Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Introverts and Extroverts - stop labeling yourself.

This post maybe a little controversial and uncomfortable to some readers.  As social creatures we like to label ourselves as certain types.  We like to be part of groups, tribes and social circles. The issue is when we, or others, use these types to defining ourselves and limit our potential.

The focus of this article is looking at two specific personality types which always seem to pop up in conversations.

'Oh I am an Introvert"

'They are they the life and soul of the party, surely they are an extrovert'

If we ignore the fact that most personality testing are flawed, especially Myers-Briggs
"Generally, although not completely unscientific, the MBTI gives a ridiculously limited and simplified view of human personality," Nothing personal: The questionable Myers-Briggs test - Bean Burnett - The Guardian - March 2013
 Then what we are left with is the human desire to 'fit in' and be part of a group.  At the same time by using these labels we can provide excuses for our behavior.

What does it really mean when we say Introvert or Extrovert.

The merriam webster dictionary defines them as follows:
Introvert -  a shy person : a quiet person who does not find it easy to talk to other people
Extrovert -  a friendly person who likes being with and talking to other people : an outgoing person
For those people who know me personally, how would you label me?

I am sure the majority would define me as an extrovert, an outgoing person who like to socialize and talk to others.

However there are times and situations in which I can by shy and find it difficult to talk to others.  For example at large social gathering I can become very inward.  A recent example of this was at Testbash in Brighton where they organize a social event by the beach.  I find these situations very difficult and draining.  I put on a brave face but inwardly I just want to run and find a quiet corner  and be by myself.  The classic signs of an introvert?  Then the next day I am on stage in front of 200 plus people giving a talk and feeling wonderful, relaxed and enjoying the moment.  Wow now I am classed as an extrovert!

For me the key here is we need to stop limiting ourselves by defining our behavior with a label.   Depending on the context you can be an introvert or extrovert, and there is nothing wrong with that.  However if you use these labels to the extreme you could limit opportunities, growth and fulfilling your true potential.  Throw away the label and use your instinct to drive what you want to achieve and then anything could be possible.

Oh and a message to those who work in HR please stop using personality tests to meet some unreasonable arbitrary 'will they fit' tick box.  You may be excluding people just because of how they feel on that day rather than based upon the merits and skills  of the individual.


  1. Hi John,
    that's a very good insight on the matter.

    One thing on Merriam Webster's definition, I don't think that introverts are shy. Just because you don't want to talk to a person or you have nothing to talk about and you hate small talk doesn't mean you are shy, that's introvert.

    I am feeling a bit like you described yourself. Since I was at the same party, I was happy that I found a corner and some nice people to have a long conversation. A walk at the beach might have been a splendid idea as well. The next day I was on stage right after you.
    I made several attempts once with different MBTI evaluations. And I found out, that in 3 of the 4 categories I'm so close to the middle that I had no two test results the same combination. So if I say I'm a specializing generalist, MBTI is one more proof for this statement.

    Labels or boxes are a bad human habit to sort things out. And more common its an excuse for oneself. But rather than seeing things black or white you should see the whole grey scale and that things could shift freely on that scale.

    A human being is not the same each and every day, so why should we live in the same box every day? And we could use the best out of contrary boxes as we need it.

    Nobody should put us in a box, and we shouldn't put ourselves into a box.


  2. You make some very good points John. Introversion/extroversion certainly isn't a binary state; it's not even a 'sliding scale', despite what personality tests might have us believe! (You can't say "Jane is 10% more extroverted than Bob".) - I totally agree that we need to stop using these terms as labels with which to pigeonhole people.

    Those Merriam-Webster definitions are incredibly simplistic - and, frankly, wrong. Introverted does not mean shy. Susan Cain's excellent book "Quiet" outlines introversion in much more understandable terms: she proposes that it's all about how draining we find particular situations. Someone who is highly introverted CAN put themselves front-and-centre, but finds it uncomfortable and undesirable to do this all the time. Conversely, a person with extroverted tendencies may be perfectly capable of performing quiet solo activities, but they need to recharge by socialising with others.

    Cain also rallies against the stigmatism that people with introverted tendencies can face - it's often presented as something of a weakness. (See those Merriam-Webster definitions again; extroverts are friendly? So introverts aren't?) Yet as with most types of diversity, there is measurable value in working with people who identify with both personality types.

    1. Thank you for the reply - Neil - said it would be a little controversial - and yes I did choose the most simple definition I could find.... May think about changing that. I forgot about the Cain book - wonderful how it tries removing those barriers and allowing you to be yourself without being judged.

    2. I've actively been studying and experimenting with MBTI, Jung and Learning Styles.
      In psychology, you often find means to put labels to people, behaviour and outcomes.
      That's perfectly normal. It helps us make sense of things and helps us come to come to conclusions.
      The Extroversion/Introversion discussion is indeed rather a question of energy. Whether certain activities give you energy and others drain it.
      Neil is completely right in that regard and it's how Jung envisioned it to be.

      I like talking about MBTI and interpreting the results in more detail. To me, it's not a labelling tool, it's a communication tool.

      Try it. Who are you working closely together with?
      Could you guess their type? What they value, what they like to talk about, how they come to decisions?
      You can use MBTI, Extroversion/Introversion or any other framework for this.

      The important thing is that you can learn about each other and how you can improve your relationship.
      I've done this with a few of my direct relations and have absolutely loved the insight it provides.

      It's not about labels, it's about the effort of understanding each other.

      That's what I make of it.

    3. I would like to add that the 'exercise' of guessing the personality type and improving the relationship between two workers is done TOGETHER and the framework is just a tool to guide that conversation.
      I understand that was not immediately clear in my previous remark.

      Would love to see how other people experience this.

  3. I agree with this wholeheartedly! Outwardly I most certainly sit in the box 'Extrovert' but I also need time to myself. People assume 'extroverts' are always on form and need that constant social environment. There have been plenty of parties where I've had to plaster a smile on and play the part when I'd rather be in a bath reading a book. I think there are times when it can be beneficial to understand certain personality traits and how they fit with traits of other people but a simple Introvert/Extrovert label is clearly not a one size fits all.

  4. It's so easy to use 'being an introvert' as an excuse! I agree, we need to stop labelling people as one or the other.

  5. I've picked your blog for the #30daysoftesting "read and comment on a blog post".
    I work for a psychometric assessment company (not Myers-Briggs related!), testing the assessments and systems that support them, so this is kind of close to home for me. The majority of the company joke about being "a group of introverts" on a regularly. Even the psychometricians!
    I think it's less of a personality type and more of behaviour that you display under certain circumstances. At work, with my colleagues, I'm more likely to behave in an extroverted manner. When I am surrounded by people I don't know, in a situation I'm not familiar with, I behave in a very introverted way.
    That said, I have described myself as an extroverted introvert before.

    Regardless, I agree that the defining yourself based on ANY label is damaging and limits your ability to do everything. Being self aware on the other hand is a good thing :)
    Good post!

  6. This blog resonates with me, as after a period of extraversion (running a workshop for example) I do often want to hide in a dark corner for a few days. Rather than being one or the other, I find it's a question of energy for me. Gregariousness saps my energy quickly, even though I enjoy it.

    Reminds us that the label is not the thing, great post John. :)

    1. thank you ash for the comment. I get what you mean by workshop tiredness.

  7. I agree and I do not agree. We should not put labels on people, but everybody has some degree of the extremes. That is also explained in the book of Susan Cain. The conversation was started with her TED talk I assume, and she has some points.

    I do not agree with the definitions of introvert and extravert that you quoted. Introverts are not shy. Introverts are friendly too. Introverts can be cruel too. This has nothing to do with introvert or extraverts. Susans book is also explaining this. It is worth reading.

  8. Thank you for the comment Bart and I agree the definitions are not what many would agree with. However as I state at the beginning of article I wanted it to be slightly controversial. I researched many dictionary definitions and the majority gave the same attributes such as introverts being shy. I may have to do a more detailed in depth response to this article using the work and research done by Cain and others. Also as Geoff said in the comments is it behaviour rather than personality. Again thanks for the feedback given me more to think about.