It can be difficult to admit to yourself that you may be an introvert. When we think of people as being introverted, we often wrongly assume that they are people who don’t like people. However, as Susan Cain so effectively showed the world in her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, introverts can be warm, interested in others, and powerful in their own right. Yet the stigma many still attach to being an introvert may lead people otherwise inclined to have these tendencies to resist if not deny them within themselves.
These nine behavioral signs of introversion can give you a start in learning about traits and attitudes that suggest your own personality may be less outer-oriented than you realize. See how many you feel honestly apply to you:
- You enjoy having time to yourself. When you have the chance to take a break, you’d rather spend time reading, playing video games, or just listening to music. That quiet time is important to your sense of well-being even though there are plenty of times that you enjoy social get-togethers.
- Your best thinking occurs when you’re by yourself. You’re not opposed to group meetings or discussions, but if you want to come up with a creative solution, you need some time to work the problem out on your own. Having the opportunity to reflect quietly on a problem allows you to make the maximum use of your ability to engage in original thought, and to produce results about which you can feel proud.
- You lead best when others are self-starters. Despite the belief that introverts are so quiet that they can’t step up to the plate and run things, under the right circumstances they can be the best leaders of all. If the group is ready to lead itself, then the introverted leader will draw the most potential out of them. It’s only when the group needs a spark provided by its head that introverts might be unable to provide the necessary guidance. Then you’ll need to partner with an extroverted yin to your yang.
- You’re the last to raise your hand when someone asks for something from a group. As you might remember from your elementary school days, there were some fellow students whose hands shot straight up into the air when the teacher asked a question or needed someone to volunteer. Extraverts tend to be ready and eager to stand out in any academic or social situation. You are probably more of an introvert than an extravert if you are content to sit back and let others take center stage. It’s not that introverts know less than others; they just don’t feel a particular need to be in that limelight.
- Other people ask you your opinion. Just as introverts are less likely to volunteer in public situations, they are also less likely to volunteer opinions or advice in less public settings. Whether it’s a family discussion around the kitchen table or a staff meeting to decide how to market new products, people high in introversion will keep their views to themselves and let the noisy extraverts take control. Because of this, and because your advice may indeed be highly valued, it’s likely that if you’re constantly being asked “What do you think?” it might suggest that your behavior sends cues to others of your inner desire to focus your attention and thoughts inward.
- You often wear headphones when you’re in a public situation. Whether it’s making your way through a crowded bus station or just navigating a crowded street, if you’re an introvert you most likely don’t seek a great deal of contact with others. In decades past, if you wanted to avoid interacting with strangers, you would keep your head down and look straight in front of you. Now you have the added protection of being able to hide behind the protection of your headphones (though no one has to know whether there’s actually music coming through them or not).
- You prefer not to engage with people who seem angry or upset. You’re likely to try to avoid people who seem like they might be in a bad mood, if not outright furious at something or someone. According to research by University College London psychologist Marta Ponari and collaborators, people high in introversion fail to show what’s called the “gaze-cuing effect.” Normally, if you were to see the image of a person’s face on a computer screen looking in a certain direction, you would follow that person’s gaze and therefore respond more quickly to a visual target on that side of the screen than when the person’s gaze and the target are pointed in opposite directions. Introverts show this effect just as extraverts do, but if the person’s face seems angry, they don’t show the gaze-cuing effect. This suggests that people high in introversion don’t want to look at someone who seems mad. Ponari and her team believe that this is because they are more sensitive to potentially negative evaluations. If you think a person is angry because of something to do with you, his or her gaze becomes a threat.
- You receive more calls, texts, and emails than you make, unless you have no choice. All other things being equal, people high in introversion don’t reach out voluntarily to their social circles. If they have a few minutes to spare, they won’t initiate a call just to pass the time by socializing. Similarly, they don’t generate emails and other written correspondence but instead react to the communications they receive from others. It’s quite likely that if you’re a true introvert you would avoid jobs in which you have to engage in such outreach, such as becoming a telemarketing representative. If you have no choice but to initiate communications, such as when you invite people to a social event, you will be less likely to pick up the phone and make a call and more likely to send your request through cyberspace or the post office. This may relate to the desire not to be evaluated. By calling people, you risk being told “no” in person, which you may find demoralizing. When the request happens asynchronously (that is, not in real time), you may get the same turn-down but in a way that may allow you to save face, if not self-esteem.
- You don’t initiate small talk with salespeople or others with whom you have casual contact. It’s nearly impossible for you to imagine yourself being like that the garrulous individual in front of you in line at the supermarket who chats with everyone about the weather. If you’re late or stressed, you don’t “leak” this information out to the people around you but instead just think it quietly to yourself as you mull over your plight. You may feel that it’s no one’s business but your own, or you may prefer to come out of your bad mood through your own personal stress-busting strategies. Either way, people don’t really know how you’re feeling or thinking at any given moment, unless you feel close enough to them to share these private reflections.
Being an introvert definitely has its advantages. You’re less likely to make a social gaffe, such as by inadvertently insulting someone whose opinion you don’t agree with. Because you enjoy reflecting on your own thoughts, you’ll be less likely to get bored when you're alone than someone who needs constant social stimulation. The only risk you face is that people who don’t know you might think you’re aloof or that you feel superior to everyone else. Giving yourself permission to be a little more open in revealing your thoughts and feelings may help you make the best of both worlds, being true to your personality while not erring in the direction of seeming antisocial.
If, on the other hand, you’re an all-out extravert, you might benefit from practicing a little introversion in your daily life. See what it’s like not to be the first one to speak, take charge, or offer your opinion. It’s possible that allowing yourself to tap into your secret introvert may help you experience the world in a new, more reflective manner.
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Copyright Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D. 2014
Reference: Ponari, M., Trojano, L., Grossi, D., & Conson, M. (2013). “Avoiding or approaching eyes”? Introversion/extraversion affects the gaze-cueing effect. Cognitive Processing, 14(3), 293-299. doi:10.1007/s10339-013-0559-z