Born on the east-coast, transplanted to west-coast and now a “native” (hey, over 15 years, it counts!) Austinite, I had an interesting experience outside a subway station in Washington DC, several years ago. Loving the public transit option, I was caught off guard as I saw a mass of people heading towards me as they exited the Metro. My first thought was, “Now, how am I going to say ‘Hello’ to all those people?” My second thought, was, “You’re not in Texas, Em.” And the need to engage strangers passed me, as quickly as the oblivious crowd of busy individuals.
My third thought was how I have come to associate being friendly, outgoing and social as “southern hospitality,” almost synonymous with extroversion, which many proclaim as their personality style. While it certainly is an “extroverted world” of social media, popularity, and billions of people with whom to connect and compare yourself, extroverts are often misunderstood and sometimes get a bad rap. Extroverts are generally recognized at a party or business function, but the attention in research and counseling have been much more skewed towards introversion lately. Ironically, the number of likes on Extroverts are Awesome Facebook page is 867, while Introverts are Awesome has 139,004 likes as of 10/15/15. Sometimes being an extrovert can be an isolating experience!
Many introverts and ambiverts (those who are score close to equal on Extroversion/Introversion personality scales) would say that extroverts are attention-seeking bullies…or maybe they would just think it! However, I think, “Extroverts are awesome!” in their own right. Friendships, job interviews, conflict resolution, parties and relationships can be richer when there is an extrovert in the mix. Someone outgoing usually needs to get the interpersonal ball rolling in order for communication and connection to occur. When inevitable miscommunications happen, a “chatty Cathy” can be the one most experienced to use a little small talk before we wade into deeper topics or join the troops when morale boosting is in order. Having a voice and resonating with others are two extroverted qualities that are kick-ass and positive.
Extroverts gain their energy by being around others, which is beneficial for community causes and rallying, leadership, as well as connecting to others who are more resourced by time on their own. The self-assured, confident air of an extrovert in social situations (not all the time, mind you!) can help express the natural curiosity we all have to understand ourselves and our worlds better through social interaction. This is in their brains and neurochemistry (dopamine, baby!).
We are social creatures because of the mirror neurons in our brain, which create an identical map of what we see happening in the faces of others, especially emotions, in our own minds. From almost birth, we learn the “Marco!” “Polo!” game of how to reach out and resonate with others, creating a sense of congruence when we see that our caretakers or loved one is just as happy or sad as we are. Extroverts cannot read minds, of course, but they are practiced in the art of conversation, which involves verbal and non-verbal pattern recognition of what might be interesting or similar to our own experiences in others (i.e. empathy).
Not every extrovert is empathic, however they are wired to feel pleasure through interpersonal connections and expression. It feels good and can be contagious when an extrovert is in his/her own element of entertaining or engaging others in riveting humor or dialogue. Extroverts also like matching their friends to other friends and can be great matchmakers!
My extroverted friend loves to be interrupted during her workday. She is energized by people’s stories and being able to help. She embraces her extroverted tendency to take risks in her job and social situations and uses her humor and wit to express emotions and decompress. Sometimes she wonders if her extroversion has her overextended in her closer relationships but I think she does an amazing job with quantity and quality!
I asked her what her introverted husband of twenty-three years would say are the advantages of being married to an extrovert. She answered for him : “He likes the yin/yang” of their strengths and “watching her” do her extroverted thing. “It is practical because it saves him energy of seeing out travel or events that he enjoys but may not initiate on his own.” Awesome!