Introverts in an Extrovert World

Three quarters of the general population are extroverted, whereas 57 per cent of lawyers are introverted. This is more than just an interesting statistic to us, because in the process of helping lawyers we notice that some lawyers consider their introversion as some kind of pathology or problem that they need to fix, and they are very troubled by it.

There's Nothing Wrong With You; You're Just Introverted!

Introversion and extroversion are basic personality temperaments and generally don't change much throughout life. The problem with being an introvert in an extrovert world is that our culture values action, speed, competition and drive. Quietness, reflection and solitude are much less valued. This creates an implicit assumption in society that extroversion is the "right way to be". In a world dominated by extroverts, most introverted children grow up receiving the message overtly and covertly that something is wrong with them. Few people grew up with families who accepted and nurtured introverted qualifies. This can result in an inner sense of shame, a sense of feeling unworthy or being innately flawed. Since introversion is not a problem to begin with, there is nothing to fix; so this sense of shame can be counteracted by self-acceptance and setting tough boundaries, such as safeguarding "alone time" in relationships and saying no to excessive external stimulation.

In my family, my parents were very extroverted, which meant that in addition to lots of noise and activity in the home there was an endless whirlwind of social and family engagements. Since I was quite introverted and generally a quiet, reflective and thoughtful child, my parents automatically assumed there was something wrong with me. "You're way too quiet and not very social," they said, implying an ominous future if I didn't change my personality and be just like them. When I became a teenager, I was embarrassed because my parents' parties were so loud and raucous that the police often came to quiet them down. This embarrassment was compounded by the fact the police never came to any of my parties, so I began to think that perhaps I should be more outgoing like my parents. At that time I didn't understand the enormous value of introversion and engaged in the hopeless task of trying to change myself, rather than accepting and valuing who I was.

Introversion and extroversion are part of a continuum of temperament styles. Few people are at the extreme end of either style, and most people can move back and forth between styles. I am introverted, but I also teach and do a lot of workshops, accessing my ability to do things that would normally be considered extroverted.

One way to understand the core difference between introverts and extroverts is to look at how they gain energy. Introverts focus inward to gain energy; extroverts focus outward. This core difference explains many of the differences in behaviour. Introverts need to be alone to recharge, and need breaks from too much activity. Introverted parents will need more breaks from their children and more time away from their spouses.The world is geared towards extroverts, and so are many of the world's expectations of the way lawyers should be. This is why the Hollywood version of a lawyer is loud, obnoxious and bombastic. It feeds the false belief in real lawyers that this is what they should be and that being introverted is problematic.

Common Qualities of Extroverts
  • They like to be in the thick of things.
  • They relish variety and are easily bored with sameness.
  • They know lots of people and consider them friends.
  • They enjoy chit-chatting, even with strangers.
  • They feel "stoked" and energized after activities, and are eager for more.
  • They speak and act without needing to think first.
  • They are energetic and tend to talk more than listen.
Common Qualities of Introverts
  • They prefer to relax alone or with a few friends.
  • They consider only deep relationships as friendships.
  • They need rest after outside activities, even ones they enjoy
  • They often are good listeners but do talk about things of great interest to them.
  • They appear calm and self-contained and like to observe.
  • They tend to think before they speak or act.
  • They may experience their mind going blank under pressure.
  • They don't like feeling rushed.
Misconceptions About Introverts

Since most people are extroverts, misconceptions about introverts abound. They are not loners, shy or antisocial. They are not reclusive, withdrawn or retiring. Extreme shyness is a form of social anxiety and not the same as introversion. To an extrovert, introverts seem unsocial, but in fact their sociability manifests in a different way. Introverts need fewer relationships; they like more depth of connection and intimacy. Extroverts need more external stimulation, since they don't generate as much internal stimulation as introverts do. Introverts generally dislike idle chit-chat because it takes a lot of energy so they prefer more meaty conversation, which nourishes and energizes them. Extroverts get a stimulation jolt from social sources and activities, and their boldness and willingness to speak out is the cultural ideal. Introverts keep energy inside, tend to be dissolved in thought, hesitate before speaking, avoid crowds and seek quiet. They also proceed with caution when meeting people, do not offer ideas when asked, need significant time alone or undisturbed, reflect and act in a careful way and tend not to show emotion. Extroverts see this behaviour as weird and as evidence of a personality disorder. Sadly some introverts believe it as well. Introverts can also misunderstand extroverts. To an introvert, an extrovert always talks without thinking and knows little or nothing about the subjects spoken about with apparent great authority.

The Introvert Advantage

There is a reason most lawyers are introverts. Sixty per cent of intellectually gifted people are introverts. Law also requires a lot of quiet concentration, research, focus and reflection-these are introvert strengths. Lawyers need to know a lot about a specific issue and to get up to speed quickly and in depth. You don't make money in law by trying new things; you make it by doing essentially the same thing over and over, quickly and efficiently. Introverts like to work on long, complex problems and have great attention to detail. They work alone happily work well without supervision and prefer to stay in the office rather than socialize-all of which are advantages in modern-day law firms. Of course, there is a downside, hopefully compensated for by the firm's extroverts: introverts can be quiet, unsociable and aloof, have trouble remembering names, have a poor bedside manner and are usually terrible at self-promotion and networking.

Clearly, both introverts and extroverts can do what the other type does, but usually it takes more effort and cannot be sustained as easily. A greater understanding of your own personality type will help you to accept the differences in others and to accept your own traits as normal.