Innies and Outies

My name is David and I am an introvert.

Survey research varies but at least 25% of the population identifies itself along with me.

Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog

I still remember the session at MIT where we were getting ready to take the Myers-Briggs when the instructor was explaining the Introvert/Extrovert characteristics: Are you the kind of person at a cocktail party who hangs around at the edges and observes? Or do you immediately move right to the center of the room and engage in conversation with those around you? And I sat there thinking to myself; I’m not even at that cocktail party. I’m home reading a book!

Marti Olsen Laney, a librarian turned psychologist, in her book, The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World, lists what extroverted employees should know about their introvert colleagues. We:

  •  Like quiet for concentration
  •  Care about our work and workplace
  •  May have trouble communicating
  •  May know more than we reveal
  •  May seem quiet and aloof
  • Need to be asked for our opinions and ideas
  • Like to work on long complex problems and have good attention to detail
  • Need to understand exactly why we are doing something
  • Dislike intrusions and interruptions
  • Need to think and reflect before speaking and acting
  • Work alone contentedly
  • May be reluctant to delegate
  • Prefer to stay in the office or cubicle rather than socialize
  • Do not like to draw attention to ourselves
  • Work well with little supervision
  • May have trouble remembering names and faces

Of course, not everything on the list applies to every introvert, but you get the message. Give us space, time, and respect! Memo to extroverts: take an introvert to lunch—but don’t do all the talking!


18 thoughts on “Innies and Outies

  1. My name is Maarja and I, too, am an Introvert. That list so totally describes me! Well, except for not drawing attention to oneself. Because I did ride on Metrorail and Metrobus to the NARA Nixon Presidential Materials Project building at Pickett Street in Alexandria, Virginia with blue hair on Halloween, 1985. Introverts can be quite determined, when we absolutely have to be! And I tend to offer my opinions pretty boldly some times–at least I do in writing. But being an “I” in my Myers-Briggs Type Indicator doesn’t mean I don’t like to laugh. I do, a lot. So I burst out laughing out loud at your sentence, “And I sat there thinking to myself; I’m not even at that cocktail party. I’m home reading a book!” Me, too! Great post, a perfect break on a day when I’m trying to navigate some challenging issues during the day.

  2. Are you kidding?! I’m an authorities cataloger … the most introverted of the introverts!

  3. I too am an “I” . I may be at the party, but I’m standing in the hallway making sure everyone checks in at the guestbook to have a clear idea of how was there. I’m directing the photographers to make sure they get a good mix of those individuals for the 20th anniversary of the party. I’m also capturing photos and side comments made on social networking sites and I’m making sure I have a good copy of the invites and the posters. They’ll all be scanned and cataloged and ready for an exhibit on the party soon.

  4. *You* are an introvert? Sheesh… What does that make me? I wish I had your facile-ness (is that a word?) with meeting people and public speaking…

    Congrats — You have finely developed skills to work around your introverted tendencies.

  5. I know I am an extrovert. Myers- Briggs told me so–as did being the oldest sister in a family of 6 children- I gave the marching orders while making dinner. And acting in plays, no problem. But,as an adult, I freeze at giving presentations or making sales or pushing my agenda forward…On the other hand, introverts who make me guess what movie, which restaurant or what they want to do for their birthtdays make me four steps beyond crazy. But David, you never did–no fear. One on one, though, if you want my humble opinion on naming your child, reading to them, designing your house, movies, books, government policy, longterm planning, common sense–or, really, your hair– just ask me. I will be school- girl polite, though, I promise.

  6. The real challenge is not to get colleagues and management to recognize and accommodate the differences in work approaches typical of introverts, but to get the people involved in the hiring process to be aware of these differences. In a situation where interviewees are judged on how they present and comport themselves in a short, intense and stressful environment, introverts are inherently at a disadvantage. I often wonder how many times ambitious extroverts are hired over introverts whether they are truly the best fit for the position.

  7. This is so true! I am a microbiology researcher by trade and an addicted genealogist by night and have found this to b quite rue of many of my colleagues.

    We also forget to say hello to every person in the office/laboratory every day and get very focused on what we are doing.

  8. Oh, my goodness – reading these posts about introverts is like reading the story of my life! I have to get Marti Olsen Laney’s book asap – and read it instead of going to the cocktail party! 🙂

  9. I remember David’s comment about not being at the party. I’d be there but in the corner until somebody came and dragged me out. Introverts are hard to tell because they overcome their preferences and can be at the party and even serve as the gracious host, but we have to have significant recovery time afterwards to replenish our energy supply! I need to get this book!

  10. Very important to keep these MBTI distinctions in mind at the office, although it helps with friends and family, too, of course!
    Workdays and working conditions are hard to control sometimes. I mentioned in passing in my morning post what a friend who was a Fedland SESer once said to me about needing downtime to think. I totally sympathized with him although I’m lucky in that my job enables me to think things through for the most part. Sometimes things come up suddenly and I have to jump into action very quickly, however! Another problem is, not everyone is attuned to differences in MBTI to the same extent. So some of us are more geared towards doing workarounds than others. But fascinating stuff. Thanks again for putting up such a cool post, Big Dude!

  11. As an obivous extrovert I have found that more people within NARA are introverts than at any other organization I have worked for. Perhaps the thoughtful field of archives and records attracts more people prone to “quiet concentration”. Although I think this may present a unique challenge for NARA along communication lines, I always appreciate everyone’s contribution regardless of their leanings towards being an innie or outie. Being married to an introvert for over 36 years has taught me to bite my tongue in order to wait for the wisdom that will inevitably come as a result of the “quiet concentration”. Thanks for sharing, enjoyed this post.

  12. Excellent book to read. I had my daughter read it about 9 months ago as a sophmore just to begin her process of understanding who she was and what her strengths and weaknesses might be. This whole area has always been facinating to me since my first supervisory training many moons ago. A key concept that I hold onto throughout this journey has been attempting to always be conscious when things get to comfortable in work and life. You always know something is coming you are not seeing when you think everything is great and you have it all figured out! :))))

  13. While at Smithsonian Archives we all had the MBTI done on our office–guess what? I was one of the lone extroverts in a sea of introverts. Its not unusual for the library/archives/museum crowd to be dominated by introverts. The extroverts are often stuck leading the tours cause the introverts don’t like to :>). One thing I have learned that when I am stuck on a problem with a group ask the introvert what they think. If the extrovert pauses for 7~10 seconds the introvert will often say the one crucial thing that needs to be done next. Never fails!

  14. Great to see such an interesting convo going on here! I touched on that and asked why NARA hasn’t taken advantage of MBTI testing in the past in a post I put up this morning: I’d like to see such things touched on more in academic training in the classroom, too, as a commenter at my blog said she read Jonathan Rausch’s article only when a former boss gave it to her.

    Thanks again for a most interesting post, Big Dude. (For those readers that don’t know me, that name is a compliment!) It seems to me that this is one of many areas in which NARA is playing catch up now. Glad you’re paying attention to these issues.

  15. My father was an introvert. At parties he would shy away to the corners and the back of a room and people thought that he was rude and self-centered. It took him many years to overcome his shyness. After much therapy and some public speaking courses (much to the shock of everyone in our family) he eventually overcame his problem and went on to become a great public speaker. I am familiar with The Introvert Advantage and I would highly suggest reading it.

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