Monday, March 12, 2007


I happened to turn on the news last night; I guess it was a sort of Sunday Magazine more than normal news. I was soon hooked by a segment on introversion. They started with a test. There were seven items. I remember two: are you a listener or a talker, and, do you tend to not know what to say in social situations. That last one wasn't exactly the way that it was put, but that was the general idea.

The results were predictable. At this stage of life, or any other, I suppose, I don't really need test results to tell me that I am introverted. However, I think I was a little surprised to be such a full-blown case because I think that I came down rather solidly on the introvert's side on all seven questions.

Just last week, at line dancing, I found myself in a typical situation. I was seated between two groups of people and was part of neither group really ... or both ... take your pick. What I was doing was listening to first one group and then the other. That has occurred to me often, for I am much more of a listener than a talker. And that's typical of the introvert. They did say that introverts can be quite adept at talking on-subject: able to carry on a meaningful conversation with substance but not so good at small talk or starting up a conversation that has lagged.

Although, they couldn't get into the topic in huge detail in a ten-minute segment, I begin to suspect that such personality traits can affect how we learn. For example: I can't seem to learn a new line dance in a group situation. Rather, I seem to need to take the steps home and process them in my own way — at my own speed and in my own time. And I seem to see a similar thing occurring with my fiddle lessons. If I am introduced to a new concept, and it can be quite simple, it seems to fluster me. However, when I take it home, I am very likely to get the hang of it without too much trouble.

According to this program, about twenty-five per cent of us are introverts, and it is often seen as almost a stigma or disadvantage. People don't always understand us or may think that we're stand-offish or stuck-up, but that's hardly the case.

I'd like to follow-up on this a little bit. One of the two people that they interviewed, Marti Olsen Laney, has written a book called The Introvert Advantage. The other, Brian Little, is a professor at McGill in Montreal and previously at Harvard. In the video clips of his lectures, you would not likely have guessed that he is an introvert, but he explained that we introverts can gear up for the task but would tend to need more recuperative time afterward. (I found this pdf about Professors Little at

This idea of introverts needing recuperative time was new to me, but it makes sense. In my last few years of teaching, I often felt it very important to shut my door for ten or twenty minutes at lunch time and bask in the luxury of some quiet moments before the next onslaught. I suppose this would be anathema to many of my pedagogical compatriots who would make a beeline for the staff room and the comfort of a social situation, perhaps venting their morning's concerns rather than meditating quietly as I would. That's not to say that I am such a hermit that I would avoid the staff room entirely. In fact, I'd probably head there for a while after I had enjoyed my respite of solitude.

I rather suspect that more than twenty-five per cent of bloggers might be introverts. We're better at writing in our space than talking in shared space.

Here is an excerpt from the article about Brian Little on

After a lecture, he often escapes to a washroom, where he finds an empty cubicle, sits down, pulls up his feet so nobody can find him, and takes a long moment to reflect ... the washroom retreats bring momentary peace and restore Little's true nature.

"He once explained this to Peter Gzowski on CBC's Morningside, telling the famous radio host: "After a talk, I'm in cubicle nine." Gzowski confessed that, after a show, 'I'm in cubicle eight.' "

... It's a fine balance, he says, because introverts do make good professors -- or radio hosts -- attuned as they are to other people's cues, constantly scanning the room to make sure they haven't lost anyone.

... The risk is that they can burn out, because in a sense you're acting out of character. That's why we really need those restorative niches. When you're 'on' with that degree of intensity, I think you would burn out very quickly, unless you're able to find those quiet moments on your own.


mreddie said...

Interesting in that I see some of those traits in myself, yet also those of the extrovert - I wonder if one can cycle between the two? Thanks, you have provoked me to thought. ec

Sue said...

I am an introvert through and through as well, although in the UK it's not really a problem (there are apparently considerably more than 25% introverts there). I find the whole subject of personality typing fascinating, actually, and agree that there are probably a large percentage of ongoing bloggers who are introverts.

Bonita said...

What a substantive post! I was intrigued by the need for 'recouperative time' after periods of intensity. So true.

I enjoy putting myself on the edge of things, to scan all the varieties of exchange, processing on different levels. It is more time consuming because so much is being processed. The end result is often very different from the norm, too, which always makes me feel like an outsider, an oddity.

oshee said...

I think I'm somewhere in between. Which in many ways makes a lot of sense. There are times I need social times and I can be a great small talker. Other times, I can't do it. I can be drawn into a conversation, but don't expect me to start it.

Similarly there are times I need to talk through something and times that I need quiet reflection.

I think this duality shows up in my blogging too. It all depends on where I am at the time.

Very interesting post. Thank you.

Linda said...

I am an extrovert, married to an introvert. When we go out to a party or gathering, I come home inspired and ready to do more. All he wants to do is go to bed. It was good to learn early in our marriage that we were both normal and that we simply had to be a little more aware of some of these differences.

Most married people I know are with the opposite of what they are. I'll bet dollars to doughnuts that cuppa is an extrovert.

Lucia said...

I've explored this subject a little in my own blog. I'm definitely an introvert and have wondered if there are more in blogland that extroverts. I know I definitely need recuperation time...down time...after spending time with people. I also use listening to get through social situations. Aren't there too many talkers and too few listeners anyway?

PBS said...

I think that introverts gravitate to blogging, too. We used the Myers-Briggs test in the career counseling job I used to have. What we found in testing was that almost half of the people we tested thought they were introverts but were not. (but I could have told them that! they were chatty, social, as opposed to listeners) There are free MBTI personality tests online, if you Google Myers-Briggs. I'm a INFP :)

dmmgmfm said...

This is really interesting information. I give a lot of talks and presentations and find that I'm alright during, it's afterward that tends to "get me". I think I just need to find a restorative niche.

Thanks AC!

Loner said...

I have enjoyed reading your thoughts about being introspective. I have a co worker with whom I have had a lot of difficulty and I find that mostly it is due to differences in exactly this area. As an extrovert, I appreciate learning more about this viewpoint.

Cathy said...

Excellent! So that's my problem: I am an introvert. That business about 'down time' - Wow. I've actually played hooky when we've been on a week-long tour so that I could just recoup from the constant need to interact.
This is fascinating. When we took Tai Chi - I did exactly what you do. I could not easily learn or execute the movements when with the class, but did pretty well at home.

Anonymous said...

I too happened to catch this news segment and, like you, I found it most interesting. I suspect, on the introvert - extrovert scale, I lean towards the introvert end. My husband, on the other hand, is a definite extrovert.. so I suppose we tend to balance each other.

Judy said...

I am an extreme introvert.

Somehow, I managed to marry an extrovert and give birth to three extroverts.

Nothing drains me more than going to a party. I scout out places to hide.

Small talk? Only if I'm medicated!

I'm still trying to recover from my weekend, when all the extroverts were home.

Thankfully, I have an introverted son-in-law and daughter-in-law. Occassionally we can be found off in a room together, fleeing from those competitive games players of mine.

I find it a fascinating subject, and highly recommend the book "Please Understand Me" - by Keirsey.

karla said...

"I rather suspect that more than twenty-five per cent of bloggers might be introverts. We're better at writing in our space than talking in shared space.

I couldn't agree more. I am much more comfortable writing that trying to articulate my thoughts in person. And the phone? I hate it. I prefer to communicate with email.

As someone who can come across as shy in person, I know the feeling of having other think I am standoff-ish, and as a result, often feel like an outsider in group settings. Mark on the other hand, is a total extrovert, and in person, people naturally gravitate to him. Truth be told, I find meeting new people uncomfortable without him there because he has a way of meeting people with such ease.

Anonymous said...

That's fascinating. I sometimes test as introvert, sometimes as extravert. But I definitely need recuperative time.

Like Karla, email's the preferred ticket.

I bet you're right about bloggers ratios. Certainly for those old guard who gravitated to blogging rather than be pulled in for a stint by friends. People who process by interacting aloud get their needs all served readily offline.