Although the couple has been together for more than 40 years, the two social science researchers know that society doesn’t always view introverts and extroverts in the same way. Without a doubt, Michael Laney said, it’s the extroverts who get all the advantages.
“Why does the U.S. stigmatize innies?” he asked. “This has been my wife’s life work. Marty believes introversion is a gift, and unfortunately it is stigmatized. Introversion is almost a disease.”
He noted, for example, that Alex de Tocqueville, the French political observer, noted in 1831 that America “was built by folks who take charge, speak up, and make things happen,” Laney noted – in other words, the extroverts leading the way.
But that doesn’t always work out best for a society, he said, if the extroverts are left entirely in charge. Introverts, he added, bring a lot to the table as well.
“If you’re too extroverted a society, with too much hedonism, you start to get into trouble,” Laney said. “Introverts are the long term thinkers, they’re the moral compass of our society.”
Laney recently spoke about why “Introverts Shouldn’t Try to be Extroverts: The World Needs Innies,” a program based in part on his wife’s research into how innies and outies can impact society.
“To understand introversion and extroversion is important, not only in understanding our society, but also for yourself — understanding how to deal with you boss, how to deal with your co-workers, how to deal with your children,” he said. “Why did Aesop write about the hare and the tortoise? Because even then we had temperaments. The hares were the extroversts and the tortoise was the introvert.”
While extroverts get most of the attention, they can also create a lot of the problems in society, Laney said.
“Both extreme introversion or extroversion can be problematic,” he said. “Psychopaths have extroverted temperaments. In U.S. studies where strangers are evaluated, psychopaths are rated as the most likable, competent and friendly. In reality, they are the most destructive people in any society.”
Outies, he said, are looked on favorably for their take-charge approach.
“The outie advantages are they do keep social events flowing and get things done,” he said. “Extroverts react very quickly. They make snap decisions.”
But people are also starting to understand the gifts that innies bring to the table, he added.
“The pendulum is swinging back to values and thinkers, because we had swung so far toward extroversion,” Laney said. “If you’re in business, you need the introverts – the creative, out-of-the-box thinkers. The world needs innies to maintain a healthy balance, and we’re out of balance right now. Our political system is the best there is, but it really is built for extroverts. We really need more introverts running for office.”
An outie or extrovert, he said, can be defined by characteristics that include generating snappy patter, sounding knowledgable, standing close to others when they speak, looking away from someone when they’re listening to them, and making eye contact when speaking. An outie may not listen well or remember what is being said, displays lots of body language, speaks quickly in a loud voice, and acts – then thinks.
An innie, on the other hand, makes good eye contact when listening, but has poor eye contact when speaking, is reserved but is a good observer, is hesitant and doesn’t seek the limelight. An innie talks more in one-on-ones about topics of interest, and knows more than they show. They reflect on a subject, then speak and act. Their enegry levels ebb and flow.
“You work within your comfort zone,” he said. “What if you work in a job where you have to be in the extrovert zone and you’re an introvert? Your body reacts to that.”
One challenge for innies, he said, is they can be a lot more sensitive than their outie counterparts.
“Is there a correlation between introversion and being thin-skinned? I would probably say yes,” Laney saiud. “Freud said introverts were narcissistic.”
The encouraging news, Laney added, is that middle age brings people closer to the middle between innies and outies – a happy medium.
“As you get older, you tend to get closer to the middle, and that’s kind of the goal,” he said.
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