The Extroversion/Introversion preference is the most misunderstood of the four MBTI preference facets. We tend to use the words “introverted” and “extroverted” in everyday conversation to indicate whether a person is gregarious or shy. However, in Myers Briggs type theory, the Extroversion/Introversion describes a larger concept: how you get your energy and where you focus your attention. Whether a person is gregarious or reserved is just a small part of this facet.
Extroverts get their energy from the outside world: other people, outside stimulation and activity. If forced to be isolated or quiet, they are not as productive as they are when they can interact with others and with their environment. Extroverts are energized by talking with others, meeting new people, and engaging actively with the world around them. They are comfortable with expressing themselves verbally, and tend to be quick thinkers.
Because Extroverts are energized by stimulation, they often prefer breadth over depth; they engage with people and activities in quantity but tend not to focus on any one thing for an extended period of time. They often have many friends from different walks of life, preferring to have a variety of people to interact with rather than developing deep friendships with just a few.
Introverts are energized by their internal world of thoughts, feelings, and ideas. They find too much outside stimulation distracting, and prefer to engage with their environment by observing and reacting to it internally. Because this process is not obvious to other people, it may appear to others as if the Introvert is not interested or not taking part; however for Introverts, the process of observing and reflecting is how they participate and engage with their surroundings.
Introverts are most productive when they have a quiet environment without disturbances to their thought process, and when they can explore ideas at length and in depth. Introverts tend to engage with other people in depth as well, preferring a few close friends and deep relationships over many superficial acquaintances.
The Extroversion/Introversion preference can be difficult to observe in other people. Because gregariousness is just one aspect of this scale, it is impossible to determine someone’s E/I preference just by observing how outgoing they are. Many Introverts (especially Feelers) are quite outgoing in social situations, but find that the process of socializing drains their energy. Nobody would know they are Introverted until they come home from the party and declare their exhaustion!
However, if you remember what this scale is fundamentally describing, you can pick up some clues to others’ preferences. At a party or social gathering, Introverts typically have longer conversations with just one or two people. Extroverts are more likely to work their way around the room, chatting briefly with everyone.
At work, Introverts are more likely to declare a need for quiet space, while Extroverts are more likely to want to be in the middle of the action. Extroverts typically see meetings as productive and motivating; Introverts are more likely to feel that meetings distract from getting their work done.
You’ll get the biggest clue to this preference when someone talks about stress and their energy level. “I’ve been around people all day, I just need some time alone!” is a typical Introvert response to the stress of too much stimulation. However, if you hear someone exclaim “I’ve been cooped up all day, I just need to get out and see people!” they’re probably an Extrovert.
When searching for a career, knowing your preference for Extroversion/Introversion can help you to choose a work environment that suits your style. You’ll find Extroverts and Introverts in equal balance across all career fields, but this preference does tend to determine the work environment that you feel most comfortable in. Overall, Extroverts prefer a more active workplace, where Introverts like a quieter one. You may want to consider the physical layout of the work space and how much privacy or interaction it affords.
Your ideal workplace should also encourage the type of communication that is most effective for you. Keep in mind that Introverts tend to prefer to do communicate in writing; memos and emails feel most comfortable for them. Extroverts, on the other hand, prefer face to face interactions. Being aware of this preference can help you to investigate whether you’ll be able to effectively communicate in a particular work environment.