Reflecting on introversion and shyness; help me find better words!

I’m an introvert. It’s not a bad thing. I’m growing into my strengths.

It took me a while to understand that part of me. My parents wanted me to enjoy myself at family reunions. My sisters called me square because I didn’t like hanging out at bars and clubs. Sometimes they let me just read. Other times, I think they wished I was more outgoing. I felt outgoing enough. I liked my own company, and that of a few others. I could spend hours just reading or using the computer. I wasn’t one of the popular kids, but I had a close-knit group of friends I brought together.

People don’t believe I’m an introvert. I speak. I write. I introduce people to others. It seems introverts should be tongue-tied in company, shying away from social contact. I’ve met some like that: hard to get to know, but rewarding when you do.

I’m learning to work with who I am. I plan my schedule so that I don’t overextend myself with events. I enjoy organizing my thoughts and communicating them through presentations, blog posts, and sketches. I get my energy through quiet time.

Thanks to books about introversion, I feel comfortable saying, “Thank you for the invitation to the party, but I’m looking forward to a quiet evening.” No need to pretend I’m over-committed. No excuses about work that needs to be done.

I can fill a conference with energy and hold my own in a room when needed. I even enjoy the buzz. But I know I’m an introvert, so I build quiet time into my schedule and I don’t feel guilty if I need a break.

Shyness is a different matter. There are shy extroverts. Shyness is social anxiety–a feeling of awkwardness, a lack of confidence.

I need a better word. I am not shy. I would just rather jump into the middle of a conversation than start one.

Given a choice between going to a cocktail party with mostly-strangers and hoping for a serendipitous connection, or reflecting on a topic and writing a blog post that can lead to more conversations over time, I’ll pick writing. It gives people reasons to start the conversation with me. It scales, too.

I mix in some randomness so that I’m not constrained by homogeneity. I take up different interests and meet different people. I reach out, read blogs, and leave comments. Yes, sometimes I start the conversation—when I can jump into the middle of it, informed by what people have shared publicly.

I don’t reach out to random people on Facebook and ask them to be my friend. I don’t chat people up at bus stops and in elevators. People who do that make me nervous. Being singled out in an anonymous crowd makes me wonder about people’s intentions. I value the ability to choose when to withdraw and when to engage.

I share, publicly and non-intrusively, so people can choose to reach out to me. We can jump into the middle of a conversation. It’s an odd sort of intimacy. It works.

So what is this? Not shy, not anti-social, not asocial… Pragmatic, because this approach lets me reach far more people? Lazy, because it reduces the work of connection? Respectful, because I give people the choice? None of those quite seem to fit. What word expresses this well?

  • sr

    > What word expresses this well?
    Myers-Briggs letters?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myers-Briggs

  • http://sachachua.com Sacha Chua

    Yes, that gets the I for Introvert/intravert, which I suppose also covers the preference for other people starting conversations instead of me. =)

  • http://brianodonovan.ie Brian O’Donovan

    Sacha,

    Interestingly I am also very strongly introverted as measured by the Myers-Briggs test. I definitely find it more relaxing to read a book than to chat with friends.

    Many people find this hard to believe that I am introverted because I am not at all shy and regularly give talks to large audiences without getting too worked up about it. In my experience Myers-Briggs introverts are less likely to be shy than Myers-Briggs extroverts because they are less concerned by what people think of them.

    Brian

  • Gerald R. Generoso

    I think that is coming into terms with what you are. So I elect the word contentment.

  • Craig

    Sacha,

    You are a socially functioning introvert. Your journey of self awareness and understanding translates well to your understanding of other people.You prefer to know what you know rather than take it all at face value, which is what other people usually do. Most people are afraid of introspection so they engage in a life of heuristic socially approved rituals and by some superficial reasoning call this progress. This behavior reflects on their understanding of who introverts really are. The problem is not with the term you use. The problem lies with how shortsighted people stereotype the kind of person you are. Keep being true to your self you are on the rite path.

  • http://www.curved-vision.co.uk Simon Raybould

    Interestingly, I often find that Is make better all-round presenters, precisely because they are Introverted – they’re less prone to panic if the audience appears not to be reacting as they’d expected and so on.

    My contributions hare pretty old now:-
    http://www.curved-vision.co.uk/presentation-skills-blog/2008/06/10/think-to-be-ready/
    http://www.curved-vision.co.uk/presentation-skills-blog/2007/07/25/facial-feedback/
    http://www.curved-vision.co.uk/presentation-skills-blog/2006/06/29/stallholders-are-you-listening/

    Nice to see this conversation!

    S

  • http://www.curved-vision.co.uk Simon Raybould

    I’ve been thinking about this, and the need for more words… what about “self-contained”? Does that work for you?