Are You An Introvert Or An Extrovert? What It Means For Your Career

Extroverts are outgoing and introverts are shy, right? Not exactly. Truly understanding each personality type--and which one you are--can help you manage a vast range of experiences.

Here is something that hit me recently: For a long time, I had a certain idea about what makes an introvert or an extrovert. I had always thought that it works something like this:

  • Extroversion relates to how outgoing someone is.
  • Introversion is the same as being shy.

That was kind of my general perception. Doing just a little bit of reading made it clear very quickly that my thinking was way off!

Recently I dug into some of the full-on research about introverts versus extroverts, and I think I’m much closer to understanding what the terms introvert and extrovert actually mean. When we briefly discussed this topic internally here at Buffer, a lot of people got very excited. So I hope what I’ve learned might be helpful to you, as well.

Where it all started--and why I had it all wrong.

If we go a bit farther back, we find that the terms introvert and extrovert (originally spelled extravert) were popularized by Carl Jung in the early 20th century. Unfortunately, their meanings got confused between then and now, and we started thinking that everyone belongs to one camp or the other. But actually, Carl’s point was that these are the very extremes of a scale. Which means that most of us fall somewhere in the middle.

There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum. --Carl G. Jung

So really, if we looked at how most of us operated, we would never be on either spectrum of the scale. It’d be much more likely that we are somewhere in the middle like this:

There are a few theories about the differences between introverts and extroverts, and some recent research has even shown that our genetic makeup has a lot to do with which tendencies are strongest in each of us. And unlike my theory about how outgoing or shy we are, introversion and extroversion actually relate to where we get our energy from.

Or in other words, how we recharge our brains.

Introverts (or those of us with introverted tendencies) tend to recharge by spending time alone. They lose energy from being around people for long periods of time, particularly large crowds.

Extroverts, on the other hand, gain energy from other people. Extroverts actually find their energy is sapped when they spend too much time alone. They recharge by being social.

In the '60s, psychologist Hans Eysenck proposed that the difference between introverts and extroverts was that they simply had different levels of arousal--meaning the extent to which our minds and bodies are alert and responsive to stimulation.

Hans’s theory was that extroverts have a lower basic rate of arousal. This means that extroverts need to work harder to arouse their minds and bodies to the same ‘normal’ state that introverts might reach quite easily. This leads extroverts (or extroverted people, though they might not be quite on the extreme end of the scale) to seek novelty and adventure, and to crave the company of others.

For introverts, this kind of stimulation can be overwhelming, since their rate of arousal is much higher, so they are stimulated easily. Time alone, one-on-one conversations and predictable situations are more likely to be pleasant for introverts who are more sensitive to external stimulation.

This becomes especially interesting if we look at any other of the most common elements of body language and how introverts and extroverts might perceive behaviors differently.

On the same note, while exercising makes you happier in general, for an introvert to do a group sport, this might not lead to happiness in the same way it does for an extrovert.

How the brains of introverts and extroverts operate differently.

Research has actually found that there is a difference in the brains of extroverted and introverted people in terms of how we process rewards and how our genetic makeup differs. For extroverts, their brains respond more strongly when a gamble pays off. Part of this is simply genetic, but it’s partly the difference of their dopamine systems as well.

An experiment that had people take gambles while in a brain scanner found the following:

When the gambles they took paid off, the more extroverted group showed a stronger response in two crucial brain regions: the amygdala and the nucleus accumbens.

The nucleus accumbens is part of the dopamine system, which affects how we learn, and is generally known for motivating us to search for rewards. The difference in the dopamine system in the extrovert’s brain tends to push them towards seeking out novelty, taking risks, and enjoying unfamiliar or surprising situations more than others. The amygdala is responsible for processing emotional stimuli, which gives extroverts that rush of excitement when they try something highly stimulating that might overwhelm an introvert.

More research has actually shown that the difference comes from how introverts and extroverts process stimuli. That is, the stimulation coming into our brains is processed differently depending on your personality. For extroverts, the pathway is much shorter. It runs through an area where taste, touch, and visual and auditory sensory processing takes place. For introverts, stimuli run through a long, complicated pathway in areas of the brain associated with remembering, planning, and solving problems.

What are signs that point someone closer to an introvert?

Introverts are tricky to understand, since it’s so easy for us to assume that introversion is the same as being shy, when, in fact, introverts are simply people who find it tiring to be around other people.

I love this explanation of an introvert’s need to be alone:

For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating.

Introverted people are known for thinking things through before they speak, enjoying small, close groups of friends and one-on-one time, needing time alone to recharge, and being upset by unexpected changes or last-minute surprises. Introverts are not necessarily shy and may not even avoid social situations, but they will definitely need some time alone or just with close friends or family after spending time in a big crowd.

12 quick tips to better care for an introvert

To make it a bit easier to see which things would be most helpful to focus on when dealing with someone closer to introversion, I came across this fantastic graphic to illustrate better.

What makes someone closer to an extrovert?

On the opposite side of the coin, people who are extroverted are energized by people. They usually enjoy spending time with others, as this is how they recharge from time spent alone focusing or working hard.

I like how this extrovert explains the way he/she gains energy from being around other people:

When I am among people, I make eye contact, smile, maybe chat if there’s an opportunity (like being stuck in a long grocery store line). As an extrovert, that’s a small ‘ping’ of energy, a little positive moment in the day.

10 quick tips to better care for an extrovert

To give us some pointers on how to best care for someone who is an extrovert, this graphic has some great ideas, I found.

Ambiverts--the in-betweens that most of us are probably closer to.

Since introverts and extroverts are the extremes of the scale, the rest of us fall somewhere in the middle. Many of us lean one way or the other, but there are some who are quite balanced between the two tendencies. These people are called ambiverts.

The last time I took a personality test, I was smack-bang in the middle: 49% extroverted, 51% introverted. It’s hard to get more middle ground than that! (if you’re curious, you can try this quiz to see where you fit on the scale)

So let’s look at how an ambivert compares.

Ambiverts exhibit both extroverted and introverted tendencies. This means that they generally enjoy being around people, but after a long time this will start to drain them. Similarly, they enjoy solitude and quiet, but not for too long. Ambiverts recharge their energy levels with a mixture of social interaction and alone time.

Though ambiverts seem to be the more boring personality type, being in the middle of everyone else, this balance can actually be a good thing. A study by Adam Grant, author of Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, found that ambiverts perform better in sales than either introverts or extroverts. Ambiverts actually closed 24% more sales.

The commonly held myth that being highly extroverted is important for a salesperson is actually untrue, since extreme extroverts lack the balance of an ambivert, which helps them to use varied approaches to closing a sale.

On another note, we’ve explored before that simple productivity tips might not work in the same way they do for introverts versus extroverts. But knowing where you are on the scale can make a big difference in improving your daily productivity outcome.

How to get the best out of everyone: Focus on awareness for each type.

It’s pretty much certain that we’re going to come in contact with a variety of personalities throughout our lives, from extreme introverts to extreme extroverts, and everyone in between. Understanding the differences between these tendencies can help us get along with others and get the best out of everyone.

This story about an introvert and her extroverted roommate is a great illustration of how unaware we can be of how much these differences can affect us.

The first few months of living together didn’t work well because we didn’t know how to care for each other. I would try to give her space by always knocking on her door. She got annoyed because I kept knocking and wouldn’t let myself in, and I got annoyed when she barged into my room without warning!

Lifehacker has a great explanation of the differences between introverts and extroverts, which uses the analogy of being right- or left-handed. This is a great way of seeing the benefits of both tendencies, regardless of which one you exhibit more of:

Most of us will be one or the other, but writing with your right hand doesn’t render your left hand inert. Similarly, an extroverted person can still do things that aren’t typically associated with extroversion. Meanwhile, introverts can learn to adapt to more extroverted scenarios, even if it might not come as naturally.

This same article on Lifehacker goes on to make a really important point: “The absolute worst thing you can do with either type is use a single word to define your approach.” Understanding the tendencies of ourselves and others is just the beginning. Effective communication means we need to take into account each person’s personality as well.

If we focus on simply being extremely aware of which type we’re dealing with, noticing small behaviors that point us more in the extroverts or introverts direction, then I’ve we’ll be easily on the right track to dealing with people in the right way.

Especially in our social media age, if we look at some of the latest social media statistics, there is a clear trend that caring for introverts and extroverts is something we should keep focusing on.

What has your experience been in dealing with both extroverts and introverts? I’d love your thoughts on this! You can leave a comment below, email me, or catch me on Twitter at @bellebethcooper.

--Beth Belle Cooper is a content crafter at Buffer, a smarter way to share on Twitter and Facebook. Follow her on Twitter at @BelleBethCooper

Reprinted with permission from Buffer.

[Image: Flickr user Matthias Mendler Graphs via Lonerwolf, Research Digest, The AC Is On, Musings on Mormonism, Falling Into Wonderland, Apartment 46]

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  • zayny66

    This is a great article. I definitely agree with most of these points. I guess I'm pretty much an ambivert, but definitely lean toward introvert tendencies. I need time alone and love to spend time just pondering things, but my passion is public speaking. I want to sit and contemplate in solitude, but when in doing so I find myself with ideas that can inspire others, I want to go out and declare them to the world. But yeah, the "recharging" idea is definitely true and applicable. I don't necessarily agree with the guide to "caring for" introverts in every way, but I understand the premise. I think it's important to remember, however, that we define our social labels, and not the other way around. I shouldn't act in a way that fulfills my introverted tendencies; rather I should be labeled slightly introverted because of my social style. Otherwise people can easily restrict themselves simply because of a false need to fulfill the labels that have been applied to them.

  • Leah Kathleen

    I have enjoyed this article and find it helpful. You see I am an extrovert, who is in love with an introvert. There are days I do find it hard when I am not with her. She and I have been talking about some of these issues and I like the chart on how to take care of your introvert. I will be trying some of these. I have also read some of the comments from other introverts..... I will take what you say in to consideration. Thank you for trying to clear up some of the misconceptions. As for being an extrovert....oh yeah. I am on the far right of that scale and as far as I am concerned, you hit the nail on the head. I live for all of it!

  • Lee Carpenter

    Yes, it is a great article. I was just having a discussion with a friend and I told her my definition of each, which is pretty much as the first part of this article. Then she looked up someplace the definitions which were these: Extrovert – sociable, outgoing, gregarious, friendly, social livewire, befriender, assertive Introvert - shy person, withdrawn, reclusive, reserved, reticent, timid, quiet, loner, homebody, recluse.

    I said see, you the extrovert get all the good ones and we introverts get the crummy definitions, so I will send her a link to this page so she can find out the real definition. I will also send it to two of my daughters, one an extrovert and one like me, an introvert. thanks for the article, very interesting.

  • nikegirl332001

    Great article! I am most definitely an introvert. One item in caring for introverts 'listen and do not interrupt' is very important to me. My friends even think it is very weird and shows my intolerance by insisting on not being interrupted. Their response to that --' Everybody just says what they want--nobody waits for another to finish speaking.' That is so irritating to me--everybody seems to blab without listening to others and people just talk louder over each other. Glad to know it's not just me that doesn't appreciate that.

  • Non-Shy Grown-Up Introvert

    As an introvert (extreme left on your scale: I can go a week without seeing a soul, and still not feel any need to, so maybe I belong in Jung's asylum), the "HOW TO CARE FOR INTROVERTS" graphic is condescending and wrong. It's written from exactly the same perspective that believes introversion is the same as being shy.

    - Never embarrass them in public? Reprimand them privately? Why? Do you think I'm a fragile flower that is going to break if people laugh at me? Do you recommend embarrassing extroverts in public?

    - Teach them new skills privately? Why? Do you think I can't learn if other people are in the room?

    - Give them time to think? Respect their need for privacy? Enable them to find one best friend? Why even say these things? Do you recommend violating the privacy of extroverts? Do you demand answers from extroverts before they've had any time to think? Do you not allow extroverts to have a best friend? Why?

    A couple of these sound like they could be good tactics for dealing with SHY people. They probably worked well on me when I was in middle school, when I was young and shy. For adults, they're just insulting.

    Introverts are not "tricky to understand". Here's a simple guide:

    1. However many people there are here, we'd be more comfortable if there were fewer of you. If there's more than 4 people in the room already, don't bother coming in at all. It's already full.

    2. However much talking there is, we'd be more comfortable if there was less of it. If there's a lull in the conversation, just be quiet for a bit. In fact, even if there's not, it'd probably be better if you just stop talking.

    That's it. We're not some mysterious creature that needs a dozen special rules for human interaction. We don't melt if you take us out in public for a little bit, or put us on stage. Just be quiet and leave us alone a little more often, and we'll get along fine.

  • Exactly. I especially agree with your simple guide, couldn't have said them better. I've always believed myself to be an extrovert, but the recent years seem to have been proving me wrong.

  • StellaSnowy

    I enjoyed hearing the banter and discussion back and forth, in response to this article, until about 15 comments down where I grew impatient and just quit. I believe these are tools. Yes, all based on theory, available research TO DATE (which will hopefully never stop progressing) but useful tools nonetheless. I think anything giving insight into understanding how our brains work, how we function as humans and in turn how to better understand ourselves and those we encounter, (even if there's a significant margin for error and some faulty logic and theory at work), well that's a beautiful thing, IMO. The point is to step outside of yourself for a few moments.
    Ask more questions. And listen. Something we could all stand to do a bit more of.

  • Guest

    I enjoyed hearing the banter and discussion back and forth, in response to this article, until about 15 comments down. I believe these are tools. Yes, all based on theory, available research TO DATE (which will hopefully never stop progressing) but tools nonetheless. I think anything giving insight into understanding how our brains work, how we function as humans and in turn how to better understand ourselves and those we encounter (even if there's a significant margin for error), I enjoyed hearing the banter and discussion back and forth, in response to this article, until about 15 comments down. I believe these are tools. Yes, all based on theory, available research TO DATE (which will hopefully never stop progressing) but tools nonetheless. I think anything giving insight into understanding how our brains work, how we function as humans and in turn how to better understand ourselves and those we encounter, (even if there's a significant margin for error and some faulty logic and theory at work), well that's a beautiful thing, IMO. The point is to step outside yourself for a few moments. Something we could all stand to do a bit more of.

  • Diane

    Ahahaha! Agreed! I love meeting up with my gaming friends cuz the only thing we discuss is what monster to kill next (can't get us to shut up about our game either). But I hate meeting up with my secondary school friends cuz they like talking about guys and clubbing and drinking and... it's seriously and mundanely boring to me. So I just keep quiet and keep thinking what a waste of time it was to even meet up with them in the first place when I could be at home reading my novels. >_<"

  • Cedricj

    Very good article.

    I believe that at least 50% of CEO's are more towards the introvert part of the spectrum. In other words, one does not need to be an extrovert to be a successful leader.
    Inspiring leaders to inspire others

  • en2400

    (...continued) personality in required to be successful.

    *Sorry, for the double thread. I wouldn't let me fit my final sentence in one response.

  • en2400

    I wouldn't go that far. However, I would say most CEOs should be able to not let their emotions heat up any given situation. So a third person would only witness a CEO's introverted personality traits, but a family member or close friend who is with them outside of the business world could experience mostly extroverted personalty traits.

    Think about the stereotypical hero. Modern culture such as movies, TV shows, comics, etc., portrays them (the Hero) with introverted characteristics. The Hero is usually calm, collected, and emotionless — meaning, showing little to no expression in times of action, as well as in social situations.

    CEOs lead many employees and have to act rational with little-to-no emotion, like a Hero leading a community. If they get excited or nervous it evokes vulnerability and are negative traits in the business world. Thus, CEOs and societies' cultural induced perception of a Hero's communistic image, is the reason why CEOs have to have an introverted

  • Maria Marsala

    Thanks Marty Moura for sending me this link.

    I'm an introvert, but no one believes me :) One of the things I learned early in my career, after taking the Myers-Briggs, was that when something is really important to me or I'm passionate about something, I will be a chatter box and folks "think" that's the reason I'm an extrovert.
    Before I speak, I do a lot of things to recharge myself. And after I speak I spend two days "alone" to recharge. So I am a very typical introvert.

  • Gretchen S.

    I found this article to be very informative and enlightening.  I have a 22 year old son whom I have long considered shy and anti-social, and it's worried me quite honestly through the years, but now I feel like "introvert" is a more accurate term for him and I feel less concerned after reading your article.  Thank you!

  • Fundchasing

    Great article. Both types were well compared, and I loved the tips you gave for both intro and extraverts. 

  • Hachachacha

    I've studied Type Theory and I don't buy the idea of "Ambiversion".  Saying that because you score 49% one thing and 51% the other thing on Type tests shouldn't be interpreted to mean that you have no clear preference and can "go either way".  We ALL go "either way" every day of our lives.  Introverts have to function as extroverts on a regular basis and vice versa.  So behavior is not necessarily any indication of preference.  Many introverts find themselves extroverting a lot of the time, and it has nothing to do with their true preference.  They may actually enjoy extroverting, but it's not their "home base".  It's not their identity.  In their heart of hearts they "prefer" introversion.  It's really about whatever your "default position" is.  And everyone has one.

    Also, the concept of preference has nothing to do with percentages.  Either you prefer something or you don't.  It's not about "how much" you prefer something, it's about WHETHER you prefer it or not.  And the MBTI is structured to find your preference, not necessarily how MUCH  you prefer it.  That may not be entirely relevant for the purposes of the test or to determine one's preference, and one reason it's called a "type indicator".  That's all it is attempting to do.  When you score 49% introvert and 51% extrovert, it just means that there's a 51% chance you're an extrovert, as far as the test thinks it can determine.  When you straddle the line like this, it means that either the test is inadequate to find your true preference, or you are not very clear on your own preference.  This does not mean you don't HAVE a preference.  You do, like anyone else.  It just may not be that clear to you, or there's something about the way you interpreted the test questions that failed to uncover it.  This may be due to your inadequacy at interpreting the questions, or the test's failure to word its questions in a way that you might interpret in just the sense they intended them to be interpreted.

    The concept of preference is like this:  It's what you are deep inside that is not influenced by anything on the outside.   Being an introvert or an extrovert is as much about identity as how you define your preference for the opposite or the same sex, whatever the case may be.  It's pretty much a given about who you are,.not how you are or how often you do anything.

    So anyway, these are the reasons I don't buy "ambiversion", and quite honestly have never heard of it before your article.  I don't believe Carl Jung or Isabel Briggs Myers would have bought it either.