Most of us can be introvert-ish, at least sometimes. In a recent survey by Student Health 101, 32 percent of students who responded identified as full-on introverts, and an additional 50 percent said they can feel introverted, depending on the context. Many of us have a mix of extrovert and introvert traits—the technical term is ambivert—according to psychologists. “Extroversion and introversion both have their strengths and their challenges. Both are a natural way of dealing with the world,” says Donna Dunning, a psychologist and consultant based in Victoria, British Columbia.
“Introversion is different from being shy. Shyness is about fear of social judgment. Introversion is more about how you respond to stimulation, including social stimulation,” says Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking in her TED Talk. “Extroverts really crave large amounts of stimulation, whereas introverts feel at their most alive, their most switched-on, and their most capable when they’re in quieter, more low-key environments. So the key then to maximizing our talents is for us all to put ourselves in the zone of stimulation that is right for us.”
Check out how to maximize your innate introvert qualities in these common scenarios below.
1. Someone says “You’re so quiet”
✸ Introvert advantage?
Thoughtfulness. You tend to think before you speak. It’s rare that you’ll say something without considering how it will come across.
“I make good decisions, and I join in the fun if I’m comfortable with it. A lot of the time I just like to let others take the lead; life isn’t all about being the centre of attention.”
—Mel D., first-year undergraduate, Trent University, Ontario
What to say if someone tells you “you’re so quiet”
- Take your time thinking about your response. You’re on trend: Mindfulness is in.
- Say: “I’m paying attention. There isn’t someone in the world that I can’t learn something from.”
“I do my best to take in the situation as an extrovert by trying to see [it] as they would, and afterwards learning from the experience to make myself more comfortable.”
—Mac H., second-year undergraduate, University of Ottawa, Ontario
“I fake it until it becomes more natural. I pretended that my first job in retail was also an acting job and assumed a bit of a different personality. Eventually, I became more comfortable.”
—Mia B., fourth-year undergraduate, University of Regina, Saskatchewan
2. There’s no escaping the group project
✸ Introvert advantage?
Creativity. You can come up with good ideas when you’re able to focus on your own and then bring them to the group once you’re ready. In a recent Student Health 101 survey, 40 percent of extroverts said they admire introverts for their independence and focus.
“Listen to what’s going on. Contributing less to a conversation is OK, especially if when you do contribute, you do so in an effective manner.”
—Jennifer D., second-year undergraduate, University of Victoria, British Columbia
Tips for surviving group projects
- Brainstorm solo before meeting up with the group.
- Write out thoughts that are difficult to present in person, and send your group an outline.
- You’re good at thoughtful feedback. Starting with a compliment validates your peers’ work and makes them more open when you then state a need.
- Set parameters (e.g., meet in the library room or someone’s house for whatever duration you can tolerate). Let everyone know you will need to leave at a specific time for your next obligation.
- Offer to present the part you are most passionate about and use your prep powers to nail it in front of the class.
“I tell people I’m an introvert and that I will need to give some thought to the situation before I make a decision.”
—Lisa B., fifth-year undergraduate, Mount Royal University, Alberta
“[When working with introverts] I let them know ahead of time what the discussion will be about, give them time to prepare their notes, and to wrap their minds around the discussions that will go on.”
—Name withheld, Mount Royal University, Alberta
3. You’re attending a crowded college fair
✸ Introvert advantage?
Self-monitoring. You may be skilled at paying attention to your environment and adapting your behaviour to fit the situation.
“I have learned the best way to handle situations that I’m not suited to (social situations, public speaking, etc.) is to fully and wholeheartedly embrace them. I will never feel comfortable around a lot of people. But the people around me don’t need to know that.”
—Royal A., fifth-year undergraduate, University of Lethbridge, Alberta
When attending a crowded job fair
- Think of this as “human connection,” an opportunity to talk to someone who represents the companies you’re interested in.
- Ahead of time, identify two or three key organizations you want to connect with. At the event, ask questions that you’ve prepared beforehand. Make notes and follow up by email, thanking them for their time.
- Use your listening skills, ask insightful questions, and absorb the vision and interests of the person you’re talking to.
“I make a comment, to try to make myself a part of a situation. I can be shy at times, but throwing in a comment to any questions or discussions that may occur can help an introvert like me open up a little.”
—Dani G., second-year undergraduate, University of Northern British Columbia
“I have a list of go-to questions to get other people talking about themselves.”
—Chris L., fourth-year graduate student, University of Wisconsin-Madison
“If it’s a meeting with a new employer, I give myself a pep talk and make a strategy, and I set small sequential goals in order to get through it without hitches.”
—Jessica S., second-year student, John Tyler Community College, Virginia
4. You’re feeling the pressure to go out with friends
✸ Introvert advantage?
Valuing strong connections. You’d rather have a few close friends than 100 acquaintances or 1,000 followers.
“Take a moment to analyze the situation and take deep breaths before engaging. Deep breaths prior to an extroverted situation help dramatically.”
—Zahid K., fourth-year undergraduate, University of Windsor, Ontario
When you’re feeling the pressure to go out with friends
- Plan to go for a limited time or offer to ride with/take someone who also wants to leave early or who has plans after.
- Watch a funny video clip or TV show before you leave home so you’re more relaxed when you get there.
- Offer to hang out one-on-one (e.g., “Let’s go to the movies together instead”).
- Let your friends know that you enjoy spending time with them in doses, you appreciate the invite, and you unwind in your own way.
- The old standby: “I have plans.” (A Netflix binge by yourself.)
“I try to make myself feel as comfortable as possible and orient myself with the situation. I always try to push out of my comfort zone in these types of situations, but if it feels a little too overwhelming, I know there is nothing wrong with heading home for some me-time instead.”
—Stephanie E., fourth-year undergraduate, Lakehead University, Ontario
“Recognizing that fear is okay and that there’s a time and place to push past fear. Also, knowing that I will eventually have time to replenish my introverted tank helps push me.”
—Scott W., fifth-year undergraduate, University of Saskatchewan
5. It’s your turn to present in class
✸ Introvert advantage?
Concentration and hyper-focus. Your slides will be awesome, and you’re likely to practise your presentation instead of winging it.
“The only strategy I have is to be prepared as best as I can for what I am supposed to do in the given situation (give a presentation, speak in front of a crowd, etc.) because then I have only one thing to worry about—my own discomfort—but never objective inadequacy to perform the given task.”
—Veronika E., second-year graduate student, University of Manitoba
When you have to give a class presentation
- To launch confidently into the project, talk through the requirements privately with the instructor.
- Practise alone or with one other person.
- Arrive ahead of time. Make sure your slides are working smoothly, and practise standing comfortably in front of your soon-to-be audience.
- Step out from behind the podium and your notes. Use note cards only for key words to jog your memory.
- Look above people’s eyes instead of directly at their eyes. Then, when you’re ready, ease into eye contact.
“I will think before I talk, and I will open up myself if I see an opportunity to improve my skills.”
—Yong S., fourth-year undergraduate, University of Manitoba
“Plan on what to say in the situation by making a script and having it memorized. Try to be yourself. There is no need to pretend to be an extrovert.”
—Yuan Z., second-year undergraduate, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, British Columbia
“Say the information you need to say, smile a little (even if you really don’t want to), and keep in mind the amazing quiet time you will have later!”
—Christina Y., fifth-year undergraduate, Wilfrid Laurier University, Ontario
6. The campus environment is way too stimulating
✸ Introvert advantage?
Listening one-on-one. When you find someone who’s worth it (a friend, a professor), you’ll pay close attention to what they’re saying and give a thoughtful response.
“My best strategy is to take a step back from the situation to evaluate what is making me uncomfortable. Once I figure that out, I make a plan to navigate the situation. For example, if interacting with people is making me uncomfortable but I do not wish to leave, I can still hang around—just step back from the conversation and listen.”
—Travis W., second-year undergraduate, University of Victoria, British Columbia
When the campus environment feels way too stimulating
- Use headphones and books to signal that you’re not available for chitchat.
- Target several quiet nooks on campus for working, reading, and alone time.
- The app Headspace offers meditation and mental escape. Emma Watson, a self-proclaimed introvert, tweeted that this app is “kind of genius.”
“I take plenty of time before and after the situation to recharge in whatever way works best—I spend time alone, go for a run, or watch Netflix.”
—Madeline H., second-year graduate student, University of British Columbia
“Not all introverts are quiet and isolated. I am very much an introvert but I learn not to spread myself too thin; I give positivity and energy to friends, colleagues, and family throughout the day, but by late afternoon they know to leave me be till the next day, so I can recharge. I have more joy in moments of solitude and meditation than I do socializing or partying.”
—Lai N., graduate student, Humber College, Ontario
Donna Dunning, PhD, Psychologist; Consultant, Victoria, British Columbia.
Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. New York: Random House LLC.
Cain, S. (2012, February). Susan Cain: The power of introverts. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts?language=en
Laney, M. O. (2002). The introvert advantage: How to thrive in an extrovert world. New York: Workman Publishing.
Student Health 101 surveys, October 2014, August 2015, and May 2016.