After spending time with a group of people, do you feel energized and ready for anything or do you want to hide in the corner with a good book?
Ever been Myers-Briggs tested? This question gets to the heart of one of the indicators used in that test – whether you’re an introvert or extrovert. I took this test as part of work-related training, and this is exactly how the I (introvert) versus E (extrovert) designation was described. The question is about how you recharge your personal “batteries”; with quiet isolation or through interaction and exposure to others.
I fall within the E range, but on the low side. When I’m feeling low and depressed I want to see other people, but there are also times where I need a bit of solitude; it’s about a 75% to 25% ratio. I’ll take a book or my computer and head out to a coffee house. Just being around other people makes me feel better, even if the only conversation I have the entire time I’m there is with person who hands me my drink. I love being in a city, but I’ll also look for the quiet places where you don’t see other people.
My favorite type of vacation is to go to another city and spend a few days exploring it. When Rick was alive we did this a few times every year. We’d see music, go to a few museums, find the local brewpubs, see baseball games; but mostly we’d spend time just walking around and encountering new people and places. Neither of us ever wanted to spend a vacation in quiet solitude in a cabin up North.
The really interesting thing about the introvert/extrovert alignment of people is how relevant it is to understanding and getting along with people. When I was introduced to the Myers-Briggs test, it was an eye opener. I worked in IT, an industry that attracts a far greater number of introverts than extroverts. It was a constant struggle for me to figure out how to work with people on projects. When handed a problem, my gut instinct was for everyone to go off somewhere and talk it through. I love fast, rapid-fire back and forth conversations where people feed off each others ideas and quickly put forth new ones. When I’m working through a problem or trying to come up with a solution, I need to talk it through with people.
Most of the people I worked with in IT were the opposite. They wanted to go off to a quiet, isolated space, shut the door and work through everything first. For the introverts, ideas are processed internally, thought through, and carefully considered before sharing. The result of those very different styles was that I spent a lot of time chasing people down, trying to talk with them, while they were just as busy running from me.
What I learned is how to respect and understand the value that each type of person brings. My friends and colleagues who spend their vacations in quiet solitude come back refreshed and energized, just as I do after spending several days in a new city.
When I’m working with individuals who need solitude to refresh and recharge, I do a few things to make sure they can get that solitude. I don’t hand out materials at a meeting and expect an instant response; I distribute them ahead of time to make sure people have time to review them in private and then be ready to give a response. In meetings where planning or idea generation is needed, I get input by going around in a circle, so the quieter people can know when their turn will be. I often have people write things down and then read it back to the group. Most of all, whenever possible, I make sure that final decisions are delayed to a later point in time; often the people who need that solitude to recharge and refresh also need it to reflect, and their insights and thoughts are best when they are given time outside of a group to do so.
For me personally, I realize that I’ll never be that person who lives all alone in a small cottage and writes a beautiful memoir of my year in (fill in the blank: Ireland, Tuscany, Northern Wisconsin, the coast of Maine). No, if I ever get the chance to do something like that it will be the story of my year living in mid-town Manhattan.
When Rick was alive we’d often talk about becoming snowbirds, those people who leave Wisconsin in the winter. Our ideal was to spend the winter in New Orleans and San Francisco, surrounded by noise and people and music and activity; but then to spend a few weeks in Kauai, on the quiet and remote Northern end of the island. That would be the perfect blend for me; most of the time in crowded, noisy people-rich cities, with a small dip into a serene and quiet small-town rural area.
That dream is still alive, but in the meantime I’ll meet my 75 – 25 need for interaction versus solitude by living in a central city neighborhood of a small city.