next to them. Extraverts will happily share personal information about themselves. Introverts on the other hand need time to prepare before interacting with strangers. They are not comfortable going to a social event where they won’t know anyone and may even avoid the event altogether. If they do go to the event, they may not contribute to the conversation for quite a long period of time, preferring to listen and observe until they are ready to engage. Even when they do engage, they will not readily share personal information about themselves.
  • Extraverts prefer talking to writing, when communicating. If something needs to be said, dealt with or arranged they will prefer to pick up the phone and talk to the other person. If they cannot actually talk they will usually prefer to use the voice record option rather than text. Extraverts find writing/texting inefficient and frustrating. Introverts on the other hand find talking inefficient and frustrating and prefer to communicate by writing. Emails and text messages are an introvert’s best friend – writing gives them time to reflect on what they want to say, edit it and get it ‘just right’.

E-mail is far more convenient than the telephone.
As far as I’m concerned, I would throw my phone away if I could get away with it.

Tom Hanks
  • Extraverts are able communicators and enjoy having others around. Extraverts are known for their frankness, ease of communication and sociability. Extraverts enjoy talking, sometimes before reflecting – they often embarrass themselves by what they say. A common lament of an extravert is: “Oh why did I say that?” Introverts, however, find it difficult to think of the right thing to say on the spur of the moment. Rather than embarrass themselves by what they say, they often embarrass themselves because they reflect too much and don’t speak out. An introvert’s lament is: “Oh why didn’t I say that?” Introverts feel that they cannot easily make themselves understood – a common complaint of the introvert is that their words are easily ‘twisted’ by extraverts, leaving them feeling helpless and frustrated.
  • Extraverts figure things out by talking to others. If they have a problem to solve or a decision to make they will talk to a lot of different people. This is not to get advice or to be told what to do, it’s that by talking they can work out for themselves what to do. Introverts on the other hand, rely on their own insights. They do not need to reflect with others to figure things out.
  • Extraverts learn best through doing and discussing. Do not give them a manual and tell them to get on with it. Extraverts have an awareness and reliance on the environment for stimulation and guidance, so it is best to allow them to talk it though while trying it out. Conversely, introverts learn best by reflection. Give them the manual, tell them they can ask questions if they need to and leave them alone.  

Summary of Characteristics

The terms “extravert” & “introvert” answer the questions:

How you are energised?
Where do you focus your attention?

Extraverted People

Introverted People

Are ‘outward’ focused – focus on outer world of people and events

Are ‘inward’ focussed – focus on internal world of ideas and impressions

Attention/energy seems to flow out, or to be drawn out/directed out, towards the people and objects of the environment

Attention/energy is drawn from the environment and focussed/directed inward toward concepts and ideas

Are action-oriented – enjoy variety and action (involving other people or on their own). Like new stimuli

Sometimes have an impulsive way of meeting life

Are thought-oriented – enjoy and have an interest in the inner world of concepts and ideas

Reflect before acting and proceed cautiously. Sometimes regarded as ‘slow to warm up’

Project energy outwards, making actions easy to read and understand – i.e. can be “read like a book”

Not easy to read and understand. Often have hidden sides that surprise others

Like being with people

Like solitude and privacy

Feel time alone is important (seek quiet, avoid crowds)

Tend to be impatient with long, slow jobs done on their own

Content to work quietly on their own

Are experienced by others as ‘enthusiastic’

Are experienced by others as having a thoughtful, contemplative detachment

Take initiative in establishing relationships

Need time to prepare before interacting with strangers

Prefer talking to writing when communicating

Prefer to communicate by writing

Are able communicators and enjoy having others around. Are known for their frankness, ease of communication, or sociability. Like exchanging ideas, views, observations

Enjoy talking, sometimes before reflecting – often embarrass themselves by what they say

Find it difficult to think of the right thing to say on the spur of the moment

Feel their words are easily ‘twisted’ by extraverts

Often embarrass themselves because they reflect too much and don’t speak out

Have a loud speaking voice

Have a quiet, soft speaking voice

Seek breadth of knowledge and influence

Seek depth of knowledge and influence

Figure things out by talking to others

Rely on own insights – do not need to reflect with others to figure things out

Learn best through doing and discussing

Have an awareness and reliance on the environment for stimulation and guidance

Learn best by reflection

Rely on own insights

Tips for Extraverts

When dealing with introverts it is useful to keep the following in mind:

  • Remember to stop talking and give introverts a chance to speak.
  • Don’t assume because they are not talking that they have nothing to say, or have no opinion.

Don’t underestimate me because I’m quiet.
I know more than I say, think more than I speak and observe more than you know.”

Michaela Chung
  • The Kellogg School recently found that in a typical meeting, an average of three people do 70% of the talking. Many introverts are reluctant to speak up in a meeting until they know precisely what they want to say. Yet, these members of our teams often have some of the best ideas to contribute, since they spend so much of their time thinking. To counter this inclination, you can do three things:
    • Send out a meeting agenda at least 24-hours in advance to give everyone time to think about their contributions
    • Give everyone a chance to contribute during the meeting by inviting each person by name to speak
    • Allow people to contribute their ideas after the meeting is over.
  • Actually invite introverts to speak. Many introverts will not share information unless you ask them (personally/by name) for it.
  • Group facilitators: When asking delegates to introduce themselves don’t go ‘round the circle’ or tell them when it’s their turn. This puts the introvert on the spot and will cause anxiety. Rather let everyone choose when to introduce themselves. Just say something like “Who is next?” until everyone has had their turn. The strongest introvert in the group will likely be the last one to introduce themselves.
  • Do not interrupt introverts when they are speaking. It is disrespectful to interrupt anyone, but introverts can find it very difficult to pick up again what they were saying, and might prefer not to continue at all!
  • Don’t expect an introvert to have a difficult conversation – for example a disagreement that needs to be addressed – in your time. Extraverts will want to sort it out “right now”, but introverts may not be ready to talk about it straight away. It’s not that they are avoiding talking, it is just that they need time to reflect before discussing it.
  • Drop your volume and speak more quietly. Introverts can be intimidated or overwhelmed by loud voices. You will get your best from an introvert of you speak more quietly. As a rule of thumb, try to match your volume to theirs.

Tips for Introverts

When dealing with extraverts it is useful to keep the following in mind:

  • Don’t wait to be invited to speak. If you do not speak out an extravert assumes you have nothing to say and will continue to talk.  Take the gap in conversation and launch in. Ask for a chance to speak if you are not given one.
  • Don’t assume that extraverts are shouting at you because they are speaking loudly. Speaking loudly is natural for an extravert and they may not even realise they are doing it.
  • Increase the volume of your voice. Most introverts are softly spoken and extraverts will readily dismiss or ignore you if you do not ‘speak up’. As a rule of thumb, try to match your volume to theirs.
  • Ask for meeting agendas to be sent to you at least 24-hours beforehand, so you can think about and prepare what you want to contribute to the discussion. Before the meeting you can even ask the chairperson to make sure you are given a chance to speak during the meeting.
  • When going to a social event, prepare a few topics of conversation beforehand so that you feel confident about making conversation. (Of course you will need to make sure they sound natural when you actually deliver them!). For tips on making conversation read my article: The Art of Conversation.

Further Reading

Parents and child caregivers will be interested to read the article: Raising an Introverted Child  which I have written and posted on my website under Articles

Freelance journalist Katherine Graham has written an article for TFG Club magazine, based on the information I gave her. I have posted her article Parenting Made Simple: The Introverted Child on my website under Claire in the Media