The sound of the train quietly rumbles beneath me as the Cheshire countryside slowly slips past in an ever-darkening swell of cloud and mist. The physical intrusions of my journey home periodically interrupts my daydream of being sat comfortably in my living room, warmed by the glow the of the lamp beside me. There, sat reclined, glancing through the pages of a book my daughter has handed to me as I hear her make a throne on the sofa next to me, eager in the anticipation of hearing a story that makes no sense. A story I’ve read to her every day that week. An eruption of laughter in the train carriage disturbs my daydream and I notice the light outside has dimmed yet further, I’m now barely able to make out the horizon from the sky, only the faint twinkling of orange street lights from nearby roads like fireflies hovering, suspended in the air above unrecognisable structures. The laughter around me continues, I’m not alone in my thoughts any more. The conversation has escalated to involve other passengers in the carriage and jokes are shared and observations between friends are easily heard amongst strangers. I look towards the group and in a brief moment I make eye contact, a smile is shared but nothing is said. The assumption now is that everyone is included in the exchange, that simple non-verbal interaction has given licence to engage one and all, an acknowledgement has taken place that the conversation has, and is being, heard. The banter continues and references are made in the direction of other passengers, including me. I think about the possibility of contributing, I think about the reasons why I might.
I recently read an enchanting account of the differences between the personality preferences of writer named Sabrina (in her article Silence is Golden). Her personal portrayal gives great depth to her own character and she provides some useful perspectives on the role of silence as an effective tool in business. I have had the pleasure of experiencing leaders, family and friends who exhibit the wide array of behaviours, which so many attribute to the often recognisable and frequently quoted Introversion and Extroversion types. Of course the stereotypical ‘Introvert’ would naturally associate themselves with the notion that silence is in a wide range of situations a good thing, and more often than not that the introvert type is shy, quiet, reflective even aloof.
What so many of you forget is that what you are seeing are the behaviours that individuals choose to exhibit either through habit, expectation, because it feels comfortable or because you think it’s right. If you truly think that as an ‘Introvert’ (or ‘Extrovert’) you have a gift or a curse or “that’s just the way it is with me” then I urge you to go on a journey of self-discovery, you really don’t know yourself. Theories of personality might suggest that your personality is largely fixed and changes little throughout life, but the reality is that when you are faced with a situation you make a choice about the actions you take, the decisions you consider, the options you play through in your mind. This may happen very quickly or very slowly but these are determined by a culmination of experience, creativity, reasoning, preference, reference, fear, energy and personality.
I’m glad that so many of you recognise that there are differences – in some cases stark differences – between the approaches people take to situations, negotiations, interviews, providing feedback, etc. but please don’t whittle it down to an over-simplified dichotomy. Introverted behaviours or extroverted behaviours need first be understood. If you are referring to (as Sabrina puts it) “being very comfortable with silence” versus “silence is often awkward [for them] and they do what they can to fill the dead space” then I’m afraid you’ve missed the point. Everyone has the capacity to feel comfortable with silence the difference is that some are not practiced at doing it. Arguably those that “fill the dead space” might do so out of conscientiousness rather than an inability to be silent.
Who you are does not determine what you do. Reflect on your behaviours – something we all have the ability to do, whether we choose to or not – and take note of the choices you make in a given situation that leads to silence or dialogue. Not saying anything may indeed speak volumes but it is also true that what you’re not saying, even when you’re talking tells a great deal more than we often realise.
- The Success of Introverts vs. Extroverts | The Washington Post (danielmiessler.com)
- 12th House People as Introverts: the Power of Solitude (skywriter.wordpress.com)
- Introverts and Extroverts – Let’s meet in the middle (mandypfeifs.wordpress.com)
- Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking (seejy.wordpress.com)
- Quiet by Susain Cain (thequietvoice18.wordpress.com)
- Introversion vs. Shyness: Dispelling the Myth (inmotionjoe.wordpress.com)
- Introverts are Not Failed Extroverts (psychologytoday.com)
- Are All Writers Introverts? ~ and ~ Can An Introvert Do Book Promotion? (nfaa.wordpress.com)