Shy, timid, aloof, anti-social, not a team player, nor a good leader—what type of person does this describe? An introvert, right? No, not necessarily. Your boss and the most successful leaders in your organization might be introverts. Your favorite music artist who performs on stage in front of thousands might be an introvert. Many famous actors, athletes, authors, CEO’s, movie directors, teachers, presidents, vice-presidents, and human rights activists are known introverts.
Despite a wealth of research on introverts versus extroverts, misconceptions regarding introverts still abound, and these misunderstandings might be damaging your church, organization, or company from furthering its mission and vision. The following is an excerpt from my book, Discipleship for Hispanic Introverts, which explains key differences between introverts and extroverts.
Recent studies report more than fifty percent of the United States population is introverted. Introverts are characterized as reflective thinkers, preferring depth over breadth, and reenergizing in solitude or with one or two friends. Conversely, extroverts are characterized as highly active, talkative, preferring breadth over depth, and reenergizing with many people and social events.
Neurochemistry studies prove differences in the brain related to temperament. Amy Simpson, Senior Editor of Leadership Journal, explains, “Emerging brain science tells us introversion and extroversion show in our neural pathways. In introverts the [blood] pathway [in the brain] is longer and more complicated. [But] extroverts’ blood flows faster and follows a shorter and less complicated route.” These studies explain why introverts take much longer to ponder and reflect questions internally before providing answers versus extroverts who process their thoughts by talking them out with others.
According to Psychology Today, introverts require low levels of dopamine to experience positive feelings.Extroverts, however, require high levels of dopamine for the same positive effect.The dopamine threshold difference explains an introvert’s aversion to lengthy amounts of time in large, highly active, social settings. Too much social activity and an introvert is overdosed and drained, whereas an extrovert could spend all night in the same setting. The longer extroverts spend in an active and social setting, the more positive they feel.
Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, states, “We live with a value system that I call the Extroverted Ideal—the omni-present belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight…prefers action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking…works well in teams and socializes in groups…[and] all too often we admire one type of individual.” The “Extroverted Ideal” shows up as an obvious elevated strength in the corporate world, but it is also elevated in the church. As a result, those with introverted personality traits consider themselves second-class citizens and often struggle to find their place in ministry.
Isabel Myers Briggs notes, “If the extroverts’ results are more extensive, the introverts’ may be more profound.” But with the “Extrovert Ideal,” the profound in ministry and more specifically, in discipleship, has been lost. As Pastor Louis N. Jones explains, “Unfortunately, most of the methods of discipleship taught in today’s churches involve an extroverted approach tailored to people who are quick on their feet and can give quick answers to almost every question.”
God created each person with unique gifts and personality to build up the body of Christ (Eph 4:11–13; 1 Cor 12:4–6). Jones believes ministry leadership “must recognize the introvert’s unique personality and be willing to structure programs and ministries such that all people, introverts and extroverts, can participate, feel welcomed, and valued.”
Small, intimate discipleship groups do just that, allowing airtime for the “whispers” of introverts, while providing an even balance for introverts and extroverts and a context for life change producing depth of maturity and faith. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Prov 27:17).
The above information is not only helpful for ministries, but for corporations and other organizations as well. Dr. Sandra Glahn in her blog post, In Defense of Introverts, writes, “Sometimes the very extroversion we view as an asset in the West looks like arrogance or socially inept behavior in the East.” We are becoming more and more culturally diverse on a daily basis. How are we working, building relationships with, and ministering to the introverts and the introverted cultures in our midst? We need to better understand and remember this forgotten fifty—the introverts—in order to better harness their powerful contributions.
Ideas for Harnessing the Power of Introverts in Your Organization:
- Send the meeting agenda or discussion outline a day or two in advance, allowing introverts time to think and ponder prior to the meeting or brainstorming session. Introverts brainstorm internally, not externally with a big group.
- Consider follow-up brainstorming sessions. You’ll be surprised at the wealth of ideas generated by the introverts a day or two later.
- Reduce that 20–30 person small group to 3–6 people if possible. This allows introverts space to contribute. Many introverts will not compete for “floor time” with extroverts.
- Train people in your organization how to properly facilitate groups and meetings, educating them on introvert/extrovert differences. Once aware, facilitators will be able to watch for clues that introverts are wanting to contribute, they might not just be able to get a word in edgewise.
- Understand that retreats (women’s retreats, company picnics, etc.) can over stimulate and drain an introvert. Introverts do like to spend time with people, just not necessarily with everyone all at once. Plan a variety of activities at retreats allowing for both introvert and extrovert time.
- Give personality tests to the team members in your department so that you may be able to better lead and they may be able to better establish work relationships.
- During leadership training sessions consider dividing the group into two groups: introverts and extroverts. Ask each group to make a “Top 10 List” of what annoys them about the other. You might be amazed to see how the lists are the same, just opposite. (Example: Introverts state the extroverts never let them speak. The extroverts state they always have to do all of the talking because the introvert never says anything.) This exercise is an eye-opening experience and leads to greater relational understanding.
What are some of your ideas? Please comment below.
Laurie Helgoe, Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength, 2 ed. (Naperville: Sourcebooks, 2013), 91.
Adam S. McHugh, Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture (Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2009), 42.
Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, 1st pbk. ed. (New York: Broadway Books, 2013), 10.
 Amy Simpson, “Confessions of a Ministry Introvert,” Leadership Journal 34, no. 2 (Spring 2013): 80.
 Simpson, 81.
 Simpson, 81.
Susan Cain, Quiet, 1st pbk. ed. (New York: Broadway Books, 2013), 4.
Isabel Briggs Myers, Gifts Differing: Understanding Personality Type, 2nd ed. (Palo Alto: Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 1995), 7.
Louis N. Jones, Wallflowers in the Kingdom: A Vindication of Introverts in the Body of Christ (USA: Conquest Publishers, 2013), 144–145.
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