A CONVERSATION WITH JOANNA RAWBONE
Have you ever found yourself wishing away the hours when you’re at a lively party you’d looked forward to? Or perhaps your plans for an evening out were cancelled, and you found that – instead of being disappointed – you were relieved! Do you ever find that you’re ‘all peopled out’ by the end of the day, and you just need some time alone? If so, you might just be an INTROVERT!
Joanna Rawbone – renowned coach and trainer – is an unapologetic introvert. And she thinks that the rest of us introverts should be unapologetic, too. Inspired by her TedTalk, we got in touch. And she graciously ‘met’ us on Zoom to give us the scoop about the power of introversion, tools for introverts, and why she’s so passionate about inclusion …
GRAPEVINE: Flourishing Introverts is such an intriguing title! How did you get started with all this?
JOANNA RAWBONE: Well, I found out in my 30s that I was an introvert. I’d always known there was something different about me. When I was a young child, I’d take myself off early to bed to read, because it felt like such a wonderful escape. But, in my 30s, I went on a women’s development programme with a business schools in the UK, where we did the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator.
It showed me that I am an ‘ISFP’ – which is short for: ‘Introverted, Sensing, Feeling, Perceiving’. I read this little description, and it was spot on. I realised, I’m not weird! There are other people who fit this description, like me! So I began to understand then the difference between introversion and extraversion.
However, for the next few decades, I kept pretending to be more extraverted so I could fit in … until I hit burnout.
Then, several years later, while I was running training courses, I began to notice this bias in favour of extraverts. Wherever I went, introverts were being overlooked and passed-over for important promotions. It started to make me angry, and finally I got mad enough to do something about it. And that was when Flourishing Introverts was born.
GV: You mention ‘Extraversion Bias’ in your TedTalk, too. Can you explain more?
JOANNA: A ‘bias’ is the shortcuts we’ve got or the stories we invent to help us make sense of the world. And we all have biases – anyone claiming to be completely unbiased isn’t being honest!
The Extraversion Bias is what we see from early childhood, through education and on into the workplace, where extravert behaviour is encouraged and favoured.
There’s this pressure to “push yourself forward” … “speak up” … “be more assertive” … “be more competitive”. And the message that sends to introverts is: “You’re not okay as you are – you need to be more like THAT!”
I’ve been involved in recruitment, and I’ve seen people mark down candidates who haven’t said very much. They’re not interested in what they’re saying – just how much they’re saying. When the boss calls an impromptu meeting and expects everyone to be able to come up with ideas on the spot, that’s showing Extraversion Bias – because that’s not how an introvert processes things.
Extraverts tend to operate on a speak-think-speak pattern, where they will process stuff out loud; they’re often happy to share ideas that are works-in-progress. Whereas introverts’ pattern is think-speak-think – so they tend to want to formulate and refine their ideas before they share them.
GV: What are other common characteristics of introverts?
JOANNA: Well, things are changing now. But, a short while ago, if you were to do a Google search on ‘introvert’, it would’ve said things like, ‘loner, egoist, sullen, surly’ – all sorts of words that nobody would like to have applied to themselves! Whereas you’d do a search on ‘extravert’ and it would say things like, ‘lively, outgoing, friendly, sociable’!
The message back then seemed to be: “It’s not good to be an introvert!” But I like what Carl Jung said: the difference between introverts and extraverts is where we get our energy from – and therefore what drains our mental batteries.
We introverts get our energy from within – we’re already overstimulated mentally, and we don’t need lots of additional stimulation. So when we feel our mental batteries draining, we need to go inward, or retreat to somewhere quiet, or – if you’re an introverted couple like my husband and me – just enjoy some companionable silence while we recharge.
There are lots of myths about introverts – such as that we lack ambition; that we hate people; that we don’t have many friends; that we’re poor communicators – and none of those things are true! All introversion really means is that, when my mental batteries drain, I’ll disappear for a while to recharge. So I may not be the life-and-soul of the party all the time … and I may not want to go out for drinks after work, because the work-day has drained all my mental energy.
GV: Not all introverts are the same, right? How do they differ? And what defines them?
JOANNA: Okay. There are six types of introverts …
1. Classic Introverts
The first type – Classic – is everything we’d imagine an introvert to be: very quiet and self-contained; resourceful; prefers working independently; more likely to have a small, tight circle of friends (which may not extend much beyond their family).
Most introverts are fairly choosy about who they let into their inner circle. We can’t spend lots of time with people who are like the Dementors out of Harry Potter – people who suck the energy out of us. But we’re very happy spending time with people who ‘get’ us.
So that’s your stereotype Classic introvert. But we then have what are known as extraverted introverts. These are introverts who’ve still got that basic need to recharge on their own, but they have access to a range of extraverted behaviours that don’t drain them. And when we think of extraverted introverts, there are several different types:
2. Connected Introverts
The Connected introvert probably has a wider circle of friends than the Classic introvert. If they have a big birthday, the Connected introvert might invite 120 people – whereas a Classic introvert would have maybe six at a discreet dinner.
3. Dynamic Introverts
The Dynamic introvert has a more extraverted learning style. They like to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in, whereas the Classics and other types are more reflective, theorist learners. Dynamics are more pragmatic and more likely to just give things a go.
4. Engaging Introverts
Engaging introverts are dynamite on stage. They can have an audience eating out of their hand, especially if it’s on their topic of interest – but, as soon as it’s over, they’re off into the green room or somewhere quiet. They need to recharge straight away. But, seeing them on stage, you’d never know they were an introvert.
5. Open Introverts
We then have the Open introvert – that’s my type. The Open introvert is someone who’s quite willing to share thoughts and feelings – so if you ask me how I am, you’d better be prepared to hear an honest answer!
6. Sociable Introverts
Then you get the Sociable introvert. And they confuse people, because they’re quite good at small talk – which other introvert types don’t find easy! Most introverts enjoy the deep-and-meaningful conversations … but Sociable introverts are quite good at being the butterfly who can network, introduce people and do all that sort of stuff.
You can, of course, be a combination: you might, for example, be an Open, Sociable, and Dynamic introvert – in which case the world looks at you and says, “There’s no way you could be an introvert!” But when your batteries drain, you’re out – you’re off.
So we need to understand that there’s more than one kind of introvert … and appreciate the value that introverts can bring to any situation.
GV: How can parents and teachers better encourage introverts in school?
JOANNA: We’re so obsessed with socialising our children that we often think there’s something wrong with a child who actually just likes to be on their own during playtime. But if they’re an introvert, they’re probably just recharging their batteries.
NOT WRONG – JUST DIFFERENT
It’s important that teachers understand this. Because introverts in school (and beyond) often get judged for not knowing an answer … … or not contributing to the discussion … or not paying attention. They get all sorts of judgments, when actually, what they’re doing is just processing things.
We need to empower these children and draw out their strengths.
It helps, for example, if we can find different ways to ask for input. So instead of asking students to raise their hands (when extraverts are keen to be chosen, but introverts cringe at the idea), children can write something down and pass their answers to the next person to read out. Or they can share in some other way.
My niece is a teacher, and she has put some of these ideas into practice. She has a ‘Quiet Table’ in her classroom now, where children can choose to go when they want to be quiet. Being sent to the quiet place is often seen as punishment, but actually,
children often wish that the kid sitting next to them would just be quiet so they can focus.
It’s about trying to understand both the say-think-say and the think-say-think processes. An extravert will often give you an answer not caring if it’s right … if they really mean it … or, sometimes, without even remembering what they’ve said! Whereas an introvert will want to think things through and make sure they’re expressing themselves accurately before they speak.
GV: What can introverts do to help make sure their ideas get heard?
JOANNA: As they get older, introverts do need to learn to ask for that processing time. I’ve learned to say something like, “That’s a really great question. I’ve got a few ideas going through my mind, and I’m trying to decide which I feel most strongly about …” Because while I’m sharing that, I’m still in the conversation – they’re not counting me out. And my brain’s busy processing at the same time.
Or maybe I’ll say, “Can I come back to you in a few minutes, because there’s something really interesting in here for me …” Classic introverts will most likely not want to ask for that time, but they need to learn to do it so they’re not overlooked. I’m not saying they need to be more extraverted (which we introverts are told all our lives!) – just that we have to learn how to ask for what we need. And we need to ask for it powerfully – without being apologetic.
GV: Do you find more introverts in some fields of study or work than others?
JOANNA: There are plenty of introverts across the whole spectrum of professions. Many of us work in creative areas – lots of actors and musicians are introverts. We also tend to be drawn to careers like science and technology, engineering and maths, because they’re typically the more ‘geeky’ roles.
But we’re not limited to those fields.
Barack Obama is an introvert, Simon Sinek (who’s a big influencer) is a self-confessed introvert, as is J.K. Rowling. And some studies note that introverts make the best sales people, and the best networkers – because they ask great questions, and they listen well.
GV: How can we better include introverts in social settings?
JOANNA: I think that understanding about mental energy and how we recharge is the key. I know extravert/introvert couples who drive to social events in separate cars, so that the extravert can stay and chat for longer, while the introvert is free to drive themselves home whenever they want. This demonstrates real understanding and acceptance. Because what often happens is, when the introvert says they’re ready to leave a party, they end up being coaxed and cajoled to stay longer.
And when an introvert is constantly unable to recharge as they need to, they go from overwhelm … to hangover … to burnout!
GV: How does introvert burnout happen? And what does recovery look like?
JOANNA: Ideally, you want to prevent getting to the point of burnout, because it’s a long recovery from there. Most of us regularly feel overwhelmed – and we need to make sure that we’re consciously recharging – regularly, daily, if possible!
I’ve got a little set of techniques I call ‘Brilliant Battery Boosters’, which I use when I just have to keep going. They’re simple things: like using acupressure points, or essential oils (lemon or lime are great for revitalising energy and focus), or just getting moving. But anything we can do to then top us up and stop us getting from overwhelm into hangover.
Introvert hangover is like the worst hangover you’ve had, but without the alcohol! And what’s needed is a duvet day, where you don’t have to see or speak to anyone, or even get out of bed. You just need time and space on your own to recover. If introverts don’t take care of their needs at this point, and if they’re having too many of those hangover days, then that’s a sure-fire path towards introvert burnout.
When I hit burnout (many years ago now), I really couldn’t function for three months. I couldn’t focus … I couldn’t get interested … I couldn’t turn my brain on. I was literally completely burnt out. It’s a long road back from there, and it requires lots of self-care. It’s far better to learn what your warning signals are – to know what those situations are, and who those people are that drain you – so that you build in pre-charge and recharge times before and after. Because that’s what will stop you going down that slippery slope …
GV: How can parents better support their introverted children?
JOANNA: It’s helpful to identify your child’s strengths. Introverted children will often be really good, for example, at tasks that require lots of focus.
CREDIT WHERE CREDIT’S DUE
They’re often good readers, or good at things that require fine motor-skills and detail – like building Lego or Meccano or model airplanes – as opposed to enjoying things like running around screaming and playing football. It’s just different.
Understanding what your child’s strengths are and then deliberately creating opportunities – such as having one afternoon a week, or one day a month, for them to play to those strengths – encourages them and helps them get even better at the things they love doing.
And don’t pressure children to have playdates or accept invitations to birthday parties! Don’t make them feel bad if they don’t want to participate. Because there’ll be a reason why they don’t want to go. It’s not that they’re antisocial – it’s more likely they’re already on their own little journey from overwhelm to hangover, and they’re recognising their own needs.
It can be really helpful for family members to each create a ‘Needs Creed’ … to have discussions around, “What is it that you really need to feel really good – about yourself and about life?” I personally need at least an hour each day of quiet – to read, or just to sit meditatively – plus getting enough sleep, good nutrition, hydration, and all that sort of stuff. I also need to spend time together with friends who ‘get’ me. And I need to head to the beach and walk every once in a while.
So if every family member takes the time to identify those key individual needs, then they can do a little review regularly – and if someone seems out-of-sorts, you can ask which needs aren’t being met.
This works well for extraverts and introverts alike, because it helps them understand what makes them tick – and really allows them to be themselves.
GV: In this global pandemic, what are some challenges introverts have faced?
JOANNA: It’s interesting! We’ve all heard things like, “Introverts were made for lockdown!” – and yes, if you’re fortunate enough to live in an introvert-friendly household, with your own space, it’s been bliss! I also think most introverts are finding that working from home suits them very well.
However, if you’re the one introverted person surrounded by six extraverts, confined in a small house … lockdown has been absolute hell!
But, typically, the introverts are the ones who aren’t keen to get back into the workplace – unless it’s to escape home!
GV: What are some challenges unique to introverts when it comes to relating to others or building relationships?
JOANNA: One of the bigger challenges is that most introverts aren’t great at small talk – unless we’ve really worked at it. I can walk into a room and ask how everyone’s doing, because that’s how I am – but most introverts won’t do that. So they then get labelled as ‘antisocial’ (whereas most of us are actually selectively-social).
Introverts will be the ones who leave jobs because of conflict in the workplace. And when things are too noisy or there’s too much banter, they’re not always comfortable. Extraverts can accommodate introverts by saying, “Let’s give you some quiet time now, and we’ll come back and get you …” Or maybe the introverts can actually say what they want to say, which is, “Could you guys just pipe down for a while and give me a bit of space?!”
WHAT MAKES US TICK?
We need to try to understand what makes each other tick, and value the differences between us. Introverts are often told, “Oh, you’re so quiet!” Yet introverts don’t tell extraverts, “Oh, you’re so LOUD!” They’re thinking it, but they generally don’t say it!
For those who are inclined to be critical of introvert behaviours, I’d ask them to instead be curious about why perhaps somebody is keeping to themselves – rather than labelling them without understanding.
A genuinely open question might be, “I’ve noticed that you tend not to come out with us after work, and I really don’t want you to feel excluded – so is there some other way that we could include you? Or are you just happy doing what you’re doing?”
Rather than putting pressure on someone, just make the invitation open – and make allowances for them.
GV: How can employers help their introverted employees to shine?
JOANNA: Some employers are building ‘pods’ for workers to have a quiet space for phone calls or conference calls. And you find a lot of introverts occupying those pods, because an open-plan office is a nightmare for an introvert!
There’s so much busyness going on all the time that they find it hard to focus and do their best work. Even worse, many offices are downsizing their areas and using ‘hot-desking’ – which means that introverts don’t even have their own space, and they don’t know where they’re going to be from one day to the next!
So employers who have open-plan offices could make sure they have pods available for introverts to have quiet spaces in which to work. Ultimately, we recruit people to do their best work, and if we create an environment which makes that impossible for them, it’s to our own detriment.
Another thing to do is to ensure that impromptu meetings are kept to a minimum – and to make sure there’s a really clear purpose and agenda. That way, as an introvert, I can do my own prep in advance and come knowing what I want to say, rather than being expected to come up with something on the spot.
If there’s a big decision to be made, some of the best leaders will arrange for the initial discussion to take place, and then leave the issue open until the end of the day. That way, if anyone has anything to contribute, they can either pop into the leader’s office or just send an email, and their ideas will be taken into consideration. I love that, because it gives introverts the think-say-think processing time they need. We want to make sure we’re not missing out on key voices, ruling people out of opportunities, or showing a bias because of introverts’ struggles to put themselves forward.
GV: So how does all this benefit leaders and employers? What special strengths do introverts bring to the table?
JOANNA: Stephen Covey talks about active or empathic listening, where we’re listening to understand – not respond. In most team or workplace conversations, we’re already forming our responses when the other person’s only halfway through what they’re saying. There are lots of cross-monologues being launched on top of each other, but not much thoughtful dialogue.
However, introverts tend to listen really well – and that means there will likely be a pause from them after somebody’s said something, while they formulate their response or their next question. It’s worth making room for that process, because when they do speak up, they often offer thoughtful wisdom and genuine insight.
People tend to think that introverts aren’t team players – but that’s not true. They’re just a different type of team player.
WORTH LISTENING TO
If introverts aren’t in there being busy with everyone, they’re probably making sure things don’t fall through the gaps. They may not be the people who speak all the time – but when they do, it’s worth listening to. It’s often the thing that’ll make everyone else go, “Oh, yeah – we’d forgotten about that!”
Introverts are also resourceful. They’re less needy, and often prefer to work things out on their own. They’re really diligent when it comes to problem-solving, and will keep working until they get to the root cause of a problem.
And of course, introverts tend to be calm – they take the drama out of situations, rather than making it worse!
GV: Any last thoughts you’d like to leave our readers with?
JOANNA: One of the things I’ve loved about lockdown is that we’ve slowed down our lives. And we really needed to! That’s something that introverts will continue to do: just slow people down – in a good way!
It’s not about dragging people back. It’s just about taking a moment … considering things properly … enjoying the pause.
CHECK OUT JOANNA’S WEBSITE WWW.FLOURISHINGINTROVERTS.COM, OR CHECK OUT HER DOWNLOADABLE RESOURCES AT WWW.FLOURISHINGESSENTIALS.ME – INCLUDING HER BRILLIANT BRAIN BOOSTERS, PARENTING & INTROVERTS, AND AN INTROVERT TYPE ASSESSMENT.