(Work in Progress – suggestions extremely welcome!)
One of my projects that I am working on is trying to come up with good ways to get the introverted college student to learn successful career tactics and express their personality in a way that is comfortable for them, rather than pushing them to act like the extroverts that they aren’t. Student Affairs staff spends a lot of time at the beginning of the school year (and beyond) getting students involved and encouraging those who don’t seem to be participating to join our socials and campus events. Are we taking the time to understand the student and how they replenish their energy? Are THEY concerned about their lack of engagement or are WE concerned because they don’t show a need for what we are pulling them towards – what we are selling as a must-do set of activities that we say they need to have a great college experience? Do they want to be more involved and don’t know how, or are they comfortable with their personality trait that makes them more internally focused than the majority of the average population? While it is important to learn to navigate an extrovert-dominated world, introversion is not a pathological condition that needs to be cured. It’s also not a synonym for depression, anti-social behavior, shyness, or being socially awkward (a term I really hate BTW).
Introversion and shyness are not the same. It’s about where you get your energy.
Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not. – Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”
The key distinction is how a person re-energizes. Introverts get their energy by being able to spend time by themselves or in a quiet setting with others and are drained by people and chaos. Extroverts get their energy from being around people and are drained by being alone.
Introverts need space and privacy.
How do we handle that in a residence hall setting? Much depends on the structure of the building, and types of rooms offered. Introverts will struggle most in a small traditional box of a room with a roommate, where privacy has to be created within very little space. This isn’t impossible, but it is a challenge. Apartment settings may offer more privacy like a single bedroom or quiet corner of the living room for a favorite chair. Can you help your introverted students figure out a way to carve that private space/time out of their current living situation if you see they are struggling? Within a classroom or performance setting, introverts may concentrate best when they are on the edges or back of a room, where there is less distraction. Unfortunately, many others will gravitate to those areas as well so they can goof off without being as noticeable. Presenters will very often make everyone in a room get up and move towards the front before beginning because they feel it better focuses the audience’s attention towards them. While this serves the purpose of the presenter, it does a disservice to those who could have recharged and concentrated better if left alone.
Icebreakers and Group Projects.
If that line made you cringe, you might be an introvert. ;) From the first floor social in a residence hall, to introductions around the table at a large work meeting, to getting assigned on a team for a project, having to work together can be challenging and uncomfortable. Of course, for many group activities the extroverts think it’s a good thing to make people uncomfortable – it’s often a problem of extroverts (the majority in our society) thinking that introverts need to be “fixed”. Many extroverts have a hard time understanding that the introvert doesn’t necessarily want or need help being social, being “more fun”, and that they are indeed having a satisfying life. Working individually or in very small groups will get the best insights and analysis from introverts. Can introverts work with large groups? YES. Absolutely they can. Introverts can “flip the on switch” in order to spend a week training student staff, but it takes a psychological (and sometimes physical) toll. They need to fit in some quiet time where they can renew and recharge without failing in their duties. So maybe they sit by themselves at lunch, maybe they opt to set up for the next session happening in a break out room while everyone is else is working on a project, maybe you offer to plan and shop for the social rather than facilitate it. Being an introvert doesn’t excuse a person from doing things they need to do, but maybe one can see why those optional “fun” things we try to get everyone engaging in may not be worth the energy drain to some people. Making a withdrawal from your energy bank is carefully considered by introverts.
Introverts make excellent storytellers, leaders, and ambassadors.
We shouldn’t assume that an outgoing personality is the only marker of a good leader. Introverts can be excellent mentors and storytellers, especially if it is a topic they are passionate about. In fact, introverts can give a speech to a room of 500 people on a topic they love – but don’t expect them to want to mingle with all those people afterwards. They often have fewer connections that they consider to be close friends than the extrovert, but unless this lack of friends is something that they are expressing distress over, you shouldn’t worry. They aren’t social outcasts, they just prefer more time to themselves as well as fewer, more genuine connections.
Identifying the Introvert
Many people don’t realize they are an introvert – or don’t want to admit it to others – because they incorrectly equate “introvert” with “shy”, “loner” or “anti-social”. There is no pure introvert or extrovert (most people are a balance), but there are some typical introvert traits…
- Introverts tend to think about their answers before speaking, so you may find they take longer to answer a question and it may be more organized than most people. In a classroom setting, they are most likely the last people to raise their hands, but it’s not because they didn’t know the answer. Try throwing out a question and giving everyone a minute to think about their answer and you’ll get a better response rate from the introverts. Extroverts don’t tend to have as much of a constant running internal monologue. Because they seem to observe a lot more and take time to think before they speak, introverts are often thought of by others as wise or “old souls”.
- Introverts tend to hate small talk. They see it as mindless chatter that actually creates barriers between people. They would rather have a deeper conversation that is more genuine. Networking feels especially disingenuous to the introvert, and they are advised to network in smaller, more intimate groups rather than large mixers.
- Meeting new people isn’t motivation to go to an event. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to go to an event and if they meet someone new, great – but selling it as a great place to meet new people won’t do it for them.
- Introverts are more easily distracted than the extrovert who thrives on noise and other external stimulation. Studies show it take the average person 25 minutes to get back on track after being interrupted from a task but it takes introverts a considerably longer amount of time to calm down and refocus. Multi-tasking is difficult. These are the people who need to find that quiet nook in the library because a noisy residence hall or social butterfly roommate is going to wreak havoc on that paper they have to write.
- When possible, introverts avoid being surrounded by people on all sides. If they can hear you at a meeting or program and they are paying attention, leave them be on the edge or back of the room.
- Introverts try to avoid anything that might involve audience participation. Yes – icebreakers and team builders, the foundation of all things Student Affairs. They are not for everyone, and our chipper taunts to get up and show some enthusiasm do not help. Can they do something else to participate? Keep score? Be a judge? Hand out supplies?
- Introverts tend to communicate better in writing than in person. If you are looking for feedback or suggestions, or suspect something’s wrong but you can’t get the information from them, try to work with them through email, chat, text and see if that helps.