“Because It’s There!” Not for Introverts.

Contrary to popular belief, most introverts can in fact do things like engage in small talk, introduce themselves to a stranger, or meander about within a crowd. (Though we do prefer when it is a controlled, purposeful crowd as opposed to a mob, that is certain.) We are just not as comfortable or in the very least, not as inclined to do such things. They are outside of our status quo. Yet if we find that by doing so a greater good is achieved, we will undertake such actions. But the stakes have to be much higher for an introvert than they have to be for an extrovert.

For example one would hope that even the most reclusive introvert would save a stranger from drowning if they came across such a scene and could help. Yes they have to touch and communicate with someone they don’t know, and in normal circumstances they are not thrilled about that. But saving a life makes it the highest of stakes. This is of course an extreme example, but the point is that an introvert is far less likely than an extrovert to take an action or to make a comment simply because they can. It’s rare that I quote Star Trek movies, but in this case think of Mr. Spock after saving Kirk who has just fallen off a mountain:

“Perhaps ‘because it is there’ is not sufficient reason for climbing a mountain.”

 The “sufficient reason” will of course vary from introvert to introvert, but you can bet in 90% of cases there is one. That is why we don’t speak much at meetings; we are weighing if there is sufficient reason to bring up the point we are formulating. That is why we don’t usually seek to be the center of attention; we have determined there is not sufficient reason to halt to proceedings in order to be observed. Introverts need a sufficient reason before they go out on the town or attend a party with mostly strangers.

And yes sufficient reasons for all of these things can be found for the introvert. We may attend a party for the sake of one person we care about. Perhaps we have determined we need a break from our own thoughts, and go out on the town. We may even attend a networking event, if the event is designed specifically with writers or other creatives in mind. So long as the stakes weigh more than the uncomfortable action, introverts will do it in most cases. But you can bet a week’s pay that they have made that determination before they have taken the action.

And the stakes must be higher than “getting out there”. Often, even appealing to an introvert’s self interest is not raising the stakes high enough, because an introvert tends to be more motivated by ideas and creativity, and less by personal gain.

Extroverts on the other hand tend to drive meetings, offer all their half-formed ideas, enjoy having everyone look at them and listen to them, and can’t wait to get away from themselves and get out on the town, or to the next party. At which they will thrive on talking to strangers. And even if they don’t make a single friend or establish one single toe-hold somewhere, (though they usually do), the extrovert is ready to go out the very next day and do it all again, because the stakes of not doing so are too high for them.

So if you want to motivate an introvert to say something or to do something, don’t just encourage them to “come out of their shell” or to “join the party”. That doesn’t tend to move us. But if you can take a few extra moments to determine what the stakes are, and have the patience and willingness to present them to an introvert in a respectful way, you may find them more willing to partake. Especially if you present to them a problem that you feel can be solved with their participation.

If you are an introvert, how high do the stakes have to be for you to do the “extroverted” stuff? Can they ever be high enough?




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10 Comments

  1. Barbie (@grumpywienerdog)

    Good post, Ty! I always feel like you are writing directly to me. In instances – like parties – I tend to “come out of my shell” only if there is a meaningful conversation going on. Something with depth and not just – hey did you see such and such movie. Recently actually, I had the deepest 3 hr discussion with 3 other ppl at a party about all sorts of things. It was the best conversation I've had in a long time. Not something many people are willing to do anymore.

  2. Glad you enjoyed the post! And yes, that sounds like the kind of conversation I like to be having at a party. But you are correct, so few people appreciate the importance of such anymore.

  3. Great, Ty! It seems a pretty simple and obvious concept, but that is what makes it so easily overlooked. As I get more into managing employees, I've been interested in knowing how better to motivate people (since we are all different animals) and this one it completely on target for introverts.

    This post, though, I should send to my boss in order to understand ME. People always say, “Oh, you're introverted? I would have never guessed!” To which I feel like responding, “Because I'm not fidgeting and flushed and look like I'm about to vomit right now?” It's the close-to-vomit feeling that happens BEFORE having to talk to people but I can certainly handle it if the need arises.

    If I have a really good reason, such as networking for a better job, getting someone to help me with a project that I cannot finish on my own, or making sure my fiance feels like he can bring me places and not babysit me…those are more than enough reasons to suppress the anxiety and just do it.

    Well done, sir.

  4. Thanks, “Boot”. And I think so many people miss the concept BECAUSE it is so straight forward and simple. They fly right over it because some people just have a need to always be moving, bouncing off of a wall or running their mouth that they miss what is right in front of them.

    I too tend to feel my worst right before I start certain things. Driving to an interview I have to conduct is usually worse than actually conducting it.

    By the way, if you think it would help, feel free to send this link to your boss 😉

  5. Good post, as usual. I realized this about myself this weekend at a Father's Day church picnic. Although I dreaded going & as I already shared with you, I even risked certain damnation & bribed my youngest to feign terminal illness to get me out of it. I ended up enjoying it for the very reason you just wrote about. Basically because I found “something to do” rather than sit around & attempt meaningless conversation. I joined in a game of volleyball for a couple of hours which kept my mind & body engaged & focused. I also find I survive painfully uncomfortable parties, weddings & other special occasions if I also have something creative to do, such as helping put it together, designing the theme, keep the food coming or being the photographer. So I agree that having a purpose to it makes all the difference for me.

  6. Ty, you characterize being an introvert extremely well. I've always been one too. At work, I can being outgoing and make a presentation with the best of them, but the minute I get out a structure that requires me to interact, I (deeply) enjoy my private time.

    I consider that a healthy balance. The problem comes when I'm between contracts, because then being an introvert becomes destructive. I become less creative, I go to greater lengths to avoid things.

    I worry about not having friends as I get older. I watch man-movies about friendship and pine for what they have.

    So I tell myself there is a crisis brewing and I must get out to keep from sliding deeper. To me, these ARE the “highest of stakes”, as you aptly phrased it.

    I believe there is a way to network in a way that is less painful – that's to focus on people you like. The really outgoing types appear to build relationships with quantities of people. What I've found works for me is to find one person I genuinely like to hang out with – and maybe follow them to groups of people that they like.

    Sometimes that creeps people out (the downside), and sometimes you never meet someone you really get along with. I just feel that networking amongst people I like is far easier, far more effective (because I enjoy it) and… necessary.

  7. Thankls, Marc, for your comments. I take a similar approach to your own, in regards to the stakes being the prevention of a lonely, isolated existence.

    Sometimes being introverted, and seeing all the extroversion out there can cause me to want to vanish even further into introversion. Inside my head, where I may be a lone, but things make some degree of sense sometimes. Then I remind myself that there have to be other people out there who view the world and feel things in similar ways, and I try to find them. Too XYZ is in fact one such way I do so.

  8. Great post, Ty. I think of being an introvert in terms of my energy. It drains energy to be with people (as opposed to extroverts, who gain energy from being with people), so I am very choosy about how I will expend my energy. This leads to exactly what you say: I need there to be something defined I'm getting back to it that's worth the energy drain.

    Have you read the Introvert Advantage?

    I also find it interesting the numbers of introverts who love acting.

  9. Brigid…

    Thanks for stopping by. I have not read the Introvert Advantage, but it comes highly recommended from several introverts I know, so it looks like I am going to have to put that one on my “To Read” list!

  10. Anonymous

    This article is so timely for me and completely on the money. I still struggle to find that “sufficient reason” to speak up in group settings and go out and do things. The exceptions are work and rec sports. Playing sports has been extremely helpful for me to come out of my shell. I think as an introvert I've become good at working independently but I know I don't want to be alone forever.

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