Confessions of An Apologetic Extravert.
Towards the start of every new season, my social streams fill up recycled articles and blog posts about introversion. It’s like clockwork – every 3-4 months 25% of my friends start to post and repost:
“How to care for your introvert.”
“10 ways you can understand your introvert better.”
“Why introverts are persecuted and why we need to stop it!”
“What to do when your life falls apart because you want to spend time alone but someone doesn’t understand you and thinks you’re socially weird and now I bet they’re secretly judging everything about you!!!!”
Sigh. I see these links and headlines and all I can think of is, “Why is everyone always treating introverts like glass babies?” Then I think, “Why hasn’t anyone thought about caring for an extravert in kind?”
I have a confession: I am an apologetic extravert. I’m so, so embarrassed that I am extraverted and I feel bad about it, constantly. I’m put on the spot a lot by people who just think I’m naturally outgoing, I’ll be the leader, I’ll go ask for that thing from that stranger, don’t worry, Sarah will give the speech without preparing. I’m told point blank by people, as if extraverts have no feelings or sensitivity, that I’m too loud, too overbearing, too emotional, too hot tempered, too risk taking, too social.
“You know what’s wrong with you…” I’ve heard that phrase so often, I just tune out whatever comes after it. I just wish I was quiet. I wish people thought I was introspective. I wish people would leave me alone sometimes. Working in an industry that celebrates introverts has made me start to wish I was an introvert so people cared about how I feel.
I want you to know that this stuff hurts me, even as a super bouncy fun time extravert. That said, this post isn’t going to be about which type is better and who’s better and who needs to shut up more at the dinner table. It’s in fact going to be much bigger than that because I’m going to tell you what no one seems to be saying: Neither introverts or extraverts need any more or specific care than the other. We’re all feeling weird about ourselves and that’s ok.
I’m going to break it down for any introverts out there: You’re not better or more special because you are quiet and thoughtful and need time alone, and no one needs to coddle you because of that. There’s nothing wrong with how you are.
I’m going to further break this down for extraverts, too: You can be as loud and obnoxious and intense as you want, but some people aren’t going to like that and they’ll blame you for it. There’s nothing wrong with how you are.
I used to work at a company where I was the only extraverted person. I don’t really care who you are or what your background is, whenever you’re the lone “weird” person you can feel it, and it really, really does create a creeping sense of hostility for you. When the balance of things isn’t just a tad uneven but a full force epic majority versus minority vote, it’s no longer “I feel,” but rather, “This is true.” I’m sure it’s the exact same thing for an introvert to work in a room full of Richard Branson’s – at some point it must just be terrifyingly exhausting to think about going to work each day. The thing is there’s less introverts out there, and we hear their stories of distress far more, and we forget that extraverted people have their share of anxiety around different personalities, too.
The horrible and unacceptable traits I brought to the job as an extravert included being too opinionated, too vocal, having emotional responses to my work, and of course, dominating the room. That one I’ve been getting since I was 5 years old, so great job at figuring out the deepest recesses of my psyche, dudes! Once, while organizing deliveries for a Christmas toy drive, I was chastised in front of the entire company for opening boxes too loud. The environment was just too fragile and precious for my godzilla of a personality, and it was important that I feel bad about it.
This was hard for me. If I ever wanted to get ahead I’d need to stop doing what’s natural to my personality and start mimicking everyone else in the room. And I tried – oh my god, I tried. Every day I was reminded that I wasn’t good enough because I was this way, or that people didn’t like me because I did that thing. People would make jokes about my gross extraversion and laugh and laugh and laugh. I got used to the casual IMs and emails outlining all the “bad” things I’d done that day, like giving my opinion when it wasn’t directly solicited, or asking someone if a task was done yet. OH MY GOD WHY DID YOU ASK HIM ABOUT HIS WEEKEND, DON’T YOU KNOW HOW EMBARRASSING THAT WAS FOR HIM WHY ARE YOU SO AWFUL??
Not only was my natural personality type – my genetically coded brain processing – belittled, I was told daily through words and actions that it was everything that was wrong in the world and it needed to be eradicated by fire.
Extraverts are melodramatic sometimes because we think introverts aren’t listening to us, and we really long to be heard.
The scales start to tip and as they settle everyone can see what’s wrong with this picture: Oh, it’s you. And right now the only way to fix this problem is for you to pretend to be something other than you are, and be quieter, and apologize for making people feel uncomfortable because you got too passionate about something.
At BoS2013, Paul Kenny lead an amazing group workshop about personality types and differences. He had 20 volunteers divide themselves into groups of introverts or extraverts, and then asked those groups to say what they thought about the folks in their opposite group. On cue, the introverted group said extraverts are dominating, loud, and judgmental of introvert’s quietness. The extraverted group said sometimes they’d envy how introverts can be so introspective. They said introverts were usually the smartest people in the room, and they wished they’d speak up more and show that. Both sides looked equally deflated.
The introverts said very cooly how extraverts made them feel bad and were big annoying bullies. The extraverts said, somewhat sad, we’re just trying to get to know you more.
This was the first time that I’ve ever seen the big differences between introverts and extraverts laid out so simply. This was the first time it wasn’t “us against them”, it was just two groups of people who are different who really just want to be understood. In fact, this wasn’t the “Here’s how to care for introverts because you’re wrong” talk I was expecting, it was instead a reminder that at the end of the day, we’re all on the same stage. We all have bad personality traits. We all have strengths. We all have fears about perception and need to be loved a certain way, and we all wish people knew what makes us tick.
I think back on working at that terrible job with people who made me feel damaged and I wish I’d had a champion, someone who would have said, “You can learn to tone this down without changing who you are, and we’ll learn how to be less critical of you all the time.” We spend so much time on making one type of person feel bad for not knowing how to care for another type of person when we should just care for each other equally, and with as much intentional grace as we can.
I’m so sick of having to apologize for how I am naturally. I bet introverts are really, really sick of having to explain and explain and justify why they are the way they are naturally. So why do we have to do it so arrogantly?
Here’s a few things I’d like to see extraverts work on more:
- Go to lunch with an introverted pal and say as few words as possible. Enjoy the opportunity to be settled in the quiet, together.
- Instead of prodding introverts to be more social, start thinking, “They’re really selective about their friends. Maybe I can be more like that.”
- Sometimes you forget introverts *feel like* they’re getting stepped on. Tread more lightly.
- The next time you have an opinion, wait on it. It’s not going to change your core being if you harness it once in a while.
- Introverts aren’t smarter than you just because they’re introverts.
Here’s a few things I’d like to see introverts work on more:
- Stop blaming extraverted people for judgments and perceptions about you that we aren’t having or projecting onto you.
- Instead of saying, “He’s really loud and annoying,” try – just try – to say, “He can be really passionate and that’s great sometimes.”
- If you’re going to demand and expect that people learn to care for your personality type, learn to care for theirs, too.
- You’re sometimes hostile and defensive towards extraverts and probably don’t even realize it. This isn’t a battle between two types.
- Extraverts aren’t less intelligent than you, and they can be capable of doing your exact job just as well as you.
Here’s some extravert-care resources that don’t get enough attention:
The Care and Feeding of Your Extravert. “Contrary to popular belief, it’s not an extrovert-friendly world, and it’s becoming less so.”
How to Care For Your Extrovert, from Extrovert Problems. “Extroverts blurt. It’s the nature of the beast. Most try to leaven it with charm, but try to be patient when they don’t.”
5 Myths About Extraverts That Need To Die. “I’m not your enemy, and it hurts my feelings when you label me as one. Stop it.”
In Defense of Extraverts. “Because the Extraverts are seen to have the advantage, we encourage them to compensate for the Introverts rather than the other way around.”
How To Get Along With Everyone – Buffer’s amazing post on getting over I vs. E.
Finally, my favorite article in the world on this topic, because it was written about my old boss.