Sunday, September 08, 2013

Introverts, Business and the Church - Why is the world geared towards Extroverts? The cost of being an Introvert.

I recently heard an interview on the Simon Mayo Drive Time show on Radio 2 that I found particularly interesting. It was an interview with an American author called Susan Cain who had written a book called 'Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking' (review HERE). We live in a world that, 'she argues, excessively and misguidedly respects extroverts. We make them our bosses and our political leaders. We foolishly admire their self-help books....' (from review linked above). Also from that review the reviewer makes the point from the book that 'We introverts attempt to emulate extroverts, and the stress of not being "true to ourselves" can make us physically and mentally ill'.

Now I work for a large American IT company and I can say without a shadow of a doubt that in the business world that I have experience of that could not be more true. I think it is also fair to say that being an IT Techy I also come across, I guess, a higher number of Introverts than there are say in other lines of business or professions. However, that being said, the company as a whole is very much geared towards Extroverts. The way the yearly personal reviews are measured, promotions gained and generally moving on up are geared very much to being easier for Extroverts than for Introverts to achieve. 

So before I move on let me put some sort of definition to the meaning of the terms Introvert and Extrovert as they are commonly misunderstood to mean a loud person and a shy quiet person which is not at all what they mean. So here is what Wikipedia has to say about the two:


Extraversion is "the act, state, or habit of being predominantly concerned with and obtaining gratification from what is outside the self".[4] Extroverts tend to enjoy human interactions and to be enthusiastic, talkative, assertive, and gregarious. They take pleasure in activities that involve large social gatherings, such as parties, community activities, public demonstrations, and business or political groups. Politics, teaching, sales, managing and brokering are fields that favor extroversion. An extroverted person is likely to enjoy time spent with people and find less reward in time spent alone. They tend to be energized when around other people, and they are more prone to boredom when they are by themselves.


Introversion is "the state of or tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one's own mental life".[4] Some popular writers have characterized introverts as people whose energy tends to expand through reflection and dwindle during interaction.[5] This is similar to Jung's view, although he focused on psychic energy rather than physical energy. Few modern conceptions make this distinction.
The common modern perception is that introverts tend to be more reserved and less outspoken in groups. They often take pleasure in solitary activities such as reading, writing, using computers, hiking and fishing. The archetypal artist, writer, sculptor, engineer, composer and inventor are all highly introverted. An introvert is likely to enjoy time spent alone and find less reward in time spent with large groups of people, though he or she may enjoy interactions with close friends. Trust is usually an issue of significance: a virtue of utmost importance to introverts is choosing a worthy companion. They prefer to concentrate on a single activity at a time and like to observe situations before they participate, especially observed in developing children and adolescents.[6] They are more analytical before speaking.[7] Introverts are easily overwhelmed by too much stimulation from social gatherings and engagement, introversion having even been defined by some in terms of a preference for a quiet, more minimally stimulating environment.[8]
Introversion is not seen as being identical to shyness or to being a social outcast. Introverts prefer solitary activities over social ones, whereas shy people (who may be extraverts at heart) avoid social encounters out of fear.[9]


For me the main difference has to be found in how a persons emotional energy is re-energised. Extroverts tend to be energized by being around groups of people, need the social interaction whereas Introverts are re-energised by being alone and away from social interaction or at least with very minimal numbers of people.

Now I am a full on Introvert without any shadow of a doubt. I can also be shy when around large groups of people I do not know but Introversion very much defines how I interact with the world. That is not to say I am unsociable, though again I can at times be very unsociable verging on the rude when not in the mood to interact. At work I have to attend many meetings either face to face or over the phone and I am perfectly happy to talk and engage with the matters being discussed. However this is because we are talking with purpose and a goal. I know the reason for the interaction and generally in my work setting I know what I am talking about and can even at times come across fairly vocally aggressively when making a point or disagreeing with someone. This may not seem to be the perceived behaviour of an Introvert but this is where the misunderstandings come in. Introverts are not necessarily quiet and in some situations like I mentioned above are not quiet at all. However the cost comes in the emotional energy it takes to deal with those situations. If I have a day where I have had to attend many meetings or have a lot of personal interaction with other people it takes its toll on me emotionally. I will be drained and need some quiet and space in order to unwind and feel refreshed again. That is one of the main differences between us. An Extrovert may in fact be quite charged up by a day of that kind of social interaction and be ready for an evening of more of the same. The last thing an Introvert wants after a day like that would be to spend more time with people.

This is where I find the business world is not at all geared towards Introverts. Again I point out that IT seems to attract more Introverts than many other professions so I am often with like minded folks. However I am generally required to have that outgoing, confident, expressive persona most of the time whereas often I just want to be left alone and talk to no one. At work I need space, time out from hustle and bustle, to be away from interruption and interaction. I find it incredibly difficult and irritating, if I am focussed on a particular problem, to be required to switch to something else then back again. Now fortunately for me, I can work these needs into my day. I work from home some days which is a particular blessing. Complete peace and quiet. 

So that is a tiny window into life as an Introvert in an Extrovert business environment. But what is it like for an Introvert in a modern large Evangelical church environment? This is where it gets tricky. Shorts of just turning up to a main Sunday service and leaving straight after, church is entirely geared towards social interaction. Even walking in to a large meeting on a Sunday morning can be a daunting task for an Introvert, especially if one is also Shy. Generally at the end of a meeting there is tea and coffee to be had where far greater social interaction is expected and needed. There are mid week meetings with say groups of up to fifteen as well as other opportunities to meet up. 

Remember it is not that an Introvert hates social interaction in large groups, it is that it is an emotionally draining experience for them. There is only so much group interaction that an Introvert can cope with before the desire to run away kicks in and to get as far away as possible from people. For me when I am tired, which seems to be most of the time at the moment since having a child, I have very little emotional energy in reserve. Therefore evening meetings are particularly draining for me when I have been at work all day. Now sometimes I lead a small group evening and do some bible teaching which I greatly enjoy. But the evening is then a known quantity. I am for all intents and purposes in control but on evenings where I am not leading I can easily just sit there and not speak. It comes across as aloof and unsociable but most often it is simply I have no energy to engage socially. On just social evenings I am awkward and don't know what to say to people. I will often latch on to a particular person who I may know or have common ground with and would quite happily talk to them all evening. I am happy and comfortable one on one but not at all when there are many people and the requirement is to socially engage. At the end of an evening like that I will be completely drained and just want to go home and be alone (and sometimes not just at the end of the evening).

Conversely I could spend the entire day with one of my closest friends and feel very energised and not at all drained. The expectation is different and it take far less energy to be with someone who knows you very well. I am far happier in a group of one or two. Any larger than that and it gets draining and unless I am very awake and energized I will not enjoy being in such a group. 

Now I may be a fairly extreme introvert and I am not writing this because I have answers to these issues facing Introverts in a business or church setting. I am writing simply to open the door on the world of the Introvert which I think is often misunderstood. To an extrovert I imagine what I have just written will seem utterly alien. Similar to how I feel when someone says 'Oh I just love being in a large group of people and socialising and could stay there all night'.

The business world and the Church community, though very different, both require of the Introvert a much greater investment of emotional energy to function effectively in and that is the main message I would want to get across. 

To Extroverts, if we are not enthusiastic about another big meeting, another opportunity to socially interact with others then please understand it is not necessarily that we don't care. If we are quiet and don't chat in a social gathering don't assume we are being rude or shy. We might just need a break, some solitude, something smaller. We may have had our fill of people that day, that week. Don't judge us by comparing us to how you feel as an Extrovert. To my Church family, I love you but frankly sometimes I don't want to be with you. Or not at that particular moment. I can also be rather melancholic at times and couple that with my Introversion sometimes the thought of lets face it pretending to be ok (and don't pretend you don't do it) is too much. Regardless of how much we say 'you can come as you are' in church most of the time no one actually does. Everyone wears masks of some sort or another and for an Introvert wearing that mask can be an emotional killer. For an Introvert the church seems full of 'full on' happy, loud Extroverts. Which can be the last place you want to be when you are weary. Either that or you just want to punch them, or is that just me?

“Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you criticize them, you are a mile away from them and you have their shoes.”


Andy Robinson said...

Hey Andrew, really helpful article.

I am sure it will be a surprise to many, and possibly you, that I totally relate. I would consider myself an introvert if using your definition. I not only love my own company, but need it in order to recharge and gather myself and my thoughts.

Like you i am ok 1-2-1 or with close friends and I am ok with crowds where I am interacting with the entire group, leading a meeting or preaching although I do find that emotionally draining too but enjoyable. However I do find a social with 15-20 people I don't know, or don't know we'll, more emotionally draining than leading a large meeting. I guess I am an introverted extrovert!

As we go to two meetings I have said I will no longer be going to the various "social" or "get to know you" lunches that happen Sunday lunch times because they will emotionally drain me as an introvert and I want to be as recharged for the 2nd meeting as I am the 1st - so will want to use the afternoon to get some solitude and recharge. You explain my reasons for needing to do that so well in your blog.

This I suppose is the paradox for me, the need to personally recharge and the need to take the message of the kingdom to the nations! Jesus, our example, had compassion for the multitudes as well as the individuals. How do I as an introvert (using your measure) take time out for me, but also press into reaching the multitudes? How do I equip the saints in the most effective way, which is often on mass, as well as making sure I do not burn out in the process.

In my opinion burn out occurs when there are more things that draining me in my day/week than energise me. Like you I enjoy 1-2-1, so mentoring is joy and thus energising, preaching is emotionally tiring, but not draining and because it is my calling and has loads of prep and study combined with it is also an energiser for me. However, lots of interaction with people I don't know, or don't know well often is a large emotional drain.

I think my point here is this. As Christians we are part of the body of Christ. We have been grafted into community. We are made in the image of god, a perfect community, and so interaction with groups larger than a few is inevitable and should not be avoided. However, lets recognise that for some these large groups drain rather than energise and so we need to find ways to energise ourselves too. It is too easy for us (me) to play the introvert card and abandon everything that does not energise where what i think we should be doing is recognising that some things are right and appropriate and even though they are an emotional drain they are necessary (like meeting together Heb 10:25) and we do them knowing that BUT we still make sure we get the right amount of alone time, or time doing things that energise us too.

"All work and no play makes jack a dull boy"

If all we do are this that drain us then we will be dull and burn out!

These are my thoughts as an introverted extrovert!

Andy Robinson

Andy Robinson said...

My score on the Guardian test you posted

You scored 15 out of a possible 20

You have a tendency towards being introvert. The higher your score, the more introvert you probably are. The nearer to 10 your score is, the nearer to being an ambivert you are (yes, there really is such a word). But even if you answered every single question as an introvert or extrovert, that doesn’t mean that your behaviour is predictable across all circumstances. We can’t say that every introvert is a bookworm or every extrovert wears lampshades at parties any more than we can say that every woman is a natural consensus-builder and every man loves contact sports. As Jung felicitously put it, “There is no such thing as a pure extrovert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum.

Andrew said...

Hi Andy, thanks for the comments. I would have put you down as an Extrovert so you hide it well publicly.

You are of course correct and if I was to write a follow up it would be to say that Introversion is not an excuse to shy away from social interaction as of course to function in daily life requires it. It is possible, as one matures, to learn those strategies and boundaries to make sure you don't burn yourself out and are able to do what is required of you and especially as a Christian to be able to serve God in the ways He has called.

I would also add that it can be easy to start feeling guilty that you can't be like 'those extrovert types' and it is important to understand what being in Introvert means so as to embrace and work with it rather than against it.

Lots could be said.