When I was in elementary school, I stumbled across a pamphlet about the multiple types of intelligence. There was musical intelligence, logical intelligence, linguistic intelligence, kinesthetic intelligence, spatial intelligence, among others. But two that really stood out to me from the list were interpersonal intelligence and intrapersonal intelligence. Extroverts, the pamphlet explained, were interpersonally intelligent—they were good at talking to other people. They were sociable. They weren’t crippled with shyness. Introverts, on the other hand, were intrapersonally intelligent—they knew themselves best.
Well, that’s kind of dumb, I thought to myself. How is it helpful to be an introvert?
Part of the reason why I dismissed the intrapersonal strength of introverts at the time was because I had somehow conceived the notion that extroversion was superior to introversion. Don’t ask me how or why; I had a similar idea about optimism versus pessimism. (My first time doing that test, I’d said that the glass was half empty, but after learning that that was the kind of answer that someone like Eeyore would give, I made sure to always say the glass was half full.) According to Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts,” it’s a cultural thing. In the modern age of big business, when charisma can be more important than character, Americans idolize the quick-witted, the glibbers, the charmers.
The bias perpetuates itself in the workplace, too. According to a study conducted by the University of Minnesota, the vast majority of corporate leadership positions are held by extroverts. This isn’t even necessarily because extroverts make better leaders than introverts; it’s just that extroverts have the characteristics we associate with “leadership.” Extroverts are confident, outgoing, eloquent; if introverts are the opposite of extroverts, as the term suggests, then they must be unconfident, unfriendly, and inarticulate. Right?
Contrary to popular belief, introversion isn’t the same thing as shyness. Introversion and extroversion, by definition, deal with whether or not an individual gains or loses energy from being in stimulating environments (usually ones full of people). While extroverts are energized by social encounters, introverts are not. Things like awkwardness and shyness aren’t part of this equation—extroverts can be shy, and introverts can be great at talking to people. But what makes an introvert an introvert is the need for alone time in order to recharge.
And now that those myths about what makes a person an introvert have been dispelled, allow me to say that such concepts as introversion and extroversion are, as my nine-year-old self would say, kind of dumb. While some people may identify solidly as either extroverts and introverts, I think the majority of the population could be considered what’s known as ambiverted—that is to say, neither wholly extroverted nor wholly introverted. Those online personality tests make it seem like nothing exists outside the dichotomy of introversion-versus-extroversion, but there are definitely people who fall in the middle of the spectrum. There are definitely people out there who would enjoy staying in just as much as going out. There are definitely people out there who love interacting with people, but still like some peace and quiet now and again. And there are definitely people who like quiet, but wouldn’t mind sharing their quiet time with a friend or family member. I know. I’m one of them, and chances are, you are too.
People can fall anywhere on the spectrum of introversion and extroversion—and yes, it is a spectrum, not a strict binary. But no extreme or mean of said spectrum is superior to another.