Am I an introvert? 8 Clues to Help you Decide.
So, what exactly is an introvert and how can you tell if you are one or not? Fundamentally, introversion is where you get your energy from. Extroverts are energised by other people and external stimulation. Introverts, on the other hand, need quiet time to recharge their batteries and can find that they are drained by social interaction and external stimulation – no matter how much fun they’re having. It really is that simple. Whether you are introvert or extrovert is a matter of how you manage your energy.
In her book The Introvert Advantage, Marti Olsen Laney likens extroverts to having solar panels, because they are recharged by external stimulation and being out in the world. Introverts on the other hand, need to be inside and plugged into the mains to get their charge. Both temperaments will gain the same amount and type of energy, but they require a distinct power source. I find this a really helpful way to visualise the difference between the different temperaments: extroverts gain energy while they are out in the world; introverts need to charge away from the noise and busyness. Remember that no temperament is better or worse than another, simply different. A mix of temperaments and energy can make the most dazzling of friendships, relationships and teams.
I only found out I was an introvert in my 30s, I had spent most of my life thinking (and being told) that I was shy. But it turns out I wasn’t shy (or at least not all the time), I was introverted. So, what’s the difference? Well, shyness is a form of social anxiety and has nothing to do with introversion. Yes, that’s right, introversion is not the same as shyness. Of course, it is possible to be a shy introvert, just as it is possible to be a shy extrovert. The big difference between shyness and temperament is that your temperament is with you for life, whereas shyness is a learned behaviour (and as such is something that can be unlearned). Introverts’ and extroverts’ brains are wired differently to one another.
Introversion and extroversion are on a continuum and we all have our comfortable place on the scale. Depending on the situation, you may become more extroverted: imagine you have to give a presentation (which is something introverts can be very skilled at – and even enjoy). However, after the presentation an introvert will return to their comfortable place on the scale to rest and recharge. It’s like being a spring that can stretch when required, but will always return to its original shape.
So how can you tell if you are an introvert or not? Well, here are a few clues that might help you work it out.
1. Are you quiet?
Introverts are often quieter than their extroverted counterparts, but not always. Context is key, so in a situation or with a group of people where they feel really comfortable an introvert will likely be chatty and outgoing (remember the introvert spring?). However, throw an introvert into a room where they don’t know anyone and they are likely to be quiet and reserved, at least to start with.
2. Do you like to observe before joining in?
Introverts often like to learn by watching. This means that in a new situation introverts will probably be standing back and observing, working out the lie of the land before joining in. Does this sound like you? I think of my observation skills as a kind of superpower, which allow me to read a room and understand what is and isn’t being said before I join in.
3. Do you listen more than you talk?
Introverts are wonderful listeners, a skill that pairs well with our observation skills. Introverts like to make sense of the world by reflecting internally on what is going on around them. By listening to others introverts use their powers of reflection to find ways to understand and connect deeply with others.
4. Do you feel uncomfortable being the centre of attention?
Introverts often don’t like to have all eyes on them. It can make their brains freeze and they feel a bit like a rabbit in headlights. This isn’t always the case though, and some introverts are talented performers and presenters such as Lady Gaga, Oprah Winfrey and Ru Paul. They will perform and then retreat to recharge afterwards. These introverts are great examples of the introvert spring at work.
5. Do you prefer smaller groups or one to one interaction?
Many introverts feel overwhelmed in large groups. They can feel that they don’t know what to say and often find themselves talked over or ignored. Introverts really want to find deep connections with others and talk about topics that matter. Superficial small talk is something that introverts don’t particularly enjoy, although they can become skilled at it.
Introverts tend to find deeper connections with others when talking one to one or in smaller groups. These interactions allow the conversation to develop and for connections or shared interests to deepen.
6. Do you like to think things through before you speak?
As I mentioned earlier introverts’ and extroverts’ brains are wired differently. One of the biggest differences is how the two groups process information. Introverts process information internally and think-to-speak. This means they think things through and reflect deeply to process their thoughts and opinions. Extroverts in contrast speak-to-think, and will be working out what they think about something as they are speaking.
When an introvert speaks, it is likely that what they have to say will be of value because it will be a considered contribution.
7. Do people refer to you as a calm presence?
While introverts may be criticised for being too quiet, one thing most people will agree on is that they are a calm presence. Introverts know how to hold the space for others. Because of the way their brains work, it is likely that they are already thinking about all the different permutations of how a possible scenario or problem will play out. Their calm demeanour can help to diffuse tension in a room. This doesn’t mean that there they are not engaged, just that they will be thinking to process information before speaking or acting. Does this sound like you?
8. Where do you get your energy from?
As I mentioned at the beginning, introverts gain energy from quiet time alone. This does not mean that you don’t like other people nor that you don’t enjoy being out and about in the world. What it does mean is that your social battery is calibrated differently to an extroverts’, which is just fine.
One question that you may find helpful is to ask yourself what you would prefer to do at the end of a busy day or crazy week? If you would rather chill out in front of the TV or with a close friend or family you are more likely to be introverted. If you would prefer to go to a loud bar or restaurant with a group of friends to relax and recharge, you are more likely extroverted.
I hope that you have found these pointers helpful to try and decide if you, or your child, is introverted. How many of them resonated with you? Introverts are a varied group of people with different skills and interests united by where they get their energy from. There is much value they can add to the world. Introversion is not something to be fixed but something to embrace and be proud of.
If you want to find out more, you can try my quiz.
 The Introvert Advantage, Marti Olsen Laney p20 2002