Reflections on the Rise of the Introvert Movement
Take a look back and imagine forward.
Posted Dec 21, 2016
Remember when it was a curse to admit that you were an introvert amid all the judgment you would face? The increasingly popular introvert movement in recent years has raised awareness of the normalcy of introversion. One of the leaders of that movement is Sophia Dembling, author of The Introvert's Way and most recently Introverts in Love (among a fascinating array of other books); she also pens the Introvert's Corner blog for Psychology Today. With the advent of more and more books and blogs for and about introverts, we now have a wealth of tips and tools to thrive in a noisy world and are increasingly seen as productive members of the workplace and society. Dembling and I will take this year-end moment to reflect back as well as look forward together on behalf of other introverts.
NA: What are your favorite trends in the introvert movement?
SD: It’s been gratifying to see the lightbulb go on over people’s heads when they realize that they are introverts and not weird – that their way of being is perfectly valid. Many have heard for so long that their way is “wrong.” So the trend of enlightenment has been moving. I hear from people in their 60s and 70s who are only just realizing that they are actually okay. That’s been great.
NA: Indeed. Anything else?
SD: The widening acknowledgment of introverts’ contributions in the workplace is exciting, and it’s become part of the discussion of diversity. I hope that the discussion expands outside the introvert community to reach the extroverts* who dominate the workplace.
NA: How about the underbelly of the movement?
SD: Yes. Another trend I see that I find a little bit troubling is a sort of obstinance among some introverts – a “take it or leave it, and leave me alone” attitude. I understand that it’s part of the process of empowerment; but it can, at times, be alienating.
NA: Certainly. What are your thoughts on that?
SD: Part of it is “be careful what you wish for.” Introversion is so much more than “leave me alone.” But that’s become a shortcut in a broader discussion, and it can at times drown out all the ways introverts contribute to society.
NA: So you’re referring to righteousness among certain introverts?
SD: Yes, I think that’s the perfect word. And I totally understand it, particularly after being told we’re “wrong” for so long. But I’m waiting for that part of the enlightenment to burn out. Interestingly, we are starting to see a little bit of backlash against the whole introvert-power thing, which tells me we might need to listen more. Not back down, but just not build walls. Instead, let’s focus on continuing to figure out how introverts and extroverts complement each other.
NA: Great points. As if to say that we’ve been silent for so long that now our voices can sometimes come across as shrill.
SD: Yes. Or just strident. In fact, I don’t want extroverts to feel like introverts hate them.
NA: Right. On that note, what false information are you seeing spread about introverts by introverts? For example, that we’re more intelligent and nicer.
SD: Yes, the whole “extroverts are shallow” thing is also implying that introverts are deeper, which I don’t believe is the case; we just express ourselves differently. I’m not convinced that introverts are more creative. I think that creativity takes place when we are in a quiet, introverted space. It might be helpful that we spend more time in that quiet place, but that doesn’t mean that extroverts are incapable of entering that space. Just as introverts are capable of behaving extroverted when it benefits us or when we’re in the mood, extroverts are capable of tapping into their inner lives.
So we might be confusing the fact that we express ourselves differently with the notion that we possess different skills. Introverts don’t like the suggestion that we are socially inept. But the flip side of that is saying that extroverts are incapable of deep friendship and conversation.
NA: I couldn’t agree more. As to having different skills, while introverts may generally have a stronger starting point for skills like listening and research, and extroverts for chit chat and making lots of acquaintances, can’t you learn skills outside your comfort zone, regardless of your personality type?
SD: Yes, we can, and we so often do. Beth Buelow wrote a wonderful blog post about the dangers of a comfort zone, and how it can be limiting. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “I want to stay in this comfort zone” sometimes, as long as we also say, “I want to push myself out of that comfort zone.” Our comfort zone is comfortable, but too much comfort can be, to my mind, a bit of a prison.
I think, too, it’s not just a case of pushing ourselves to do different things, but also of acknowledging that our way is just one way – and not denigrating others’ ways.
NA: When I tell others about my work for and about introverts, I still get plenty who respond, “I used to be an introvert. But now I’m out there networking all the time.” Do you get comments like that? It’s still as if to say that we have something that needs fixing.
SD: All. The. Time. Or people saying, “I’m getting more introverted as I get older.” I think what they’re really saying is that they have learned to understand their own introversion and work with it.
When people say that kind of thing you mentioned, about networking, I often ask, “Yes, but do you then have to go sit in a quiet room for a while?” Chances are pretty good they’ll say, “yes.” And that is the introvert in them. What they probably have managed to overcome in that case is shyness, not introversion.
And people who say that they are becoming more introverted probably are just reaching a point where they accept that they don’t want to gallivant as much as they used to. The most important thing introverts need to do is understand and accept their own particular flavor of introversion so they can then get out and mix it up with the world in their own way, and not have to hide to protect themselves.
NA: To your point, I wonder if another one of those misconceptions about introverts is that we’re quiet. We can be, but we can also be chatterboxes when you talk about one of our topics.
SD: Absolutely – especially when we’re with people we are truly comfortable with. I love good conversation, and I have pet topics I can really go off on. My way of stopping myself before going off on a tear is, “But don’t get me started…”
NA: I love that line. A favorite that makes me feel comfortable as an introvert in a brainstorming situation is: “I have a crazy idea….” More often than not, people say it’s not crazy.
SD: A little gentle, self-deprecating humor can be effective. I read Never Split the Difference, a fascinating book about negotiating, by Chris Voss, who’s done a lot of hostage negotiations. One thing he recommends is starting with something the other party can say “no” to – that makes them feel like they aren’t losing control of the situation; makes it less adversarial. Your “crazy idea” reminds me of that. You are giving people a convenient way to not accept your idea, so it’s easier for them to accept it.
NA: Fascinating about the negotiating book. So, yes, the crazy idea thing really works and I’ve yet to be called crazy! Is there anything else you’d like to add about trends in the introvert movement or other myths you’d like to dispel?
SD: Just that I think we know a lot about introversion now and I hope the trend will turn less to asserting our differences and more to figuring out how we can all work well together. Also, to respecting and appreciating the extroverts in our lives for their contributions, as much as we want them to respect and appreciate ours. Kumbaya.
NA: Yes, kumbaya. I think we’ve already figured it out. If only more people would read and follow the lessons of our work as well as that of other popular introvert authors* like Susan Cain, Laurie Helgoe, Ph.D., Jennifer Kahnweiler, Ph.D., and Beth Buelow, we’d all get along better and be more productive.
SD: Yep. We’d get a lot done.
NA: Here’s to getting a lot done for the year to come! Thank you so much for reflecting on the introvert movement to date and offering thoughts on where we are heading. I appreciate your authentic voice in offering insight and inspiration to shape the movement now and into the future.
*Also spelled "extravert" by Carl Jung and the communities of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® and other personality assessments such as the Five Factor Model.
**Those listed above represent some of the most frequently cited authors. The field expands each day. Other important contributors to the popular introvert literature (including related topics of interest):
Elaine Aron, Ph.D.
Arnie Kozak, Ph.D.
Marti Olsen Laney, Ph.D.
Adam S. McHugh
Maureen “Marzi” Wilson
© Copyright 2016 Nancy Ancowitz