Introverts – we’re a lot more complex than we may seem at first.
This past summer, I finished Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. Cain is easily one of the most widely-known and well-respected experts on introverts. And she’s doing a great job telling the world why introverts are valuable just the way they are.
While I enjoyed most of her book, I did leave with one impression that got me thinking. In her effort to explain introvert strengths, I felt as though she’d described all introverts as a melting pot of various strengths and skills. As a result, I came away from the book thinking, Introverts are creative, analytical, detail-oriented, organized, big-picture thinkers.
In Cain’s defense, that was just the impression that I left with. On the whole, her book did a masterful job addressing and championing the topic of introversion. It’s still doing big things for the cause of introverts. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but want to set the record straight – at least in my own mind.
So what traits really do set introverts apart? Let’s a take a look.
Personality theories that take a whack at explaining people, why they are the way they are, and why they do what they do are legion. The Enneagram, DISC, Myers-Briggs, and the Big Five are just a few well-known ones. And each personality theory has its strengths and weaknesses.
Personally, I’m a big fan of the Myers-Briggs personality system that began with Carl Jung. Along with introversion and extroversion, the Myers-Briggs identifies three other pairs of preferences, which it uses to classify and differentiate between various kinds of people:
- Sensing and Intuition
- Thinking and Feeling
- Judging and Perceiving
Where you’d fall when it comes to each of these preferences significantly affects what motivates you as well as what you focus on.
Sensing and Intuition
Sensing and intuition are two ways people take in information about and make sense of the world around them.
Introverts who prefer sensing pay attention to details. They’re tuned into the world around them, and they take it at face value as they perceive using each of their five senses. Most introverts who prefer sensing tend to focus on either the present or the past.
Introverts with a preference for intuition, however, think in terms of the big picture. Sometimes they miss the trees for the forest. They’re quick when it comes to identifying patterns. Furthermore, they tend to think and talk more abstractly; they’re not afraid of theory. And they definitely enjoy thinking about the future and imagining new possibilities.
Thinking and Feeling
Thinking and feeling describe the two ways people make decisions.
Thinking introverts tend to make their decisions primarily based on facts, data, and logic. They do their best to step back from the problem or opportunity at hand in order to make as objective a decision as possible. Thinkers are sometimes accused of making insensitive decisions, but they’re seldom accused of making illogical ones.
Feeling introverts, on the other hand, start with people. They try to put themselves in the shoes of other people and imagine how they might be feeling. Then, they try to make decisions that are the best for those people – whether or not the bottom line has to be sacrificed. While feeling introverts may be accused of making illogical decisions, they’re seldom accused of making insensitive ones.
Please understand that thinkers are not feelingless, insensitive robots, and feelers are not spineless ameba. A person’s preference simply states where he prefers to start and what he usually weighs most heavily when making decisions. And as we all know, different kinds of decisions call for different decision-making criteria. So each individual decides for herself whether to lean on thinking or feeling based on the circumstances.
Judging or Perceiving
These final two preferences pertain to how people tend to order their worlds and handle information.
Introverts who fall into the judging camp like decisions made. They prefer structure, organization, and routine. They’re typically more consistent by nature, and they like to get things done (a.k.a. Crossing off a to-do list is cathartic…). They research and collect information but only as much as they need to feel comfortable making a decision. Judging introverts tend to color inside the lines.
Introverts who live in perceiving world, conversely, prefer to leave their options open. They know that saying “Yes” to one thing means saying “No” to something else. Perceiving introverts enjoy spontaneity, going with the flow, and leaving their options open. They don’t want to miss out on a good spur-of-the-moment sale or an exciting concert that comes up last minute. In addition, they love gathering and collecting information and are open to new and unusual kinds of thinking. Perceiving introverts hate coloring inside the lines all the time: they want the freedom to think outside the box.
More Than Meets the Eye
These three sets of preferences – coupled with introversion – combine to give us 8 different kinds of Myers-Briggs introverts:
What’s even cooler, is that each of these personalities has a pair of unique strengths. The preferences that make up any one personality (I S T and J, for example) interact dynamically to give the person a “super power”.
In short, while the letters tell us about each of these unique introverts at face value, the dynamic interaction among the preferences results in more than meets the eye.
But that’s a post for another day…
Suffice it to say for now that it’s hard to describe introverts in general. Yes, there are definite characteristics that define introverts as a group. But there are way more differences that make each and every introvert special and unique.
What differences set YOU apart from other introverts? I’d love to know your thoughts!
Add to the conversation in the comments below.