So the issue of extraversion vs introversion came up again. Actually, it came up a couple of weeks ago, but I’ve been so busy that I didn’t really have time to spend writing this particular blog post out..
But today I do. So that’s what I’m going to do before I get caught up in the daily onslaught, for as we all know:
After Enlightenmet comes the laundry.
Back to the story..
About two weeks ago in class, I asked my students to look through some proposals. They had a proposal assignment to do, so I had broken them into groups and given each one a proposal to read through and evaluate so that they could then present their findings to the class. To help them with this, I gave them a sheet with various questions that would help them think through some of the important elements of these proposals.
Now.. stepping back a moment–I must also note that I had already had all of my students go take a Myers-Briggs test and send me their results–so I roughly knew the types of the students I was observing.
Back to the story…
The groups read through the proposals and started discussing them and hashing them out. I observed this and occasionally wandered to the groups to chat with them and prod them. From these little intrusions of mine, I noticed something quite interesting that brought me back to thoughts of propagation and consolidation…
Basically, as it was getting close to the time for the groups to start reporting, I noticed an interesting dynamic in one of the groups. One of the members (an INTJ like me) was trying to get the other two members (both ENTJ’s) to help fill out the form. They didn’t notice his attempts at this that much–or rather–they didn’t stay on track as he was doing this and instead got off into divergent conversations. As I wandered over to them and reminded them that they would be reporting to the class and maybe they would want to use the form to help them do this–thus, trying to buttress their INTJ group member’s desires and also, perhaps subconsciously, trying to project my intended goals and usual practices and preferences onto them–they seemed to suddenly realize that such a form existed (they had forgotten about it..)–but also honesty stated–when I asked them whether they wanted to use the form–something to the extent of “well, I was just going to talk about the proposal and make it up as I went along..”
This is when everything crystallized for me. This everything breaks down into a couple of points..
1. Giving study questions in advance is a very introverted way to approach such an activity. Specifically, such a form works beautifully for someone who wants to consolidate information. By filling out such a form, you rip information out of the source, process it in your mind, and then further define it as you write out part of it onto another document. This gives you power over the information in a sense, because it involves absorption, but also selective replication, and in this entire process, the introvert is given a chance to figure out and select what is actually meaningful from the otherwise overwhelming amount of information.
2. The introvert in the group–one whose type was exactly mine–did exactly what I would have done (and I did note that the other introverts in the class were more concerned about the forms than the extraverts generally were)–and he saw the whole endeavor of discussing the proposal to be geared around processing the information with regard to this form. Just talking about the proposal was not his thing. He asked questions and made statements about it in a way that was geared towards an internal synthesizing of the points so that he could assimilate it and then build upon the retained elements.
3. The two extraverts of the group, however, were not doing any of this. They were engaged in an almost continuous discussion of the report and going back and forth and even sort of feeding upon each others’ thoughts and then adding more and continuing on in a sort of competitive dialogue. To them, the form wasn’t important or even necessary.. it was the talking and discussion that was necessary–and when the presentation portion of the exercise came about–they were happy to expound upon the various aspects of the report–in a more or less logical fashion–but one that was much more stream of consciousness than I would ever have done.
Reflecting on these aspects, there are two things I want to emphasize–one concrete and one metaphorical.
A) The extraverted/propagating form of thinking in this situation took place in the discussions between these two guys. I wouldn’t have even labeled this “thinking” if my best half hadn’t so insightfully pointed it out to me later when I was first telling her about my day and observations. I had not perceived such an activity as thinking per se, but rather assumed that it was just communication of already pre-formed thoughts and observations.
But that’s an introverted/consolidated interpretation. Introverts, before they engage in talking, usually want control over the information.. they want to process first and then interact with others–because this–as I note above–allows them to consolidate and “master/monopolize” the original external stimulation. Thus, the one introvert in the group (and myself also–in my intended use of the form) kept trying to push the extraverts to give him their consolidated thoughts so that they could be collected on the form and further consolidated–but they were not interested in consolidating their thoughts–because that’s not how they thought.. the thinking was in the process rather than in the outcome.
B) In a very fundamental way, this points to how the propagation/consolidation divergence between extraverts/introverts can deeply and fundamentally affect communication between individuals, and here’s where I want to get a bit metaphorical. For extraverts, communication often (perhaps always? I don’t know) is just part of their process of thinking and processing the universe around them–and they tend to do such an activity in–what is to them–the real and objective world of external and social reality. Thus.. an extravert’s thinking is often an inherently social and propagating activity..
Connecting this to communication, one can say that extraverts engage in “communication” (often=thinking) in a way that is like two people getting together to paint a picture. As the two converse, they paint a kind of picture between them–maybe like they are each painting a piece of glass from different sides.. and thus they can try to work together to hash out the picture, with each adding their parts and maybe accepting the parts of the other in some places or painting over the other’s parts on their side (never escaping entirely the fact that the other’s colors are going to bleed through and influence their picture..) This communication ends when each is satisfied that they have finished the picture..
Then they just walk away from the picture. The meaning of the picture painting was in the process of the painting. This is a very important point!!! What it points to is that when extraverts talk, the talking itself is the goal because that is where the meaning and purpose is created.
This is exceptionally different from how introverts perceive communication in my view. Introverts tend not to talk until they have a reason, and that reason is to transfer a consolidated thought to another individual.. or at least to achieve a pre-configured goal.. (detached thought transferral may be more of a thinking thing, while feelers may be trying to achieve harmony or some other goal..) . In this way, communication for an introvert is like building a bridge or maybe just lowering a pre-fabricated bridge between two people–it is meant to achieve something.. to make a connection.. to achieve greater goals. The talking is the lowering of this pre-constructed bridge–in this way, the talking isn’t the really important part.. the important part is when the bridge is finally down–and the connection is made. If an Introvert could just magically make the bridge appear and instantly send thoughts to another person without a lot of talking–that would be far superior to them… and in some ways, this is often what happens for introverts after they’ve built a strong enough connection to someone else.. in these cases–the bridges have been built up over time–and are multi-laned permanent things that can often convey huge amounts of information with very little talking at all..often, because so much has already been transferred across them–that it doesn’t need to be repeated again…
However–introverts are limited in the number of bridges they can build.. because these structures do take up mental space and maintenance… whereas extraverts can wander around and paint pictures with tons of people all the time.. and then move on.. Maybe they save the pictures.. or maybe not..but they are just pictures.. and the result is less important than the painting itself.
Of course–this metaphor high-lights some very important possible pitfalls when introverts and extraverts try to communicate.. and I’ve noticed people falling into these pits regularly. Introverts assume that everything said has the same sort of consolidated and preformed structure that they tend to impart to their communication and this may not be true when talking to an extravert. Likewise, an extravert may feel that an introvert is acting extremely odd by not engaging in the fun process of thinking/communicating and painting pictures of reality with them.. or maybe that introverts don’t even think that much at all.. because they don’t talk so much.. but that’s not the case at all..
Obviously, I don’t mean to imply any of this in some absolute sense! I’m sure there are extraverts who stop and think things out inside their heads first and then engage in bridge building on occassions.. just like introverts can also go picture painting in conversation when they feel like it.. but I do think that these tendencies/preferences are real and that they are part of our social reality.
In the best of worlds–an introvert and extravert will engage in communication in a thoughtful way–and the result will be the most aesthetically and functionally awesome bridge possible–as they both work together and accept wholeheartedly the different styles and strengths of their different preferences..
That’s what my best half and I have achieved, I think.. and it is beautiful…