A couple of days ago I was out with a group of people and I ended up feeling ‘squashed’. It was very unpleasant. Two people in the group are very extreme extrovert. One of them interrupted me every time I spoke until I just stopped speaking as she very clearly needed the group attention more than me. She cleverly built on what I was saying to divert it to a story of her own and what was amazing was that she did this every single time I opened my mouth, probably without realizing it.
The other one needed to be the constant centre of attention so he spoke and laughed louder than everyone else, and diverted any serious conversation to something he found more amusing. The impact on the group was interesting as some ignored him, moved away or went quiet like me and others became louder in an unconscious attempt to model and match his behaviours.
I personally was exhausted, went straight to bed when I got home and slept for 12 hours and for most of the next day felt less able than usual to function.
We still don’t know much about introversion and extroversion. I know that I am at the mid-point on the continuum according to my Myers Briggs results. I know I lose energy very quickly in these situations and that I need time alone in order to regenerate. It must be even harder for extreme introverts.
The terms ‘introversion’ and ‘extroversion’ came from Carl Jung who suggested that introverts direct their energy inwards and extroverts, outwards. That resonates with me as when I am training or coaching all my energy and focus is on my clients – being present. However, I then need downtime to refocus on me, so I usually don’t socialise in the evening if I have been working all day. Extreme extroverts need to be with others most of the time and will be much more sociable, whilst extreme introverts will often choose jobs and situations where they are alone or in small groups.
However, Jenifer Grimes from the University of Central Florida suggests that introversion and extroversion are cyclical and says: “If you think about planning and really putting together something in your mind, that could be argued to be introversion, but unless you act and channel the energy outward, it’s not bringing to extroverted observable fruition the introverted plan.”
I could go along with that and yet I think what she is describing is someone like myself who finds themselves at mid-point on the continuum or someone who demonstrates learned work-based behaviours
What is interesting is her theory on the concept of being drained by social interactions (my concept of being ‘squashed’) versus energized by them. She suggests that the real issue is not just energy in/energy out but whether we get adequate returns on our energy investment. “You’ll notice that there is a difference in how exhausted we are in dealing with different kinds of people,” she says. “There are people who like to invest a lot of energy and get a lot back. Some people don’t want to invest a lot and don’t expect a lot back. This could be true as I invest a lot of energy in my students and get a lot back from seeing their learning. At the same time, shallow and nonsensical talk (e.g. those who have drunk too much in the pub) just exhausts me. People who don’t speak at all also tire me but of course I’m not an intense introvert.
I suspect what Grimes is talking about is ‘balance’. What we give out needs to equate to what we get back which is why we ‘like people who are like ourselves’. If there is in-balance in our communication it causes problems. This is certainly the case for me. In the situation I described at the start, the first extrovert comes across as ‘bullying and rude’ whilst the second appears self-obsessed – obviously from the perspective of the centre of the continuum, rather than reality.