While introverts all manage their energy in the same way and may share other traits, it is not always easy to spot one. Why? Well, sometimes introverts may behave in a so-called “extroverted” manner. In a world that values and promotes extroversion over introversion, many introverts are uncomfortable being their quiet selves and feel that they need to be more extroverted to succeed. Alternatively, they may not know they are introverted. I certainly didn’t until I was in my 30s.
Here are my top questions for how to spot an introvert plus why it’s important to know if someone is or isn’t introverted:
Are they always quiet?
Introverts are generally quiet, but not always – context is key. In situations where they feel comfortable, they can be just as chatty or as loud as anyone else. And if you get an introvert talking about something that they feel passionate about, you may find it hard to stop them talking!
They are reflective, deep thinkers who are often super-observant. This can also mean that they prefer to learn by watching and are often creative solvers of complex problems with great attention to detail. They may find it easier to express themselves by writing rather than speaking. They like to think before they speak and probably don’t enjoy being the centre of attention (although this isn’t always the case as a number of actors and performers are introverts – who perform and then retreat to a quiet place to recover and recharge).
How do they process information?
Introverts process information differently to extroverts and need to think to process their thoughts before they speak. This is why introverts will often freeze if called upon to speak in class or a meeting. Extroverts however, speak to think and will process their thoughts and opinions while talking aloud. It’s important to say that neither way is better or worse than the other, it simply how you’re wired.
If you notice someone who takes a while to process their thoughts and who may think about what they wanted to say after the fact, once the conversation may already have moved on; it could well be their introvert brain doing its thing. Because of the way introverts process information, when they do have something to say it is likely that they will add value with their thoughtful contribution.
Do they like to be surrounded by people or prefer a smaller group?
Parents are often concerned that their introverted child doesn’t have enough friends, which is a difficult place to be as a parent. We all need connection, introvert and extrovert alike. However, introverts often prefer interacting one to one or in a small group. Think quality rather than quantity. It is worth reminding yourself that this smaller number of connections might be exactly the amount of interaction that your introverted needs.
Being in smaller groups will likely preserve their social battery for longer than if they are in a busy or noisy environment.
We often equate more friends and acquaintances to being happier and more successful, but this is often not the case for introverts. They like to forge strong connections with others and prefer talking about deeper topics to small talk. They listen deeply and are generally a calm presence who others open up to.
It is also worth saying that introversion is not the same as shyness; which is linked to social anxiety. Anyone can be shy – introvert or extrovert alike.
How do they approach new situations?
Does your child, friend or colleague throw themselves straight into a new activity or group, or do they prefer to stand back and observe for a while? An extrovert is more likely to feel happy with joining in with new situations without delay. Whereas introverts generally prefer to observe from the side-lines and check out the lie of the land before joining in.
This can be particularly noticeable in children, as adults are more likely to have been socially conditioned to be able to stretch themselves in different situations, even if it’s not what they would choose. In spite of the introverted child’s natural reticence, they are often encouraged or even forced into joining a new situation before they are ready.
How do they behave in a group setting?
This can be another way to identify if someone is an introvert. Are they quiet or more dominant with other people? Introverts often don’t like to be the centre of attention, and that along with needing to process thoughts before they speak can mean that they don’t always say a lot.
Does your child manage to make their thoughts and opinions heard or do they find it hard to speak up? If they find it hard to get their point across in a group it may be an indication of introversion, although it could be a sign of shyness or social anxiety which aren’t linked to introversion.
In a one-to-one situation introverts can find it hard to talk about how they are feeling, particularly if they do not know the other person well or don’t feel that they are truly being listened to. However when they are comfortable with who they are talking to they will likely be far more forthcoming.
What exhausts them?
Introverts and extroverts vary in where they get their energy from: what drains them and how they recharge. Introverts are drained social interaction and stimulating environments – even when they are enjoying themselves – and need quiet time to recharge; whereas these situations are what energises an extrovert.
If you or someone you know is drained after spending time with others or having been in a stimulating environment, no matter how much fun they’ve had, and needs some quiet time to recharge it is likely they are introverted. Of course, everyone needs quiet time, not just the introverts, but if there is a pattern this can help you recognise someone’s temperament.
Look beyond the obvious
Some introverts will be quiet, reflective and happy in their own company but it is important to add that many introverts may act more extroverted than they feel comfortable in order to fit in or because they feel that introversion is unacceptable and needs to be fixed. This will mean that they are not obviously recognisable as introverts. In the long term this can lead to an introvert hangover (read my blog about the introvert hangover here) and ultimately burnout when the individual has totally worn themselves out without honouring their fundamental need for quiet time to recharge.
I suffered from this regularly during my teens and 20s when I didn’t understand my quiet nature and need for quiet time to look after my energy levels. Respecting my introvert needs is not a nice to have, it is essential for me and other introverts so that we can function.
Why is it important to know if someone is introverted or extroverted?
Our society and school system are largely focused towards the extrovert ideal where the person who shouts loudest is often the one who is listened to and admired. This ideal equates success with being a chatty, outgoing, action-orientated person who is willing to take risks, is surrounded by friends and can quite literally talk to anyone. This means that, from birth, introverts are pretty much constantly told to speak up, to join in, to be with others all the time, to ‘stop being antisocial/ shy/ quiet’ etc. As a result, introverts are likely to think that there is something wrong with them and that they need to be extroverted to succeed.
While introversion itself is in no way a mental health issue, being constantly told that you need to change who you are to succeed can certainly be damaging to the mental health of introverts. I also am aware that labels are not always popular, but I believe that the benefits of understanding why you or your child behave and think in a certain way far outweigh the alternative of not knowing your temperament.
Research I have carried out suggests that most people don’t find out they are introverted until adulthood (generally as part of a personality profiling exercise at work), and even those who did know in childhood still generally felt that being introverted was something that made them less than and needed to be changed. All those who I asked, wished they’d had a better understanding of introversion at an early age. Just imagine the positive impact of understanding what introversion really is and how to work with it for today’s children, parents and educators.
By knowing whether you, your child or someone close to you is introvert you can help them to understand what it means, how to manage their energy and how to ensure that they don’t miss out on any opportunities because they feel they are too quiet.
My mission is for introverts to realise that there is nothing wrong with them, they don’t need fixing and that they can do anything they set their mind to. By working with, rather than against their introversion, the sky really is the limit. By identifying whether you, your child or someone close to you is introverted, communication will become easier for all.