Many people think Extraverts like to talk all the time, while Introverts prefer not to talk at all. Superficially this might seem true, but it is a stereotyped version of the differences that mark the Introvert vs. Extravert dividing line.
To understand the distinction and to know which side of that dividing line you fall on, it is necessary to dig deeper and to look beyond obvious behavioral patterns, which may confuse more than they enlighten. You’ll need to learn more about the psychological characteristics and motivations of each personality type, so you can compare them to your own characteristics and motivations.
It is here, rather than in your behaviors, that you’ll find the answer to the question, ‘am I an Introvert or an Extravert?’
Introvert vs. Extrovert: Evaluating the Stylistic Differences
Introverts and Extraverts approach social interactions differently. They also perceive them and conceive of them differently.
Here are some examples that show how the Introvert vs. Extravert dynamic plays itself out in the real world:
Extraverts tend to naturally gravitate toward leadership. If they’re sitting around with a group of co-workers getting ready to begin work on a new project, they will break the ice and make suggestions to get things started. This signals their willingness to take the lead, and others will usually follow along.
What’s fascinating about this is that Extraverts don’t insist on being in charge. They just aren’t afraid of stepping forward first, and that makes friends, family members, and co-workers feel confident in their ability to handle leadership responsibilities.
Introverts are generally willing to let the more outgoing members of the group assume leadership positions. But there are two exceptions to the rule.
The first is when they’re dissatisfied with the lack of progress in a project. They will become impatient and unwilling to let inaction by others determine the project’s fate. When no one else seems capable of leading the group in a productive direction, the Introvert will jump in and take over.
The second situation where introverts aren’t reluctant to lead is when their expertise makes them the best qualified for the position. If an Introvert is truly convinced they know more about the relevant subject matter than anyone else, by virtue of their education or past experience, they will see it as their duty to take the initiative.
Extraverts will initiate more conversations than Introverts. They will willingly approach others and set the agenda of the discussion.
But they won’t try to control the direction of the conversation. They appreciate spontaneity and enjoy learning new things. In fact, they are delighted when their efforts to socialize encourage others to speak and will gladly let their companions carry the conversation when this happens.
An Extravert always assumes others want to talk about their lives, whether it be about their work, their children, their plans for the weekend, or their favorite hobbies and pastimes. From their perspective, it is a sign of decency and respect to initiate friendly conversations when the opportunity arises.
It’s true that Introverts don’t start conversations regularly. But they have excellent listening skills that they can use to keep discussions going and moving in interesting directions. They listen carefully because they are motivated to learn, and their questions and observations are usually on point and thoughtfully considered.
There are some situations where they prefer to be left alone. But for the most part introverts are approachable. Introverts tend to be more guarded at the beginning of a conversation, however, especially if they don’t know a person that well. They won’t want to talk about their hopes, dreams, aspirations, and disappointments with someone they’ve only known a short time.
Unlike Extraverts, Introverts don’t automatically assume others are interested in conversation. They are willing to take the initiative in social interactions. But they will only do so if they get a clear signal that lets them know someone is interested in socializing.
Dealing with Stress
When the Extravert has had a difficult day at work, when they get home they will want to talk about it. They’ll need to let their feelings out, to express their frustrations about their over demanding boss, stubborn co-workers, or client who treated them rudely.
The introvert is different. When they get home after a hard day at work or school, they’ll be looking to decompress outside of social settings. They’ll want to get off somewhere by themselves, somewhere quiet and peaceful, so they can unwind and relax in solitude. They may want to listen to music, write in a journal, practice meditation, or take a refreshing nap or shower. They may be willing to talk about what happened later, but only after they’ve had the chance to calm down first.
This difference is very telling. For the Extravert, socializing is associated with stress relief, while for the introvert it’s the exact opposite.
When an Extravert is confronted with a problem, their first instinct is to talk it through, openly and honestly. They’ll do this even if there’s a conflict at home that involves a sensitive and personal situation with a child or spouse. As a devoted parent or partner, they will want to meet the situation head on, through constructive dialogue that allows everyone to have their say.
What Extraverts do, essentially, is think things through out loud. Their creative processes are stimulated through conversation. No matter the difficulty, they are convinced the feedback they give and receive will point the way to a satisfying resolution.
Introverts, on the other hand, process information internally. They prefer to think things through carefully and deliberately before expressing their opinions verbally. When confronted with a problem relating to work, school, parenting, or relationships, they will attempt to analyze the situation from every angle, taking everyone’s perspective into account (including their own).
Once they do offer solutions, an introvert’s ideas will be comprehensive and detailed. It will be obvious they’ve put a lot of thought into what they’re saying, which will give their words great weight. People tend to seek out Introverts when they have a serious problem to solve, because they know Introverts will offer sound and thoughtful advice.
The Biggest Myths about Introverts and Extraverts
In the Introvert vs. Extravert debate, there are a couple of major misconceptions that distort people’s views.
The most common myth about Introverts is that they’re just shy. In fact, this isn’t true at all.
People who exhibit shyness or social anxiety do share some behaviors with Introverts. But the motivations for those behaviors are entirely different.
Socially anxious individuals spend a lot of time worrying about what others think of them. They don’t want to be judged as awkward, weak, or unintelligent, and more than anything they don’t want to feel embarrassed or be laughed at. They often hold back in social situations because they fear others’ reactions.
Introverts, in contrast, enjoy socializing with other people, as long as they can do so on their own terms. They don’t always want to talk, and they certainly don’t want to talk to everyone. But their reticence is based on free choice. When they are ready to speak, they weigh their words carefully, preferring that approach to unleashing them in a deluge. This way, they know what they say will have an impact.
With Extraverts, the most common misconception is that they like to talk more than listen. The poor Introvert won’t have a chance to express themselves, people think, when the extrovert is going on and on about whatever subject happens to interest them at the moment.
Extraverts are good at filling up the empty spaces in conversations. But they are much more interested in lively dialogue than they are in giving lectures.
They enjoy breezy and friendly exchanges about daily events, family matters, or funny incidents that happened at work or at home. They love active brainstorming discussions that touch on serious topics, such as politics, society, culture, religion, or current events. In every conversation, they truly enjoy a vigorous give-and-take process, where all participants are encouraged to share their thoughts and ideas.
If it sometimes seems like Extraverts always need to have the last word, that’s only because they enjoy dialogue so much that they will often try to keep it going as long as possible.
Finding Your Place on the Introvert—Extravert Continuum
Introverts and Extraverts think, react, and respond in their own unique ways. The diversity in their approaches to relationships, whether starting new ones or maintaining old ones, grows out of their distinctive personality traits.
Ultimately, what you need to do to maintain your mental and emotional equilibrium will reveal where you belong on the Introvert vs. Extravert continuum. How much or how little you speak really has nothing to do with it. It’s what you say, how you say it, when you say it, and what motivates you to say it—or not say it—that will let you know whether you’re an Introvert or an Extravert.
Either way, the key to your happiness is to be true to yourself, and to help the people you care about to be true to themselves as well.