"The energy of the mind is the essence of life." ~ Aristotle
"I am somewhat exhausted; I wonder how a battery feels when it pours electricity into a non-conductor?" ~ Arthur Conan Doyle
"The difference between one man and another is not mere ability... it is energy." ~ Thomas Arnold
Hearing the words extravert and introvert people often think of an extravert as the 'life and soul of the party' and an introvert as a 'shrinking violet.'
These caricatures have a grain of truth. However, the psychologist Carl Jung devised the terms to mean your preference for how and where you get your energy. Extraversion and introversion are on a spectrum, with your behaviour varying according to context or situation.
If you have a preference for extraversion, you like to focus on the outer world of people and activity. You direct your energy and attention outwards and receive energy from interacting with people and from taking action. You prefer to communicate by talking, learn best by doing or discussing, are sociable and expressive.
If you have a preference for introversion, you like to focus on your own inner world of ideas and experiences. You direct your energy and attention inwards and receive energy from reflecting on your thoughts, memories and feelings. You prefer to communicate in writing, work out ideas by reflecting on them and learn best by reflection or mental 'practice'.
Everyone has a preferred hand to write with. You could write with the other hand if you had to. For example, if you broke your wrist. It is not as easy, requires more concentration and is tiring, but it is possible, and gets better with practice. Your preference for introversion or extraversion is just the same.
Why is knowing about this useful?
Well, it helps us understand our own and other people's behaviour, particularly where it shows up differences.
In her book 'Quiet - The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking', Susan Cain suggests that extraverts have recently taken over and introverts have become undervalued.
With 33-50% of the population having a preference for introversion, there is a risk that in giving extraverts an advantage, the contribution of introverts is undermined.
Schools and workplaces are designed mostly for extraverts and their need for lots of stimulation, with classroom layouts favouring groups and open plan offices. This leads to a situation where extraverts flourish to the detriment of introverts, whereas an environment where both can play to their strengths is much more desirable.
So why does it matter where you fall on the introvert-extravert spectrum?
Susan says "Because introversion and extraversion are at the heart of human nature. And when you make life choices that are congruent with your temperament, you unleash vast stores of energy (sometimes referred to as being 'in flow.')
Conversely, when you spend too much time battling yourt own nature, the opposite happens - you deplete yourself. Too many people live lives that don't suit them - introverts with frenetic social schedules, extraverts with jobs that require them to sit in front of their computers for hours at a stretch. We all have to do things that don't come naturally - some of the time. But it shouldn't be all the time. It shouldn't even be most of the time.
It is important to remember that no-one is all introvert or all extravert. Introverts attend wild parties, and extraverts curl up with their favourite books. As the psychologist Carl Jung put it "There is no such thing as a pure extravert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum."
Susan points out that regardless of your preference, solitude is an essential ingredient for creativity. Opportunities to work on your own and in a group all the privacy, freedom and autonomy that everyone needs to perform well.
She offers 3 suggestions for allowing people to flourish whatever their preference:
1. Stop the madness for constant group work.
2. "Go to the wilderness." Spend some time on your own to get inside your own head more often, to discover your own insights.
3. Extraverts - share your energy and joy with others. Introverts - open up to share your thoughts more often.
Extraversion/introversion is one of the dimensions explored in the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personal profile, used by many organisations for leadership and team development.
Hilary Jeanes is a leadership coach and facilitor and director of PurpleLine Consulting. She works with individuals and organisations to realise their potential. She can be contacted by email Hilary@PurpleLineConsulting.co.uk or on 01763 245323.