Introvert or Extrovert?

Years ago, when I used to get excited about psychometric testing and key performance indicators, I took part in a Myers Briggs workshop. In the nineties, Myers Briggs testing was as popular as the Scrunchie. In the world of Human Resources it was used as a recruitment tool, but for others it was akin to discovering your professional horoscope. Suits would stand in a pub on a Friday night and relay their newly acquired initials:

“I’m an E.N.T.P.” one suit would proudly say.

“No way! I had you pegged as an I.N.F.J.” said the other.

And then everyone would have four more beers and end up with exactly the same psychometric result of N.F.I. because they were all to D.R.U.N.K. to remember that the “J” stood for.

The recruitment industry attracts extroverts. So it was no surprise when halfway through our workshop the moderator divided introverts and extroverts to discover we were a little unbalanced. We had one solitary introvert in the office, who was now starting to question her career choice.

The moderator of the workshop saw it as an opportunity for the introvert to ask the extroverts some questions. “Think about your differences. Is there anything the extroverts do that you don’t understand?”

She thought about it for a moment.

“Okay. Why do you need to talk all the time?”

I’m on day six of not having a voice and I’m not speaking metaphorically. On Friday morning I woke up with laryngitis and no hint of a voice. It is now Wednesday and there is still no sound coming out of my mouth. I’ve been instructed not to whisper and to avoid speaking at all. Did I mention I have four children?

The past six days have taught me many things, Ive discovered it’s not just that I like to talk, it’s that I NEED to talk. For an extrovert, not having a voice is a little like being banished to the naughty step, you can see and hear what everyone is doing – but you’re not allowed to join in.

My voiceless life is making me lethargic and flat. Dare I say it, a little depressed. Can you be a little depressed? Okay, I move back and forth between stabby or miserable. On the upside, I’ve developed sign language for “the beagle is behind you and is about to eat your snack” and “get your finger out of the nutella jar or you will die”. I’ve noticed a lot of my sign language to my children ends with “you will die” I find the melodramatic hand movements achieve the best results.

This week I have listened, I’ve nodded, I’ve smiled and I’ve frowned in five different ways. I’m not sure if I’ve laughed though, and if I did, it was silent laughing which just doesn’t feel the same. Try it. I’ve stood with friends and thought “Shit, are you all REALLY this quiet or do I really talk THAT much?” And then worried for the rest of the day that I obviously speak too much. After standing for five minutes with a group, my girlfriend Lisa said “Okay, this is just weird, it’s weird standing here with you and you’re quiet”. And she’s right. It is weird.

Although I spend a big chunk of my day working from home in complete solitude, it appears that the moment I stop working, I’m talking. I’m talking to friends, to my family, to the woman in the supermarket and the man at the corner store. I strike up a chat with the guy at the petrol station, the man at the gym and the mother at the park. I love a chat. I don’t think I’m loud, I just love to hear peoples stories.

Often there is the misconception that we extroverts are just chatty, overstimulated performers. The clowns in the group. The loud obnoxious guy with the Hawaiian shirt calling out “are we all having fun yet?” There’s a little more to it. The extrovert needs to engage, but as much they like to talk, they need to hear from others. They want everyone to talk, not just themselves. When you talk to an extrovert you’re providing them with an opportunity to recharge.

I can’t remember what answer we gave our introverted colleague all those years ago, but I know what I would say now. We talk because we have to. We’re energized by the energy of others. We need an interaction. We want to hear your story, we want to ask you questions. We need to have a giggle (out loud), we need to share. We need to know why you think the way you do. We don’t need to do it all day, but we NEED it.

If you haven’t watched Susan Cain’s TED talk about Introverts, I promise you won’t be disappointed, if you’re an introvert or are close to someone who is an introvert you’ll LOVE it. Susan Cain raises concerns that I share as to how our workplace, and in particular our schools are heading towards more of a group approach to learning. Even as an extrovert, I’m someone that requires a quiet place to think, and a cave to return to. I do it on a daily basis.

“The courage to speak softly”

How about you? Extrovert or Introvert?

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