I am afraid to be an introvert!

Updated: 2 March 2015


Dad's response

Do you just hate most kinds of social gatherings? Do you sneak out of a reception as soon as possible? Do you dislike bars, dancing floors, office parties? Then you might be like me. For me nothing is more annoying than the madness of a bar - the ear-splitting noise, the stupid bar-talk, the senseless drinking (and in Europe the smoke-filled air). I have nothing against loud music - in fact, in my days I really enjoyed the audible assault of a rock concert. But not when I want to talk to someone or drink a beer. There are few things in life I hate more than dressing up in some pathetic, usually ill-fitting, suit - almost getting strangled by a tie and then jump around on a dance floor like a monkey. I have nothing against a dance floor or a suit as such - as long as I don't have to get involved with it.
People always tell me I should be more "social" - but I hate being social. People tell me I should be a "team player" - but I don't want to be a team-player. People tell me I should build a network - but I hate to network. Facebook and Twitter are still beyond my comprehension. Of course, I have an account, but I just don't get it why I would want to have complete strangers as "friends". I don't want to chat about the weather or some football match, or the Oscar nominations. Quite frankly - I give a damn who gets the Oscars.

I would read a good thriller or hike alone on a mountain trail rather than spend a few hours in a bar or at a party. Sometimes I stretch out on my back in the grass and just watch the clouds go by. I don't need other people around me all the time. I don't feel lonely when I am alone. In fact, other people often just get on my nerves. There are few things I hate more than crowds of people - especially when they are drunk, agitated or hilariously funny.

Being an introvert has nothing to do with being shy (at least not being shy all the time). For instance, I have no problem  to give a speech in front of 200 people - walking alone across a stage with people watching (in fact, I did it many times in my professional life and still enjoy it greatly). But I hate it to go into a crowded pub alone and start a conversation with someone sitting next to me on the bar.

What should you do, when you are like that?

Don't feel bad about it. Some people just don't need lots of social interactions. There is nothing wrong with this. Don't get yourself cornered by all those social psychologists, management trainers, coaches and self-declared "social engineers", who want everyone to be part of a great happy family of constant "chatters" and "twitterers". Just tell them: Sorry guys! I feel good to be a "lonely wolf".

Optimize your social contacts. Since our world is unfairly rewarding "team-players" and "networkers" and other habitual "socializers", you have to pretend from time to time that you are one of them. Do it, when you get the greatest benefit out of it. When I go to a reception I do it just like any other kind of work: I try to get it done as quickly as possible - focusing on the "important" people and then sneak out as quickly as I can.

Avoid getting ostracized. As an introvert you are at risk of becoming socially isolated and stigmatized - even an object of aggression and hate. If you have the self-confidence to give a damn about it, go for it! However, if you are unsure of yourself just make it your duty to have some kind of social interaction each day. Make it a routine to ask your co-worker out for lunch or a coffee break. Since you are an introvert it is better to do it on a one-to-one basis. You have more fun to have a joined dinner with one particular person than to invite the whole group.

Chose the right profession. As an introvert, it is not a good idea to become a politician, journalist, salesperson, show host or fashion designer. Some jobs are just out of limits for you. You should select a job that allows you to "legitimately" separate yourself from other people from time to time. Writers, programmers, scientists, mathematicians, archeologists, astronomers or gardeners are people who can spend long hours alone without others getting suspicious.

Ignore the "socializing craze". It has been the mantra of social scientists and management gurus for a long time that humans work better in teams, solve conflicts faster by face-to-face interaction and have more fun and enjoy life more deeply in groups. Nonsense! This may be true for many people - perhaps for a majority. But it is certainly not true for everyone. This group ideology is particularly pervasive in many Asian countries, where people often "hold hands" and do everything in small groups - even if they are not members of a family. They just feel threatened and unsecure to be alone. It is not surprising that Facebook has a particular large user community in Indonesia. In many (Northern) European countries, on the other hand, people often feel uncomfortable in crowded situations. The current "social network" craze is the optimal environment for extroverts. But introverts just hate social media or are completely baffled by their success. They prefer solitude over chatter.

Don't tolerate unnecessary "teamwork pressure". In recent decades management gurus have convinced many companies to cramp knowledge workers into tiny cubicles of large, open-spaced work floors - supposedly to promote "teamwork" and "interaction" (in reality, it is just cheaper to stuff 80 workers in one open floor than to build 80 offices). This management ideology, which is particularly widespread in Asia and Northern America, is actually a horrible invasion of privacy and personal space. Today's socio-cultural environment is so obsessed with permanent interaction, communication and instant response times that introverts are often suffering seriously. For them open-space work environments are "hell on earth". If you feel uncomfortable about such work environments, complain to your boss! Don't let the majority of extroverts trample on your rights and your own style of work. (See my comments)

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Further reading

Jonathan Rauch (2003) Caring for Your Introvert. The habits and needs of a little-understood group. The Atlantic, March 2003.

Adam Grant (2014) 5 Myths about introverts and extroverts at work. Government Executive, 20 Feb. 2014

Philip Landau: Open-plan offices can be bad for your health. The Guardian, 29 Sept. 2014


Copyright 2014, 2015 by Gerhard K. Heilig. All rights reserved.

Updated: 3 February 2015