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The Curious Social Advantages of Being an Introvert

The best synonym for introverted is "reserved," comprising many related traits.

Key points

  • Introverts hold back from articulating something until they feel assured that what comes out of their mouth will match what's inside their head.
  • Extroverts are inclined to evaluate an introvert's constitutional reserve pejoratively—as uninterested, evasive, anti-social, or judgmental.
  • Introverts are less likely to talk just for the sake of talking, but speak when they believe they have something significant to say.
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Woman listening attentively.
Source: Photographee .eu/Shutterstock

Qualities of introverts that socially distinguish them from extroverts

Counterintuitively, the more socially detached proclivities of introverts afford them considerable social advantages over more outwardly engaged (and engageable) extroverts.

To pinpoint the innermost core of introversion, its most precise synonym is reserved. That word encompasses many overlapping non-extroverted traits, such as being slower to respond and more restrained and solitary—as well as less impulsive, demonstrative, convivial, and personally accessible. These reserved qualities can be viewed as representing multiple facets of an introvert's typically insular personality.

The question, then, paradoxically, is: "What particular 'operations' are involved in reserved behavior?" Or, stated differently, "In what ways is their (non-outgoing) passivity actionable?" I'll answer this tricky question by highlighting the behaviors advanced by the traits foreshadowed above. For in doing what comes naturally to them, introverts are more likely to act—and react—more fittingly in social situations than their more extroverted counterparts.

Thoughtful versus thoughtless: What's superior about introverts' communication?

By nature and temperament, introverts hold back from articulating something until they feel assured that what comes out of their mouth will reflect what's inside their head. Before allowing themselves to voice their thoughts and feelings, they'll cautiously mull them over.

It's altogether possible that they over-developed this tendency because, in the past, they frequently experienced others as misreading them. And this regrettable circumstance may have been especially true for extroverts, who are inclined to evaluate an introvert's constitutional reserve pejoratively—not only as antisocial but also uninterested, evasive, disengaged, or judgmental.

But such a "reading" of introverts is generally a projection. It's challenging for most extroverts to understand what makes an introvert tick. After all, what drives extroverts' relational behavior differs substantially from what motivates introverts.

Because introverts spend more time—and place a higher value—on their thoughts and ideas than their words, their vocal habits vary markedly from extroverts. The latter typically feel compelled to speak aloud to fully grasp the nascent thoughts their utterances endeavor to illuminate. That is, to recognize just what's going on inside them, they're required to "externalize" what introverts formulate internally.

Additionally, in an extrovert's quest to feel known, they're more driven to share themselves publicly. Indirectly, this powerful interpersonal need can lead them to interrupt those around them—particularly when what others say has assisted them in clarifying what they hadn't yet been able fully to apprehend or express.

More distractible and less patient than introverts, extroverts experience getting their thoughts out immediately as crucial, so they won't lose what may have become apparent to them only seconds ago. Needless to say, no one likes to be interrupted before completing their train of thought, so this extroverted tendency can make them much less rewarding to talk to.

Introverts, on the other hand, are much less impelled to disrupt another's utterance because they don't partake of extroverts' pervasive need to share themselves. More private and self-contained, they'd as soon listen as talk. And one reason they're better listeners is that they don't feel the same compulsion to break into the conversation, precipitously turning the other person's sharing back onto themselves.

What's more, extroverts can inappropriately interrupt the one who has the floor before they've had the opportunity to adequately digest what's just been said. When what the speaker is disclosing mirrors what they haven't yet cerebrally codified, they're likely, unceremoniously, to add their "me too's"—and elaborate on them as well. Not that they mean to be rash or rude, but undeniably this irrepressible self-centeredness warrants such an interpretation.

Hasty versus heedful: How introverts keep their foot out of their mouth

Unlike extroverts, introverts are rarely referred to as impulsive, rash, or impetuous. They don't talk just for the sake of talking but speak up when they believe they have something of value to say. And because of this hesitating reticence, when they do speak, their words are likely to command more attention and respect.

The speech of extroverts, however, tends to be largely unplanned. Their typically knee-jerk verbal reactions prompt them to share inchoate thoughts not yet crystallized. So they can end up blurting out what might be inappropriate or offensive. Afterward, they may wish they hadn't "jumped the gun"; for once their uncensored communication is broadcast, there's no way they can take it back. It's unequivocally "out there."

Contrariwise, much less impulsive introverts are nowhere near as likely to put their foot in their mouth. Taking more time to open up, they don't inadvertently invite the kinds of problems extroverts are prone to.

So, assuming their fundamental social skills are roughly equivalent to extroverts', this key difference serves to keep introverts' communications safer and less likely to be misunderstood. And since they're more painstaking in choosing their words, they're also less likely to be embarrassingly misquoted.

Introverts are naturally less vocal and participative; in social situations, they can appear inattentive. But what's actually happening is that even as they're sitting in silence suspending their speech, they're genuinely tuned into what's being said—and listening carefully to it. So when they do respond, it's in a more "educated" way. In their active listening, they're learning what they need to in order (when they're finally ready to speak) to contribute meaningfully to the subject being discussed.

Complementing this easy-to-miss attentiveness is their observational prowess. For they're more conscious of cues and clues frequently lost on extroverts. Not needing to focus on what they're going to say next or the "public" impression they're making, they have a lot more space to notice where others are coming from and what their facial expression and body language is signaling.

Caveats and qualifications

Before closing—and so as not to overgeneralize—I should add a few qualifications here. For example, the way that introverts delay their decisions because before acting, they tend to ruminate over alternatives can sometimes disadvantage them. It can lead them to miss out on opportunities their fellow extroverts are more likely to exploit.

I've employed the word tendency frequently in my characterizations, for I'm aware that any number of things could eventuate in an introvert not acting in accordance with their nature. If, for instance, they're "hangry" (i.e., both hungry and angry), anxious, depressed, or overwhelmed with all that's going on in their life, they may act more impulsively and not be attentive to others. In short, certain stressful situations can interfere with or nullify their inborn social advantages.

On the contrary, the positive traits that extroverts aren't born with can be cultivated. And nothing I've said contradicts the fact that, given enough motivation, extroverts can be excellent listeners and learn to work things out cerebrally before vocalizing them. Moreover, neither of these two disparate personalities function well socially when they're overcome by an addled state of mind or rigid defense system.

Added to this, there are degrees of introversion and extroversion (determined both by one's genetics and early environment). Therefore, what might describe one member of either personality type might not characterize another. In order, then, not to overweight many of the generalizations presented above, it's important to keep this caveat in mind.

Related to this (as I've elaborated upon in an earlier Psychology Today post), introverts paradoxically can at times act just like extroverts—in a sense, combining the best of both character-trait worlds.

So, to conclude, it can't realistically be asserted that an introvert's personality features are all positive, just as it can't be said that an extrovert's are the reverse. But the reason I believe the favorable aspects of introversion warrant greater emphasis is that we live in a predominately extroverted culture, such that the very concept of introversion has become burdened with negative overtones—like their being cold, closed-off, haughty, aloof, and even hardhearted or unloving.

Still, unless introverts have a character disturbance (hardly intrinsic to them), none of these unflattering descriptors accurately portray their behavior or do them justice. So despite society's fairly customary bias against them, they need not see their personality as constituting any sort of deficit. Rather, they can regard their more insular qualities as "gifts"—which in interacting with others can be used advantageously.

© 2022 Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.


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