being an introvert

The “Sliding Scale” of Introversion-Extroversion

After my talks, people often come up to me and say, “I used to be an introvert – but I got over it,” or, “I’m not sure; sometimes I think I’m one thing and sometimes the other. Can you be both?”

Actually, you can be both, changing from one situation to another, or changing over time from one to the other, then sliding back. That’s why I call the introversion-extroversion dimension a sliding scale.

Social psychologists have known for decades that surrounding circumstances can heavily influence personality. Personality tests may claim (or would have you assume) that once you have taken the test and been given a label, you are defined for life. It doesn’t work that way. A personality test cannot necessarily project what you will be in all other situations, past and future.

Although there are some known neurological differences between introverts and extroverts, the best-known (and possibly the defining) feature has to do with how much stimulation we can tolerate at a given time. Conversation, loud music, clutter, hustle and bustle – introverts tend to find too much stimulation at one time exhausting and even threatening, while extroverts thrive on it and will even seek out more.

What’s just been happening in your life?

But what is “too much”? The analogy to eating is a useful one. We all have appetites, some larger than others. We have differing capacities, too, so one person’s “full up” is another person’s “just getting started.”

Just as with eating, “too much” will depend on not only your capacity but on what you have consumed in the immediate past. If you have been overloaded with stimulation recently, you may crave isolation.

Too much isolation can drive you to seek bright lights and activity – generally.

Too little stimulation can be damaging to human beings.

We are social beings – we need connection to others to thrive. Research on everybody from infants to the elderly supports the recognition that we need social connections to be healthy, physically and psychologically. Some need more than others; many a healthy, successful introvert thrives on a few, deeply-held relationships rather than being part of a large social group.

Total withdrawal from social life generally results in poorer health and depression. So why do people do it, insisting that it is a necessary part of their introversion?

How’s your health?

Here’s one reason to withdraw: Being run down, or even ill, can lead you to resist exposing yourself to too much stimulation, as can depression or grieving. Recovering from these situations can mean that you and your energy rebound.  

Unfortunately, withdrawing from society for a long period of time, as introverts sometimes do, means a lack of the social experience that helps us shape up and improve our connections, and makes the thought of interacting exhausting and terrifying. So we end up avoiding social interaction more and more, often saying, “I can’t do that because I’m an introvert.”

It’s easier when you have skills

Go to the beach in the summer and watch an enthusiastic but unskilled swimmer beating the water with both arms, sending up great plumes of spray, while his legs thrash furiously. Then watch a highly-trained swimmer glide sleekly through the water as if it was her natural environment, leaving barely a ripple.

Introverts often complain about social activities as being energy drainers, but confident introverts (those with good social skills) find that they have plenty of energy for necessary and even enjoyable social encounters. Why? Because any activity for which you have skill takes less energy.

Even house-cleaning is easier when you know how to do it and have the right skills and tools. The same is true of social situations.

Not being socially skilled is an energy-drainer, but it is an unnecessary one. Anyone can learn to connect and communicate well with others; being an introvert simply means you choose the times when you do this.

Confident introverts don’t avoid social situations. They just make wise choices.

Watch for my upcoming course, Social Success Skills for Quiet People, giving you the tools you need to operate effectively – and happily – in professional and personal areas, without becoming someone you don’t like!

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Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

The Confident Introvert Networker

Personal Note

Some years ago I had a close friend whose personality can only be described as extravagant.  When she entered a room, she did it with great style, capturing everyone’s attention and keeping that attention for most of the event.  She favored large, showy hats, and often compared herself to the iconic Auntie Mame.  An introvert, I admired her style and wondered how she did it so easily.

She had an annoying habit of being late.  Only later did I find out that, during the hour or so that she was late, she was actually crouched on the floor of her closet, curled up in the fetal position, waiting for her medication to take effect so that she could go out and face the world.

Sad though that realization was, it helped me recognize that insecurity wasn’t my lonely challenge; even confident-appearing extroverts may have deeply-hidden  insecurities.

In a sense, those of us who have recognized our own insecurity are in a stronger position, because we can admit, at least to ourselves, that we have a challenge with which to work.  Sadly, she never did.

Today’s article offers some suggestions, based on my (now) years’ of experience, as to how to handle those challenges.

 The Confident Introvert Networker

Whether you are networking for business or for personal reasons, being an introvert can make the process painful.  It doesn’t have to be.

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My interest in confidence and its opposite, social anxiety, came as the result of a painful end to a marriage in which I had become increasingly socially isolated. Finding that I had to seek new friends, I decided to go to join groups, such as alumnae groups, and go to meetings and events where I would meet people, only to find that this was very difficult.

At the event, I’d enter the room hopefully and see that there were little clusters of two, three or more people standing in a circle and talking animatedly to one another.  Hopefully, I’d edge closer to the group, only to find that the members would close the distance between them, effectively cutting me off, and literally giving me the shoulder.
I went home time after time, rebuffed and hurt, convinced, as many unconfident people are, that I had a special  secret mark on me that read “unlovable” or “not very interesting, don’t bother” or as a friend of mine liked to say, “They saw the zipper down the back of the pretend suit.”

But I learned from people like the publisher’s representative who came to my college office that most people are a little insecure.  When I described the above kind of experience, this skilled sales person blushed and said, “I’ve done that, too.  I just don’t know how to behave in those circumstances.”

Here are some hints to help you:

Assume everybody’s insecure: they just show it differently.  Regrettably, the social anxiety that we call shyness has escalated in the United States in the past two decades, with an astonishing 50 % now saying that are chronically shy ( up from 40% several decades ago) , and another  40 % saying that have been shy in the past, while 15% admitted to being shy in certain situations. Only 5% of people say they have never been shy. The probability that you will encounter insecure behavior from others as time goes by is very high, even if you don’t immediately recognize it.

How about those folks who come to events  with friends, and continue animatedly talking to the same people without reaching out or making eye contact with anyone else, much less conversation?  Yup.  If you want to observe confidence, locate someone who is circling the room, moving from one person to another, and holding conversations in which they hold eye contact and look interested in meeting someone different.

Become part of the action: Arrive early and offer to help, particularly with a task that involves greeting newcomers: hand out name tags or materials, pass hors d’oeuvres, give directions ….

If there isn’t a task for you, learn the directions – to the meeting room, bathroom, or whatever – and station yourself near the door, ready to direct people who look a little uncertain.

Round up the mavericks:  When I attended events with my godmother, she would often scan the room and say, “There’s someone alone.  Let’s ask him/her to join us.” And she would.

At Christmas, her home was flooded with Christmas cards She, incidentally, traveled all over the world,  being greeted by residents, staying in the homes of people whom she had met at an event, or in a line at a museum, or wherever she was. She was actually a shy person, but she had mastered the art of connecting with people – one at a time.

Make up a group of people who came along and start your own little circle.  But never forget to look for newcomers and welcome them.

Be alert for people who make a casual, friendly remark as you hurry by.  They may be wanting to start a conversation, too.  Help them out.

Don’t try to “make a sale”: Whether you’re actually selling a product or service, or just trying to meet people for personal reasons, pay attention to this wisdom that I got from a friend who was a very successful, prize-winning sales person.  When I asked her the secret of her success, she said, “I never try to make a sale.  I just try to make a friend.”

As you implement these little social skills, become aware that you are becoming more socially powerful than 90% of the population.  That should boost your confidence.

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Lynette is a member of MVP Seminars. Visit her at www.MVPSeminars.com

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