Introverts and Extroverts

Being an introvert, I often find that side of my personality regarded as something of a liability; some variant on “enjoys interpersonal interaction” shows up all too often on job and volunteer postings, whereas I have yet to see “enjoys being alone” listed as a job requirement (perhaps if I worked in a lighthouse?).  The idea, of course, is that extroverts have better interpersonal skills and interpersonal skills are important.

The idea is misguided.  I believe that extroverts don’t have better interpersonal skills; it’s a misconception.  Extroverts are better at interacting with extroverts; introverts are better at interacting with introverts.  Both often have trouble interacting with each other.

The misconception arises because, since extroverts seek out socialization, more interactions take place between extroverts than between introverts–or, to put the same thing another way, any given interaction is more likely to be between extroverts.  Thus, extroverted styles of interaction are more common and get interpreted as “correct.”  For instance, people in a room or car together are supposed to talk and silence is seen as awkward, even though an introvert might not mind being with people and not talking.

Nevertheless, extroverts aren’t better at social behavior.  When interacting with introverts, their behavior can be oblivious and appallingly rude, and it often betrays an inability to read certain types of social cues.  Many extroverts don’t understand that people sometimes want to be alone: They won’t pick up on cues that they are not wanted and may be interrupting, because due to their extroverted nature, they don’t want to be alone and don’t mind starting a conversation even if they were doing something else.  Some have no concept of personal space.  If you take a step back, a clear sign that they’re standing closer to you than you’re comfortable with, they’ll take a step forward.  And in any group there will be that one extrovert who cannot refrain from touching you, no matter how obviously you don’t want to be touched.

So don’t buy into the idea that you’re socially impaired because you’re an introvert, or that extroverts have some kind of innately good people sense.  All people are good at interacting with people similar to them, just like you’d expect.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Introverts and Extroverts

  1. Doad

    The funny thing about having “plays well with others” statements on job postings in the sciences, at least, is that most research-type jobs require working alone for a large portion of the day. Admittedly, not being a jerk is an asset for any job, but the job-posters really should be more honest about saying, “needs to be able to focus and work alone for hours,” when really that’s the sort of job it is, and the sort of person who’d be happiest in it. It’s a faulty assumption on the part of (mostly extroverted) HR people that there’d be no-one who’d want such a job.

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