You're So Quiet - Introvert vs Extrovert

Monday, January 19, 2015
For the's blog is brought to you by a special guest blogger - my hubby, as I recover from the flu.  I better watch out.....he's going to steal my readers ;)

You’re So Quiet!?

Have you ever heard someone say that, to you or another person, or said it to someone yourself? It’s usually expressed with surprise, implies that the person is wondering why you’re so quiet and suggests that they feel you should be more talkative. People have said this to me many times. A couple of times I've replied, "I'll work on it." The last time someone said it to me was at a party after I'd just finished a long conversation with someone else, but the person who said it didn't know that. As a lifelong introvert, I’ve also wondered why I’m so quiet and felt that I should be more talkative. I have no trouble talking with individuals but I’m more quiet in groups.

I have also often been asked, "What's taking you so long?"  In the fourth grade, I was placed in an academically talented program. After school I began the homework and after supper I continued but at bedtime the homework wasn’t done, so I went to bed crying. At nine years old I learned that the world was not satisfied with me being smart, it also wanted me to be fast and I wasn't. This was very discouraging. Since I'd tried to get the homework done without success, it didn't seem to make any sense to keep trying. I started coasting in school, doing just enough work to get by. 

Math was my best subject but my eight grade math teacher gave us a 10-minute quiz each week. Since I wasn’t fast enough to finish them, I got D's and F's on my report card all year. What do you think I got on the final exam? 100! I didn’t cram or do anything special to prepare for it. I'd done the homework and understood the material all year. We were just given a reasonable amount of time to finish the final.

In the novel A Step of Faith, author Richard Paul Evans wrote, "...every now and then, we find that one book that reaches us deep inside and introduces us to ourselves. And in someone else's story, we come to understand our own." I experience quite a revelation when my wife Gail gave me the 2012 New York Times bestseller Quiet - The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. After reading only a few pages I told Gail, "I LOVE this book! The author is talking about me!" I always knew there were other introverts but I didn't know the full extent of what that meant and just how much we had in common. Reading this book was emotionally moving because it validated me by explaining why I am the way I am. It showed me how all of the pieces of life's puzzle fit together, helping me better understand not only myself but others, as well. This book is a game changer! I wish I had this information when I was nine years old. 

About a hundred years ago, America’s population began to shift so that more people lived in urban than rural areas. With greater job competition in the cities, the traits of extroverts became the ideal, giving the traits of introverts less value. Consequently, I have struggled at times to be something that I am not, which left me feeling to some degree that there was something wrong with me. I felt like a stranger in a strange land.

Extrovert traits are certainly beneficial. I think that the image of football’s Heisman Trophy illustrates these characteristics well: focused on the external, outgoing, action oriented, favors quick decisions, works well in teams and has many friends.
However, our culture has also benefited from the contributions of those with introvert traits. Rodin placed his sculpture The Thinker on a pedestal so people could look up to the embodiment of these characteristics: focused on internal thoughts and feelings, observant, good listener, focused and thorough, independent and has a few close relationships.

Interestingly, Asian cultures and Sweden and Finland value introvert traits more. The Chinese believe that it is wise to be quiet. Here are some of the famous introverts:
Leaders: Moses - "I have never been eloquent. I am slow of speech and tongue." Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi - "In a gentle way, you can shake the world."
Entertainers: Steve Martin, Julia Roberts, Steven Spielberg.
Businessmen: Dale Carnegie, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates.
Writers: Emily Dickenson, Dr. Seuss, J.K. Rowling.
Scientists: Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein - "It's not that I'm so smart. It's that I stay with problems longer." 

Being an introvert is often considered the equivalent of being shy but shyness is not an inherited trait. It is a response due to fear of disapproval because you’ve failed repeatedly in  social situations. It can be unlearned. Both introverts and extroverts can be shy.
It will probably surprise you to hear that up to half the population is introverts. This is because extroverts stand out more because they’re more talkative and introverts sometimes behave as extroverts because it’s what’s expected of them in order to fit in.
What makes someone an extrovert or an introvert? Recent studies by neuroscientists using brain scans showed that extroverts quickly process lots of outside stimulation while the brain path for introverts is longer and more complex, involving areas that deal with remembering, problem solving and planning. Extroverts are energized by outside activities and people. Introverts get energy from internal thoughts and feeling and need time and peace and quiet to recharge.
So being an introvert (or an extrovert) is hardwired. It's our nature. It’s not a choice, an excuse or a defect. It’s like being right or left-handed. There was a time when our culture forced everyone to be right-handed. Try using your left hand with scissors meant to fit well in your right hand. It’s uncomfortable. Try writing with your opposite hand. It’s very difficult. This illustrates how introverts sometimes feel when they’re expected to act as extroverts and why they don’t always succeed at it as well as actual extroverts.
Individuals, parents and teachers need to understand these differences. Managers will gain new insight from this information, as well. Today’s work environments favor open floor plans over individual offices, multitasking and planning done through group brainstorming. However, introverts perform best when they can spend more of their time working independently and focusing on one task with few distractions. While extroverts thrive on lots of stimulation, studies show that the current approaches actually reduce productivity and increase errors for both introverts and extroverts!
In group discussions in any setting, introverts don’t think as quickly as extroverts, so it may seem like they have little to say. They may think of something later after the topic has moved on to something else and it’s awkward to go back to that topic. They’re not as quick to compete for talking time and spend more time considering what others are saying. I took a graduate course where ten of us sat in a circle discussing what we were learning. After several weeks I realized that I almost forgot one of my classmates was in the group because she was quieter than I was!
 When conflicts arise, introverts prefer to avoid them, while extroverts cope by confronting them. Introverts remain calm to show respect but extroverts express anger to show how much they care about the issue. Introverts feel attacked by the expression of anger and extroverts think that the introverts’ lack of strong feelings means that they don’t care. These misunderstood intentions further fuel the conflict and both introverts and extroverts need to understand each other’s approach in order to better resolve issues.

The importance of this new-found knowledge has led me to develop and deliver a PowerPoint presentation  with the help of my daughter Katie. We’ve given it twice to church groups and I’ve done a shortened version twice at a Silver Sneakers group. If you know of a group that might be interested, please let me know. I’m eager to share what I’ve learned. I look forward to the day when all introverts, like The Thinker, can be quite comfortable in their own skin.  If you're interested in learning more about this subject, please use the links below.  By following the first link (TED talks) you will hear a 20 minute talk by Susan Cain.  I'd love to have comments on whether or not this subject relates to you or someone in your life.  Feel free to  leave a comment below.  You may do so anonymously if you choose.



  1. I can't wait to share this info with family members as several are introverts. As a former teacher, I regret I didn't have this information when I taught.

  2. This is exactly why I did this post. I wanted to spread this knowledge because I feel that it will have a significant impact on how people interact with each other and I hoped that those who read it will share it with others. Thank you for taking the time to leave feedback.

  3. I agree, John. I used to never speak in class in school. Now I talk a lot, but still wish I could organize my thoughts more quickly. Interesting point about the shift to urban living favoring extroverts. I agree too about the preference for a speedy response sometimes overshadowing a thoughtful one. A few years ago we had a workshop at work about recognizing different styles and ways to ensure that we allow for these differences in the workplace. I'll try to find some of the quotes. Anyway, that was a great post and gave me a lot to think about. Here's my blog site, which I just typed in but seems to have gotten lost: Talk with you soon! Marie.

    1. Thank you for sharing your similar experiences, Marie. It's good to hear from someone who can identify with what I had to say. It sounds like I missed a good workshop. I'll be interested in the quotes, if you're able to find them. It reminds me of a workshop quite a few years ago on the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, where we learned about different personality types. A snow storm kept me from getting to the second session on how these different types could work together. I'm glad you liked the post so much. I didn't know you have a blog. Thanks for telling me. I'll check it out. It was nice to hear from you. John

  4. Nice article John. I am also an introvert.

    On the same lines, I recommend two books:
    - Pressing The Right Buttons (people skills for business success) by Allison Mooney. It talks about 4 personality types and how to harness that information in the workplace, but has impact at home too.

    - 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. This is a great one for the home.

    I find that when I apply the principles in these books, communications and relationships thrive.


    1. Thank you, Juan. I'm glad you liked it. I hadn't heard of those books before but I'll definitely take a look at them. Working on improving communications is a key element in developing good relationships in all aspects of our lives. John

    If you read this post it also tells that maybe there's a category in the middle. This completely explains my life, and I mean entirely. So there could be a middle category or maybe it's just an introvert living in an extrovert society, therefore trying to become an extrovert.

  6. Wow, a very in-depth article on I. vs E. and I am an I. The world often makes introverts feel like there is something wrong with them b/c we're quiet. I've gotten that all my life, and have grown up feeling ashamed of it, but now in my 60's, I've finally accepted that it's who I am. I can't change it. I liked your analogy of right hand vs left hand. I also related to your school experiences. I remember in grammar school, 6th grade, the teacher divided all the students up into Group 1, 2 & 3. Group 1 was the smarties; Group 3 the slow learners. Guess who got labeled as dumb? I wasn't dumb or slow, but as you say, it takes introverts longer to process things. I've always thought that that was a terrible way then to label a kid, who then gets taunted at a difficult age...all because you're an introvert. Which then leads to shyness, when you aren't accepted socially, which then leads to shame. I'm totally with you! The book you read sounds very interesting.


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