Recently, I gave a new version of a talk about introversion where I hit upon an important nuance about introversion that I wanted to share.

Thus far, we’ve been looking at the 101 level of temperament- with introversion at one end, and extroversion at the other. The highest level of mastery at this level is signified by an understanding that people exist on a spectrum, with elements of both within reach of everyone. However, I am seeking to promote all of you to the next level of understanding.

Those who are introverted are generally assumed to be shy- the quiet that comes from introspection and contemplation get conflated with the quiet that comes with hesitation and reluctance to engage socially. To be fair, as often, I’m sure the extroverted are just as often assumed to be outgoing. What’s the problem here? Well, as odd as this is going to sound, the problem can be explained with plane geometry.

Most of us are accustomed to discussing temperament in one dimension, on a line:


(I should note, if I take any issue with this model of explanation, its that it places introversion in the arena of negative numbers. Assume that I’ve acknowledged that- believe me, I don’t like it any more than you do.)

But I’m about to let you in on a little secret: that’s not all. Human beings can’t and shouldn’t be reduced to any one dimension (mathematically or literally!). Thus, I want to introduce a second dimension into the mix.


Shy and outgoing are a separate dimension, characterized by different traits and qualities. Shyness and the ability to be outgoing are measures of something much different- the ability to find comfort in social interactions. Comparatively, introversion and extroversion are a measure of where someone gets energy from. This is why those who look at temperament more closely are so quick to say that the two are so different.

Most assumptions on temperament are based on consideration for these two quadrants- all positive numbers or all negative numbers (again, problematic, but stay with me here). Most of these assumptions ignore two full quadrants of people- people for whom energy acquisition is limited not my a dislike of people, but a high level of discomfort in approaching them (shy extroverts). Or, consider those who truly enjoy people, but struggle to draw energy from the encounter it takes to build meaningful relationships (outgoing introverts). This is a next-level understanding of temperament. Our accommodation of, and consideration for, all sorts of temperament can’t stop with one dimensional learning and understanding (opting introverts out of public speaking by default, or encouraging extroverts to plan social events for the department). Indeed, a one-dimensional understanding of any aspect of the human condition can be dangerous.

This can be helpful when determining fit for an organization, devising and implementing training and on boarding strategies, and finding ways to properly advise/supervise, evaluate, and recognize the people around us. As you find yourself in a position to take part in any or all of these activities with your students, supervisees, or even your supervisors and superiors, expand your scope to multiple dimensions.

pasta rice image
When I explained this at my latest talk, I explained the differences in degrees as varieties of the pasta/rice analogy I’ve used for some time- think of shy extroverts as parboiled rice (takes less time to finish), and outgoing extroverts as whole wheat pasta (can stay in the hot water longer) IMAGE CREDIT: Sue Caulfield

I am thrilled to see that so many are becoming aware of the true differences between introverts and extroverts. But wait…there’s more. I plan to challenge myself to explore the complexity of multiple dimensions and the people within them. Join me, won’t you?

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