• Going Beyond The “Introvert” Label

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Introvert, extrovert, or ambivert? What do these mean to you?  It often seems that we just stop at the label or barely scratch the surface and don’t explore what the label really means.  I might hear someone making an excuse for something, saying “I’m a bit of an introvert.” Or maybe describing themselves as having the best of both worlds being an ambivert, and having both qualities of an introvert and an extrovert.  “I like to be alone sometimes and social sometimes; does this make me an ambivert?”  The labels themselves are not helpful unless we know what they mean.  To me, it’s not behaviors, but rather, “what are my preferences, strengths, and needs?”

There are many great tools and assessments out there for exploring our personalities and gaining some self awareness.  One of my favorites is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).  The MBTI has 16 different personality types, including 8 introverted types and 8 extroverted types, designated by 4-letter codes. Click here for more information on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

In David Keirsey’s Please Understand Me II, the 16 different Myers-Briggs Type Indicators are explored.  Keirsey states “…the point of this updated and expanded edition is that people are different from each other, and that no amount of getting after them is going to change them.  Nor is there any reason to change them, because the differences are probably good.”

My Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), is INTJ or the “Mastermind.”  I like the sound of mastermind, and just knowing that title, someone could make some assumptions about me.  But for it truly to be helpful, I need to dive into what is behind the label, again, what are my preferences, strengths, and needs.

For example, Keirsey lists that INTJs are “head and shoulders above the rest in contingency planning.” This is definitely a strength of mine.  I work in an environment of limited resources and personnel and often am juggling to determine the most efficient use of the resources at hand.  Not only am I good at it, but I thoroughly enjoy using my strengths in this way.  This has always been a strength of mine, but I have not always fully understood this gift.  Also, it’s important for me to know that I need to contribute in this way.  I also need to be recognized by others as being good at this, because I know I can frustrate people who don’t see the big picture of things the way that I do.  This doesn’t make me better than anyone, but rather the understanding allows me to use my gift and allow others to use theirs. 

By understanding what INTJ means, I may also identify my weaknesses or blindspots.  Keirsey states “Colleagues may describe INTJs as unemotional, and, at times, cold and dispassionate, when in truth they are merely taking the goals of the institution seriously, and continually striving to achieve those goals.” I need to understand this, so I can make sure that I’m understood by others.  Just this week, I had a situation where I came off as “cold and dispassionate,” and needed to explain why I made a particular decision.  I do care deeply about my organization and the people in it, but as an INTJ I can be misunderstood if I’m not careful. 

As we read information like this about our own personality, we need to validate if it is true for us.  We need to remember that these assessments are just tools and there may be some things that don’t apply to us.

My wife is also an introvert and her MBTI is INTP or “Architect”.  So what is an Architect?  She is definitely not drawing up house plans. The architect type, according to Keirsey, is characterized by “spacial relativity and systems design… [not only] buildings, bridges, and machines; they are also the architects of curricula, of corporations, and of all kinds of theoretical systems.” They think of themselves as master organizers and base their self-image on “being ingenious,… they trust reason, [and] seek knowledge…” In my wife’s case, she is great at spacial design, and has always been the one to read the directions and translate them into “how things go together.” She also enjoys designing large group programs, conferences, or activities while planning how all the smaller components fit together.

On the flip side, while I need order (part of the “J” in INTJ), she can go with the flow to easily adapt, and she can function in a state of organized disorder.  We call it the chaos factor at our house (part of the “P” in her INTP), and it can drive me a little crazy sometimes.  But I also understand this is part of her personality, and that her need for order and her style of organization is different than mine. Neither personality type is superior to the other, but understanding these labels and common descriptions can help us understand one another.

Labels are simply a means of grouping characteristics for better understanding. They should never be used to limit or box in, and certainly, the label only applies as far as it is true for you. Regardless of your personality type, whether you identify as an introvert (processing information internally), an extrovert (processing information externally), you have specific strengths and weaknesses. Using labels as tools to help you understand your personality and your own unique gifts can help you be more successful. But you are more than a label, as no two people are exactly alike. Find what’s great about you, whether it’s part of a label or not. And be strong.

 

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