There are many different personality models in psychology, but the introversion-extroversion dimension is apparent in almost all. First cited by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung, introversion and extroversion describe two opposite poles of a personality trait.
Introversion and extroversion
While introverts tend to turn their gaze ‘inwards’, extroverts look more ‘outwards’, i.e. towards their surroundings and other people. It's important, however, to note that this is a continuum, with introversion and extroversion forming the two poles. As a result, people aren't purely introverted or purely extroverted, but many variations in between.
The difference can be seen in the following examples:
- ... like quiet environments.
- ... have a few, deep friendships.
- ... think before they speak.
- ... are good listeners.
- ... like lively environments.
- ... have many, loose friendships.
- ... speak to clarify their thoughts.
- ... are good entertainers.
As is to be expected, these two different attitudes are clearly visible in our everyday behaviour – and in our interactions with other people in particular. While extroverts are generally seen as open and sociable, introverts often give the impression of being closed and withdrawn. But it's worth taking a look behind the scenes.
The quiet observer
Introverts are often judged by others as being quiet and reserved. Especially in group situations, they prefer to take a back seat. As a result, introversion is frequently mistaken for shyness. But this is a misconception, as introverts aren't necessarily shy.
Even though the behaviour patterns may be the same (e.g. reticence in discussions), the reasons for their behaviour are quite different. Shy people often don't have the courage to approach others because they're afraid of humiliating themselves or being rejected. This is not the case with introverts. Introverts simply have a greater need for quiet and are therefore less likely to seek social contact. They feel comfortable alone and thrive best when they have time for themselves and their thoughts.
Introversion in a loud world
It is estimated today that around 25% of people tend towards introversion and 75% towards extroversion. This means that introverts are in the minority and this can be the reason why they so often have to struggle with being misunderstood. Being sociable is a quality held in high regard in our society and many structures tend to be designed with the needs of extroverts in mind (e.g. children’s holiday camps or open plan offices in companies). In order for introverted people to reach their full potential, the right balance is crucial.
Time for themselves
After a long day with a lot of social contact, introverts need time for themselves again in order to find peace and quiet and recharge their batteries. Once achieved, they're able to manage the ‘louder times’ again. In the work environment, attention must frequently be paid to finding the right mix between group discussions and individual work. In large discussions, introverts are often unable to offer all their ideas, as they tend to need longer to formulate their thoughts. Giving staff the chance to submit additional inputs when a meeting is over is a good way of enabling introverts’ ideas to be included too.
The introvert’s brain chemistry
Introversion is an inherent personality trait that remains relatively consistent throughout a person’s life. From medical studies we know today that it also has neuronal causes. The brain of an introverted person perceives external stimuli more intensely. This can lead to an overload of stimuli – of noise, light or visual impressions, for example. This also explains why introverts can recharge well in quiet, low-stimulus environments and are challenged in situations with large numbers of people.
How we view the world
As mentioned at the start, personality traits have an effect on how we view the world. But a person’s characteristics shouldn't be judged as better or worse. Both introverts and extroverts have their strengths and sources of potential – the key is in recognising them and maximising them to the full.