Rob and Sherry talk about the differences and definitions of introversion and extroversion. They try to bring awareness to the importance of finding out where you lay on the spectrum and how it affects things in your life.

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Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Episode Transcript

Sherry Walling:You’re just here to be a pretty face.
Rob Walling:That’s what they say. Just stand there and be gorgeous. That’s why they invite me to conferences. All right, you ready to roll on this doc?
Sherry Walling:Let’s do something more productive than me standing here like a chicken with my hand on my keyboard.
Sherry Walling:So now that we’ve had this delightful social interaction, I thought it might be helpful to talk about social interactions today.
Rob Walling:Very nice.
Sherry Walling:We were at this dinner this last week, as part of the converted conference that Lead Pages puts on here in Minneapolis, and Rob got an invitation and I invited myself to a dinner with many of the speakers, just some very well known folks in marketing space, who have pretty big online personas. They’re very well known and they speak powerfully and passionately and have really built personal brands based on their ability to communicate. Interestingly, a number of folks at the table identified themselves as introverts and I thought that might be an interesting conversation point for us to hash out a little bit in terms of thinking about what is introversion and extroversion, and how does that play out in the way that someone runs their business or manages their life.
Rob Walling:Yeah, I think it’s really important to talk about this kind of stuff, because I think there’s the lay person’s or colloquial definition of these and people think that extroversion just means you’re outgoing or that you can work a crowd, or that you talk a lot. There’s just these things that come along with it, but as we’re going to dig into here, that’s very far from the truth.
Sherry Walling:Well, I don’t know that it’s that far from the truth. I think there’s this way of understanding the continuum between introversion and extroversion and that’s an important word, this idea of continuum. All of us are somewhere on this space oriented toward others, vs. oriented towards our own internal world, and it was Carl Jung who conceptualized these terms and popularized them, and he’s quoted as saying that it’s impossible to be fully introverted or fully extroverted.
 Someone like that would actually be in the loony bin, so to speak. We all operate fluidly in different contexts on this introversion, extroversion continuum.
Rob Walling:Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I think, especially as I get older and are exposed to more and more concepts, ranging from engineering to marketing to psychology to interpersonal interactions, it just, so much of the answers to questions that are raised, whether by me or folks writing in to the podcast, or just in every day life, the answer starts with it depends, there’s a continuum.
 I find that so many things people try to boil down to black and white and ones and zeros, and I’ll see discussions all the time on let’s say, Hacker News or even, I don’t know, Inform, Boot Strap Performs or whatever, and my answer … I will often chime in and I’m the guy saying, “I think it’s a scale of one to ten or it’s a scale of one to a hundred,” and more of these things that you have will make you more successful, but I would never say, “You’ll never be successful without this or you’ll always be successful if you have it, it’s much more of a continuum.” I think it’s, introversion extroversion sounds like it’s the same thing.
Sherry Walling:Yeah. I think the most popular way of understanding these terms have to do with how one relates to the social stimulation around them. I guess a good question to understand this is to ask whether you’re filled up or jazzed by a lot of social stimulation, or whether social stimulation seems to deplete your energy.
 If you’re somebody who just gets fired up the more social contact that you have, the more boisterous the party, or just the more time you’re spending in the presence of other people, talking with other people, exchanging ideas, if that really makes you come alive, then that’s a fairly extroverted way of being in the world.
 If you desperately come home at the end of the day and need some quiet to recharge and to get in line with your own thoughts, if being around a lot of other people really does start to drain you and you need quiet alone time in order to recharge, that’s the popular understanding of introversion.
Rob Walling:Those are accurate definitions, you’re saying?
Sherry Walling:Yeah, they’re accurate. The original idea, popularized by Jung, really didn’t have to do with an external conceptualization of how you interact with other people. His thoughts about introversion and extroversion were the focus and orientation that you give to your own inner world. An introvert, again, according to Jung, and it’s not that the definition that we use today is wrong, it’s just the more modern take, but the original definition, the best that I understand it, is that for an introvert, your inner life feels more real and what kinds of thoughts or conversations are happening in your own head, those are the meat of your life and of your being.
 Whereas, an extrovert, thoughts don’t matter as much as ideas exchanged with others. I see this in our kids, actually. One of our kids, our oldest son, very creative, lots of thoughts going on, but for him, the thoughts don’t seem to matter unless he’s shared it with someone. He’ll go and make something and then instantly come and just want to be like, “Look what I made. Look at this thing. Look at these thoughts that I had.” He’s desperate to get some exchange around them or some interaction.
 Our other son, our younger son, will spend hours creating things and he does want to show us, but his inner life that he experiences, his own ideas, are sufficient and sustaining in and of themselves without the presence of another person.
Rob Walling:Right. I remember as a child, being more like our oldest, so feeling more like I needed the external stimulation. I remember when we were first married, so this was my early 20s, I just thrived off of the constant interaction with our new friends in Sacramento and we were hanging out with people all the time, three, four nights a week and that just seemed to bring excitement and I remember being happy and energized by that.
 And then, I don’t know if that was just an anomaly or what the deal is, but I definitely am much more introverted these days, based on this definition and even Myers Briggs, I took one back in my 20s and I took one in the last five years and I flipped from E to I, extrovert to introvert on that. What do you make of that?
Sherry Walling:This is quite a conversation point in the psychology world, the extent to which personality factors are fixed, like they’re pervasive over time, vs. the extent to which they’re context dependent.
 I think the more recent research really suggests that context is always going to win in the sense that the more demands that you have, the older you get, you are constantly responding to the needs of other people, whether that’s the needs of your children or your family members, or your business, so the social interactions that you have now as a 40 year old are really different than the social interactions that you had as a 25 year old, where they weren’t very taxing. They were pretty fun and didn’t cost you very much in emotional energy.
 But, the kinds of interactions that you have now, at least that I know about, they’re much more taxing on your emotional reserves. I think that there is a developmental component. This is a little bit of the world according to Sherry, I haven’t seen the research on this, but I think that our needs for recharging downtime change according to the kinds of social interactions that we’re having, based on different developmental periods of our lives.
Rob Walling:That’s a good call. As you’re saying that, I’m realizing that I have quite a bit of, in person or extroversion interaction with our kids every day, so I have to be on and talking and engaging with kids much more than when I was younger, before we had kids. I can see that also … I don’t count that in the calculation. How often are you around people, or how much do you like being around people?
 I actually do like being around them, and then I tend to be tired after two or three hours of engaging with them, so it’s different than when I wasn’t doing that at all.
Sherry Walling:I would say I’ve noticed a similar thing in myself, because being around young children is very … it takes a lot of energy and I find myself really craving the quietness for my own thoughts, because I get to a point where I just feel like I can’t think anymore, given the amount of stimulation around me and I need more of that inner world time.
 I think this is really important to understand about yourself, because it does come back to this theme that we talk about a lot on the podcast, which is how do you manage your own personal resources well? I think really understanding what is energizing for you and what is depleting for you, in terms of these kinds of social interactions, is really important, because you might feel this pressure to be very gregarious and outgoing and make the sale especially if you’re a single founder or you’re an entrepreneur who’s really in this phase of hustling, but sometimes, less might be more. You might have better interpersonal interactions if you’re also really protecting your quiet, individual time that lets you recharge your batteries.
Rob Walling:And that’s important. That’s really the crux of why we’re talking about this today is A, to bring awareness to this, so as you’re listening, you think, “Which of these am I,” or where on the continuum do you think you fall, and then to start thinking about how that impacts how you approach your day to day work, how you approach when you go to a conference, how you approach your interpersonal interactions, how you can use that to your benefit, like double down on the strength to make you a better founder or a better spouse, a better parent or whatever.
 It’s, first is awareness and second is figuring out what to do with that awareness. I think an example of that is, as I realized myself feeling fairly introverted in general, I know that day to day at work, when I’m managing people, I actually have to either set reminders or just be really aware that I can sit in front of a computer with headphones on for eight hours and not talk to anybody. That’s probably not ideal for my team, and so I’m pretty intentional about touching base with people, asking them how they’re doing, asking them to help out, because people aren’t always going to approach me.
 That’s one example. Another is when I go to conferences, I become pretty protective of my downtime, and so I like to maximize the use of the time when I’m around people and pick stuff that I think is really going to help others or it’s really going to work for me so to speak, and not just immerse myself around people 24/7 for three days and then come back completely extrovert hung over in a way that wrecks me for the week.
Sherry Walling:Yeah. Speaking of conferences, I have about an hour’s worth of bandwidth in a loud, big party. That’s about the amount of time that I can handle that level of social interaction where it’s small talk, small talk with 18 different people, so I will do that and I love going to parties and doing that thing for about and hour, maybe 90 minutes if I’m really having fun, and then I need to grab a small posse of people and have a conversation around a table. That’s much less social stimulation and it’s a level of interaction that I can sustain much longer.
 If I’m trying to stay at a big opening party or gala for three hours, I’m just going to be fried and miserable and again, that extrovert hang over thing at the end of the night.
 I think another reason that I think it’s important for people to think about this … if the first reason is that you want to use your resources well and manage your time and manage your amount of social interaction, another thing is to also be aware of the way that anxiety can play into social relationships.
 I’ve been talking to a couple of folks lately who have said, “I’m just an introvert,” but the more I got to know these folks or the more I talked with them, the more that I’ve thought, “No, I think you actually are very anxious,” and the time alone in the life of an introvert shouldn’t necessarily feel like reclusion or running or avoiding, I think it should feel nourishing.
 So, if you’re someone who is finding yourself overwhelmed by social interactions and avoiding them, it’s worth asking a question whether that’s your true natural state of being, or whether there’s some anxiety at play that’s making it difficult for you to engage in your most natural best way in interpersonal interactions with other people.
Rob Walling:I think that’s a really good way to think about it, that difference of being anxious and having maybe some social anxiety, not enjoying being around groups of people doesn’t necessarily equate to introversion. That’s what you’re saying, right?
Sherry Walling:Right. That’s what I’m saying. Pause to consider whether that drive to be alone is your true self, or it’s avoiding something that’s uncomfortable or maybe developed more recently based on this side of that experience, or something like that.
 I also, third comment or thing that I want to say about the importance of understanding your introverted vs. extroverted self, is largely based on the work of Susan Cain. She wrote a book called Quiet, the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.
 Traditionally, I think extroverts have been idealized as the successful, gregarious …. they’re the people whose ideas are out there. They’re the best way to be so to speak, and I think increasingly, hopefully there’s this recognition that that’s not true, that those of us who have the capacity to step aside and live in our own thoughts, that’s a big driver of creativity. It’s a big driver of problem solving and so the voice of the introverted thinking person, is so valuable.
 If you’re someone who is feeling like, “Man, I’m just not that good in these sales calls, or I’m just not that good at being gregarious or networking at parties, it may be that you’re just needing to find your own unique way of doing that, that’s more consistent with your introverted nature.
 Susan Cain, in her book, talks a lot about how the world is, again, oriented to idealize this extroverted persona and that’s not really true, that there are tremendous strengths to being an introverted person and really figuring out how to tap into those strengths based on your work and your context and the needs of your environment is what’s important.
 It’s again, figuring out how to maximize the resources and find a way to make the person you are, your best super power.
Rob Walling:Yeah, and that’s the thing. We started the episode by talking about how we were basically, you’re at the conference, you’re talking to a bunch of speakers, and these are people who have big personalities and who speak in front of hundreds and hundreds of people, often have either blogs, or podcasts or video blogs or many of those things, and yet claim to be introverts, and I actually think that fits. I think of myself not wanting to necessarily be around a lot of people, but that’s what the beauty of podcasting is. I don’t feel like I’m around a lot of people. It’s you and I having a one on one conversation that we happen to record that thousands of people will listen to.
 When I get on stage, to be honest, since I’m the only one talking, it actually feels like I’m getting thoughts out, this well planned out thing, almost like writing a blog post where it’s you put together all this information and you’re spewing it out, and to be honest, the audience, aside from the reaction stuff, it disappears.
 I don’t feel like I’m in a crowded party, like you’re talking about, where there’s two of us among 200 people and it may be loud and it’s hard to have a conversation, you’re trying to balance from person to person, to figure out maybe what you have in common, introducing yourself, having to say the same things multiple times.
 Recording a podcast, writing a blog post, recording video or being up on stage and doing that is totally different from that, at least from my own personal experience. I don’t tend to feel drained by that stuff. I get excited about it, sometimes I get a little nervous, but it energizes me and then I typically come off with this huge sigh of relief as well as this big energy boost and an excitement of, “Man, that was really fun. That was a fun thing to do.”
 That’s where I think it might sound counterintuitive of how do these people have these, like we said, big personalities and they speak to hundreds of people at a time, maybe thousands, and yet they’re introverts, and I think that actually makes a lot of sense.
Sherry Walling:Yeah, it’s that orientation toward your own inner life, listening to your own thoughts and forming them, putting them together in a creative way, but then you happen to be sharing with other people, but it’s this faithfulness to your inner life that drives that kind of creativity.
Rob Walling:Right. I think of outlining and recording a podcast or doing a conference talk or blog post, those are very internal looking things. Even though I know that people will consume them later, or consume them at some point, for me it’s a matter of almost, there’s a lot of introspection and thought and pulling on all these resources. I’m not talking to anyone as I do that, and in fact, I would have a really hard time collaborating. I do have a hard time collaborating on things like that.
 If the two of us got in a room and tried to write a blog post together, I would have a real tough time with it, although I guess it’s not, that’s probably less of the introversion extroversion thing and more of just, I tend to create in silence and as soon as I have to start talking, it changes the process for me.
Sherry Walling:That, and does not play well with others
Rob Walling:Does not play well with others, that’s right. That would be written on my grown up report card, wouldn’t it?
Sherry Walling:Yeah, so I think if people are really interested in this topic, that book I mentioned by Susan Cain, I’ve recommended it a lot to people who are trained to figure out how their personality fits in the world around them and I think it’s really written and well researched. So it’s called, again, Quiet – the Power of Introversion in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, and she also has a TED talk that the power packed main points and 12 minutes or whatever a TED talk is.
Rob Walling:And before we wrap up, Sherry and I really want to thank our patrons. The patrons are the folks that are able to support us financially and help keep Zen Founder around and help it be a better show, help pay for professional editing and allow us to spend more time on topics and recording and just making it a better show, so recent patrons who have signed up include Luis Perez, Erin Olsen, Frank Corso, and Rolf Wimmenhove. We really want to thank you guys for supporting us.
 If you’re listening to this show and you feel like you get a little bit of value out of it, maybe as much value as you do out of a Starbucks latte, we encourage you to check out supportzenfounder.com and that takes you to a patron page, and it’s pretty easy to set up. Whether it’s a one time goal, or whether you want to pledge even five bucks a month or three bucks a month, every bit helps get us towards these goals of making and improving the show.
Sherry Walling:I’ve had all these email from advertisers lately who want us to run ads on the show, and we don’t want to do that, because I don’t know, we just don’t, so becoming a supporter is a way to keep the ads away and just bring in more witty, valuable commentary from Rob and I.
 Thanks for listening to this episode of Zen Founder. Our theme song is A New Beginning by bensound.com, used under creative comments.