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Tilting at Windmills

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February 19, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

INTROVERTS REVISITED....Speaking of Jon Rauch, the Atlantic emails to inform me that the most popular piece ever posted on their website is Rauch's 2003 essay called "Caring for Your Introvert." Today, in an interview about the response to that essay, Rauch expands on the difference between introversion and shyness:

I marvel at Michael [Rauch's extroverted partner] who can always somehow turn the conversation right over effortlessly and keep it going even when what he says is not necessarily profound or interesting. What he comes up with is perfectly tuned to the sense and flow of the conversation. But it's not words that are particularly intended to convey ideas or mean things. It's words that socialize that simply continue the conversation. It's chit-chat. I have no gift for that. I have to think about what to say next, and sometimes I can't think fast enough and end up saying something stupid. Or sometimes I just come up dry and the conversation kind of ends for while until I can think of another topic.

This is why it's work for me. It takes positive cognition on my part. I think that's probably a core introvert characteristic that you and I have in common and which can probably be distinguished from shyness per se that small talk takes conscious effort and is very hard work. There's nothing small about small talk if you're an introvert.

That sounds about right to me.

Kevin Drum 1:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (75)

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Comments

As an introvert, that's it exactly. I can talk quite well about topics that I find to be interesting: science, politics, religion, stuff like that. However, the small talk that people do to fill the day and pleasantly pass time is something I can't do. I have no gift for it at all. It is very, very hard work, and most of the time I and everybody else just end up frustrated because the conversation doesn't flow nicely. It's being driven everywhere by a drunk, careening wildly.

Sometimes I would happily give up my academic achievements and my perfect ACT score just to be able to engage in small talk without a monumental effort.

Posted by: MN Politics Guru on February 19, 2006 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

A very telling distinction worth noting here is, do the words flow easily when you're comfortable with the person you're talking to, or is it difficult to do so even when you're perfectly at ease?

If you don't have a problem maintaining long conversation when talking to family, say, then the problem is probably not cognitive, but emotional.

Posted by: frankly0 on February 19, 2006 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

Ah...Ah...Ahhhh

Nevermind.../to shy or introverted to comment.

Posted by: Tom Repici on February 19, 2006 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

I think there are different types of introversion, and that "lumping" doesn't totally clarify the situation.

I would classify myself as a "Diogenes cynic" type of introvert. A lot of social conventions just really aren't the effort.

And, MN Politics, learn some basic detachment from Zen instead and don't worry about it.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on February 19, 2006 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

My solution is just to say something humorous but possibly offensive. It works with the right kind of people. The kind that get offended easily I'm not going to get along with anyway.

Posted by: MillionthMonkey on February 19, 2006 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

I don't see what the problem is if you don't want to talk about things that don't interest you.

It's probably a great gift to be able to steer the conversations in directions that your are familiar with, but I do not see the point in trying to interject yourself in dialogs to which you nothing to contribute.

Posted by: lib on February 19, 2006 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

While undoubtedly some are naturally better at holding up a conversation than others, it's really a skill or habit that can be learned.

Many people will never learn Algebra, not because they lack the ability, but because they lack the affinity or the drive to learn it. It's the same with conversation.

And then there are Scandinavians. How can you tell when you're talking to a Finnish extrovert? He's staring at your shoes.

Posted by: Boronx on February 19, 2006 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

As I said above, I think often, maybe usually, the problem is really emotional: just enough anxiety creeps in when talking to people to freeze the free flow of thought.

But sometimes too, I think it's that extroverted people simply notice different things -- they really DO pay more attention to the weather than I do, they really DO care more about Aunt Lilly's amusing way of sipping her tea than I do, etc. Their world is constantly filled with stuff they can readily talk about, and mine isn't.

The point is, it's not just a issue of words per se.

And, like with most cognitive faculties, the ability to attend to these things is sometimes associated with the ability to think about deeper things, and sometimes not.

Posted by: frankly0 on February 19, 2006 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

learn some basic detachment from Zen instead and don't worry about it.

I'm all about the Zen. I'm on the fence as to whether it is helpful or harmful. Detachment isn't the greatest thing when you are trying to hold a conversation grounded in reality.

There is a problem if you can't talk about things that don't interest you. Job interviews, talking to strangers in public, making new friends, all those things are a lot easier if you are good a small talk. There are people who can go through life avoiding conversations that don't interest them. Those people do tend to be socially isolated, though. It's not always a pleasant situation to be introverted enough that things like small talk are difficult, but not so introverted that you can go without other people entirely.

Posted by: MN Politics Guru on February 19, 2006 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

I'm an introvert, but once I am comfortable with someone I'm fine.

I used to have melt downs during public speaking, but I've learned to get past it, mostly by simply not caring what people think about a slightly extended pause. When the crowd is larger than 300 I still have problems. I'm convinced that extroverts are use their entire intellect to engage an audience. Sort of funny that my way of coping is to ignore a big chunk of mine.

Posted by: toast on February 19, 2006 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

My solution is just to say something humorous but possibly offensive. It works with the right kind of people.

I find it very helpful to me, before I start a conversation with a group of people I don't know, to begin by saying to myself, "Who the fuck are you, that I should give a shit what you think?"

It works wonders.

And I find it especially helpful to make sure I don't say it out loud.

Posted by: frankly0 on February 19, 2006 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

Aww. Poor little baby introverted liberals get their feelings hurt?

That's the difference between your standard liberal and the regular folks. We can talk because that's what humans are supposed to do. There's something screwy in the liberal brain which stunts their social development.

Real men have shy people like you folks for breakfast.

Posted by: egbert on February 19, 2006 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

Mostly, I'm not a great chit-chatter; but, sometimes I notice that I'm really in the small-talk groove if I have a slight fever, or if I'm sleepy to the point of giddiness. Feels like something in the brain slows down and I get very focused on and interested in what the other person is saying. Who knows what's really happening in the brain.

Aside: What will happen to our current culture of lying to gain power when the functional MRI lie detectors really get good?

Posted by: ferd on February 19, 2006 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK


As a side comment, it's really quite annoying when people try to steer the conversation to things they want to talk about - I'm sure we all have a co-worker like that. ("that's true about free markets.. it's like my friend who used to be a drug addict..blah blah".. what??)


Posted by: Andy on February 19, 2006 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

Well, everyone's multi-faceted right? Small-talk is just a skill, it might or might not be "detached" or related to how the person does other things (for example, if a person small-talks by being polite, that might be something they do all the time, but if they small-talk by being enthusiastic, that may not really be the whole of their social identity). I'd also add that people who small-talk "well" are perfectly prone to feeling social anxiety while they're small talking (my mom, a good talker, has told me this).

Also, when someone says something like "I can't do small talk because it's the art of saying things that aren't very interesting", I think the person has already built a wall, or is showing that they've built a wall. It's not too far off from "I don't ride bikes because bikes are for losers." I bet it's a true reflection of how the person thinks about smalltalk, but the attitude it shows is part of the problem.

Finally, it is interesting to "research" the problem of shyness and introversion, but if this guy really wanted to get over the issue, I think doing research is just revving up his think-y side, which is probably the problem.

Someone said it's an emotional thing. I think that's true.

Posted by: mk on February 19, 2006 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

As a side comment, it's really quite annoying when people try to steer the conversation to things they want to talk about - I'm sure we all have a co-worker like that.

You know, I do wonder though about whether the ability to do that isn't often the real "gift", such as it is, behind a lot of supposed great conversationalists.

What I've noticed is that a great many of the people who seem to be regarded as great company have a wonderful way of steering conversation to topics of great interest to them, usually themselves.

Ever notice how with some people, no matter what you start out talking about, it ends up talking about their last exotic vacation, or their incredible, precocious children, or something else that contributes to their greater glory?

Some people are remarkably good at this, and obviously fully comfortable. And there's a bunch of people who, for reasons I'll never fully understand, are overawed by this sort.

Maybe it explains why egbert above thinks he's such a great extrovert. He barges in on a conversation about something else, and injects his stupid little point, and thinks he's fantastic in the process.

Posted by: frankly0 on February 19, 2006 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

That's the difference between your standard liberal and the regular folks. We can talk because that's what humans are supposed to do. There's something screwy in the liberal brain which stunts their social development. Real men have shy people like you folks for breakfast.

I don't think this is true at all. I never meet self-admitted conservatives or Bush supporters in person- I only see them on the Internet. And I meet plenty of people in person at my job and elsewhere. It's true that most people where I work are intelligent and have a college education, which introduces a heavy sample bias against "plain-spoken" conservatives, but in general I have to assume that your average conservative never leaves his mother's basement and restricts his social life to the Internet since that is the only arena where I find them.

Posted by: MillionthMonkey on February 19, 2006 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

egbert,

What does this topic have to do with liberals? There is no more correlation between being liberal and being introverted, as far as I know. I certainly know plenty of taciturn conservatives, and I certainly know my share of talkative liberals.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on February 19, 2006 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

This is why the Interne(s) are our friend. We can be different people in these clever chat rooms called blogs I'd rather have a tooth filled than make small talk.

Somewhat off-topic, did anyone see the article in the weekend Financial Times about blogging? Pretty much hit the nail on the head for me. Long story short - much ado about nothing. Most Americans can't be bothered to read even the local newspaper. And even though most Americans make some use of the web, most have never even heard of blogging. The revolution has been postponed indefinitely.

Posted by: Jeff II on February 19, 2006 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

> However, the small talk that people do to fill
> the day and pleasantly pass time is something I
> can't do. I have no gift for it at all.

"pleasantly pass" and "gift" are the way the extroverts try to characterize their behaviour, true. It all makes a lot of sense when you realize that the technical definition of an extrovert is a person who is UNhappy in his own skin (to use a phrase) and requires constant external stimulation from others to validate his existance. Introverts are people who are quite COMFORTABLE in their own skins and don't need that external validation

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on February 19, 2006 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

*sigh*

Posted by: The Heretik on February 19, 2006 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

consider how many performers are introverts--as a musician and introvert myself, i've met many. some people, i would say, are more comfortable being themselves in front of large groups of people than they are in less stressful social situations. just a thought.

Posted by: spraw on February 19, 2006 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not introverted. I'm a-positively extroverted.

I work hard at this.

Posted by: cld on February 19, 2006 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

Besides shyness, another thing that introversion can often be mistaken for is misanthropy. In reality, introverts usually like people just fine, it's just that being polite in company takes effort, while being alone or with comfortable silent companions is effortless. For the extrovert it's the other way around.

Posted by: derek on February 19, 2006 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

Jeff II, that implies that newspapers are much ado about nothing, too. Did the Financial Times consider this?

Few people read The Times when it was the Thunderer, but those were the people who could change the direction of politics. That they were a minority is a non-sequitur if the question was "were Times readers a politically-significant group?". Similarly, "hardly anyone reads blogs" is a non-sequitur of an answer if the question is "are blogs a politically-significant development?".

(Also, a print newspaper exhibiting this attitude reminds me of when the Postmaster General assured Parliament that the telephone was a useful invention for America, but not for Britain: "because we already have plenty of messenger boys")

Posted by: derek on February 19, 2006 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

Jeff II, that implies that newspapers are much ado about nothing, too. Did the Financial Times consider this? . . . (Also, a print newspaper exhibiting this attitude reminds me of when the Postmaster General assured Parliament that the telephone was a useful invention for America, but not for Britain: "because we already have plenty of messenger boys") Posted by: derek

The article acknowledged that newspaper readership is down as well. The point, which is undeniable, is that while the influence of print has declined dramatically, and was declining before the Internet was created, blogs, to date, are not replacing newspapers nor influential in the least. The NYT has greater daily circulation in NYC alone than hits received daily on the most popular blog by a factor of about ten. The same is true for the WaPo and LAT.

Blogs may have come to replace print for political junkies and their fellow travellers, but this is such a minority of the population that it really doesn't amount to any influence within the population at large. It's just the same incestuous group communicating in a different manner.

Posted by: Jeff II on February 19, 2006 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

Being a good conversationalist is a skill that can be learned even by the most introverted of people. It gets easier once one gains the insight, on a gut level, not just as a concept, that a substantial majority of people one encounters, in just about any social setting, love to talk about themselves. There may be some resistance at first, but if one asks some gentle, seemingly innocuous, open-ended, questions, and REALLY LISTENS to the answers (a lot of poor conversationalists and salespeople who wrongly think of themsleves as skilled fail in precisely this area), most people will reveal what stimulates them. Once this is known, conversations with people who were complete strangers ony a few minutes prior are quite easy.

Of course, it helps if one is really curious about other people; how they perceive the world, and what makes them tick. Also, one will have to put up with the occasional boor who just won't shut up about himself or herself, but if one really desires to become skilled at conversation, for either personal or professional reasons (and it really can be a boon professionally), this is a small price to pay.

Posted by: Will Allen on February 19, 2006 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

a substantial majority of people one encounters, in just about any social setting, love to talk about themselves.

Well, I'd be a pretty clear case of the opposite. If I have to talk about myself, I just clam up.

I don't particularly like to go on about myself, and I suspect the motives of people who want me to -- are they just prying into things they shouldn't need to know about?

And, no, I'm NOT paranoid.

Who's saying that I am?

Posted by: frankly0 on February 19, 2006 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK

Well, here's a weird possibly-Freudian slip on someone's part, from Rauch in that interview:

[Introverts] love peoplewe're not misogynistic for the most part. We just can't socialize with them all the time.

(And doubly-odd as a slip from a gay man.)

Posted by: DonBoy on February 19, 2006 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

It gets easier once one gains the insight... that a substantial majority of people one encounters, in just about any social setting, love to talk about themselves.

That's quite true, and as someone who probably qualifies as introverted (although I no longer think of myself as such), I put this into practice all the time, with great results. Over time I've even managed to finagle this type of approach in such a way as to steer discussion with unfamiliar people into areas that I am interested in.

It's not always successful, and yes I do sometimes get stuck in terribly one-sided "conversations" with the self-absorbed, but I get enough reciprocation over time to make the effort worthwhile.

Posted by: Irony Man on February 19, 2006 at 4:42 PM | PERMALINK

For me, as an introvert (married to an extrovert) if revealing intimate details is required in small talk, I'm afraid I'll pass. I guess I feel that by doing that it exposes my vulnerablities, which isn't really paranoia, simply a kind of self preservation. Why I would feel threatened if others know of my intimate details? I don't know; I guess it's kinda like being nekkid in public. It just feels uncomfortable. As for my extrovert husband---he loves talking about himself. I don't say that in a bad way ;)

Posted by: Babba on February 19, 2006 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, and egbert, there are plenty of shy conservatives. (Do real men eat them too?)

I know this from my book club - there are several of them, but they never spoke up until some of the liberals among us practically begged them to talk. You don't hear from these more thoughtful, earnest albeit misguided folks these days because they are drowned out by the cacophony of far rightwing loud-mouthed jerks.

Posted by: Irony Man on February 19, 2006 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

Babba, if you don't want to talk about yourself, the best way to avoid it is to get other people to talk about what interests them (often themselves) , in an innocuous manner. I've found that even people who consider themselves introverts will often not stop talking if one can find out what grabs their attention. Many people who consider themselves poor conversationalists only need to practice being better or more nuanced listeners.

Posted by: Will Allen on February 19, 2006 at 5:24 PM | PERMALINK

To those of us for whom direct eye-to-eye contact causes intense psychic pain: Beer.

--
HRlaughed

Posted by: HRlaughed on February 19, 2006 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

Will Allen, actually, my work requires that I engage people in some kind of conversation. And you're right, if you get someone to talk about themselves then the conversation comes pretty easily. But, in an extended conversation it seems that eventually you have to talk about yourself. I guess that's why people consider me to be pretty darned aloof.

Posted by: Babba on February 19, 2006 at 5:47 PM | PERMALINK

Will Allen, you're describing a method for avoiding two-way conversation, one used with great success by many an introvert, which gets them a reputation as a "good listener". It's not a skill introverts lack, for the most part, in the same way that deaf people often wind up with fine self-taught lip-reading skills.

Posted by: derek on February 19, 2006 at 6:05 PM | PERMALINK

hey kevin,

great to see you again last night at the socal bloggers social! always a good time!

Posted by: skippy on February 19, 2006 at 6:20 PM | PERMALINK

Well, I was referring to those introverts who say they have difficulty with making small talk or having conversations in a purely social setting, as was posted...

"It's words that socialize that simply continue the conversation. It's chit-chat. I have no gift for that. I have to think about what to say next, and sometimes I can't think fast enough and end up saying something stupid. Or sometimes I just come up dry and the conversation kind of ends for while until I can think of another topic."

The people who are finding this to be such hard work, as the writer does, would find it less so if they could inconspicuously manage to have the other party do most of the talking. One of the best ways to do this is to listen well, and endeavor to be genuinely interested in what they have to say. Now, if the reason one is introverted is because one rarely finds aspects of other people's lives to be interesting, that's going to be a difficult hurdle to cross, but I don't think that applies to most introverts.

Posted by: Will Allen on February 19, 2006 at 6:36 PM | PERMALINK

egbert,
why is it that you tough talking conservatives are such meek wussies in real life? You think that somehow your closed minded idiocy makes you a somehow tougher. I'm a liberal and proud of it but I'm also a bad ass ex professional rugby player. The day anyone like you can eat me for lunch, in any venue, will never come.

Posted by: travis on February 19, 2006 at 6:43 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't part of it, to be honest that alot of introverts (well myself for one), genuinely don't give a shit about the things discussed in small talk. I could give a rat's ass about some stranger's child giving a band recital last night, and playing this cute little solo.

It doesn't interest me in the least bit, and it's the faking part that is difficult. If there is some emotional attachment to the individual, then I care. Simple as that. It appears to me that extroverts are basically liars. They crave human attention constantly, so they pretend that they give a damn about what some stranger ate for breakfast last tuesday. They obviously don't right? Or maybe the introvert in me is missing the excitement of hearing about toast and bacon.

Posted by: trifecta on February 19, 2006 at 6:49 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, trifecta, people who are different from you are deceitful and emotionally needy.

Posted by: Will Allen on February 19, 2006 at 6:52 PM | PERMALINK

But, I'm sure if you did a statistical study, you would find that conservatives were extroverts (proud, confident, savvy) while the lefties were introverts (mealy-mouthed, over-analytical, obsequious.)

Posted by: egbert on February 19, 2006 at 6:59 PM | PERMALINK

I was wondering what had happened to Egbert. Back before the Atlantic boards went subscriber-only he had a healthy little niche as our resident angry troll.

He's an act based on the WC Fields character of the same name. It's a testament to his skill that some folks knew that and he'd drive them batty anyhow.

Posted by: Tim F on February 19, 2006 at 6:59 PM | PERMALINK

As an introvert who's learned to socially engage with others I am terminally impatient with introverts whining about how hard it is to make inconsequential chit-chat ('minds me of GW's "it's HAARD WORK"). Duh! Yeah! If I can do it, anyone can(small talk for dummies: be kind, ask questions, feign interest). Get over it, for cod's sake!

Posted by: ExBrit on February 19, 2006 at 7:36 PM | PERMALINK

What about the other three letters in the Myer Briggs system?

I am guessing Kevin Drum is either an INTJ or an INTP

Possibly, but I doubt it, an ISTJ or an ISTP

I don't think he is an F as opposed to a T.

Posted by: Mark on February 19, 2006 at 7:36 PM | PERMALINK
But, I'm sure if you did a statistical study, you would find that conservatives were extroverts (proud, confident, savvy) while the lefties were introverts (mealy-mouthed, over-analytical, obsequious.)

Nah, wrong letters. Bill Clinton was almost certainly an E instead of an I. I think he would be an ENTP. It might be true that conservatives are more likely to be S and liberals N, but that is the second letter in the system. Bush is probably an ESFJ.

Posted by: Mark on February 19, 2006 at 7:46 PM | PERMALINK

The people who are finding this to be such hard work, as the writer does, would find it less so if they could inconspicuously manage to have the other party do most of the talking.

This whole line of analysis makes me suspect that the problem for those of us who have it is so alien an experience for you small-talk-capable folks that we're just talking past each other here.

Because yes, of course some aspects are easier if you can make the other person do most of the talking, because there are fewer places in the conversation where you have to say something appropriate and meaningless, and think of the words, and stuff. But it's still difficult, and unless you've managed to move the conversation to a place beyond social chit-chat, listening to the other person is pretty agonizing too. They're yammering on about stuff that nobody really cares about, because it's all about the meta-message: I'm a member of your tribe! I recognize that you're a member of my tribe!

It's horrible. Even when you like the other person and care about his or her life, it's horrible. It requires an infinite amount of attention and focus upon something maddeningly boring, all the while knowing you're doing it badly. It's not social anxiety: it's pure cognitive misery.

Posted by: Fiorinda on February 19, 2006 at 8:15 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, for goodness sakes, can the melodrama. An "infinite amount of attention and focus"? It's "horrible"? Like ex-Brit above, I'm very introverted myself, but figured out pretty early that life would be easier if I became proficient in this skill, so I worked at becoming competent, and over time I did. Now it hardly takes much effort at all.

Posted by: Will Allen on February 19, 2006 at 8:35 PM | PERMALINK

"I'm sure if you did a statistical study, you would find that conservatives were extroverts (proud, confident, savvy)..."

Boy, is that assumption ever less than anecdotal! I guess that's why they are so very frightened by everything that smacks of sexuality or free-thinking, and why empirical evidence must be suppressed at all cost. Projection isn't just for cinemas anymore. On the other hand, the Bushies are radical, trough-feeding nutballs, not conservatives, so the whole discussion is moot.

Posted by: Kenji on February 19, 2006 at 8:58 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know how anyone gets through the parenting experience without picking up some skills in eliciting needed information and making another person feel better about themselves. Small talkwhere the other person feels he/she is the focusis how it's done and introverts can do it. It's an exceedingly valuable skill.

I have very little patience with those who claim that that even taking a few seconds to interact with another human is too hard. Sure it may be boring at times, but you'll never know until you try it. And exactly what's wrong with taking a little time to make a fellow being feel a little better?

BTW, for men (and women, too, for that matter): Used to be that some skill in this area might enhance one's chances of having company for breakfast. I've been out of the game for some time. Has it changed that much?

Posted by: Nixon Did It on February 19, 2006 at 9:34 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with Nixon. (Haven't used that phrase very often in my lifetime.) The ability to chit-chat is not just a social-advancement skill developed by extroverts to gain advantage or put others at ease. Small talk is big because it shows that you are willing and able to take the time to gauge other people and play with them to find out what their interests are and what you might have in common.

That's why some folks take it as a sign of disrespect when you are "all business" with them. It's around the margins where friendships are formed, and those willing to linger there will generally form more lasting relationships. I'm sorry, what were you saying?

Posted by: Kenji on February 19, 2006 at 9:48 PM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: David on February 19, 2006 at 10:02 PM | PERMALINK

In the link it mentions:

What is introversion? In its modern sense, the concept goes back to the 1920s and the psychologist Carl Jung. Today it is a mainstay of personality tests, including the widely used Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is actually a lot more complicated than just Introvert(I) verse Extrovert(E), although those make up the first letter in the type.

The third letter in the type is Thinking(T) verse Feeling(F). Those who value thinking over feeling come out T, otherwise they come out F.

The fourth letter in the type is Judging(J) verse Perceiving(P). This one is a little complicated, but J's tend to like to make decisions and consider the issue closed while P's tend to like to keep thinking about and reconsidering an issue before having to make a decision. Bill Clinton is almost certainly a P while Bush and Reagan are almost certainly J's.

The second, possibly the most complicated one, in the type is Intuition(N) verse Sensing(S). N's tend to think more in abstractions and S's tend to think in terms of what they sense. Generally S's are more traditional than N's. Bill Clinton is almost certainly an N while Bush is almost certainly an S.

Combining all these things together, not only do you get introverts and extroverts, but also you get eight types of introverts and eight types of extroverts. As I said earlier, it's more complicated than just introvert verse extrovert.

From my observations, xNFx is fairly rare and tends to be liberal, often the bleeding heart variety. xSxJ is reasonably common and are almost always conservative and traditionalist. xNTx is fairly rare and usually middle of the road, but with the Bush administration, they are probably becoming Democrats by the day. Most scientists and a sizable fraction of engineers tend to be xNTx. xSxP is fairly common and tends to be all over the map. xSxP is usually the swing voter of the four groups in this paragraph.

Posted by: Mark on February 19, 2006 at 10:06 PM | PERMALINK

Can't that thread-hijacking spam crap be deleted somehow?

Posted by: jprichva on February 20, 2006 at 12:48 AM | PERMALINK

i used to be shy, but now i'm an introvert.

o.k., what about the kind of conversation you have with someone who seems to have some kind of sense, but for some reason is utterly convinced of some theory that is as outlandish as 'the moon is made of green cheese' but is hard to disprove with the materials at hand? after a while, i must become pretty severely introverted, because all i am able to say is an occasional 'mm' or 'uh huh.'

but, for when times are truly desperate, i have a solution, just because that's the kind of guy i am. when the extrovert pauses to take a breath (it must happen sometime), interject 'how do you think the knicks will do this year?' if you don't live in the nyc media area, people will think you're nuts, and if you do, surely the people you talking to will have an opinion. either way, it's bound to shift the conversation.

your pal,
blake

Posted by: blake on February 20, 2006 at 1:07 AM | PERMALINK

Clearly, egbert has decided to subscribe to the doctrine that "the personal is political."

Posted by: Constantine on February 20, 2006 at 2:11 AM | PERMALINK

Can't that thread-hijacking spam crap be deleted somehow?

Huh. And I thought that David was just sharing his chit-chat thoughts in Chinese.

Posted by: Irony Man on February 20, 2006 at 2:32 AM | PERMALINK

Okay, let's try an analogy here. Temple Grandin has spoken and written about the experience of some people on the autism spectrum who cannot endure certain triggering sights or sounds. The triggers are different from person to person, and they may be things as ordinary as, say, the sound of the bell a school uses.

For many years -- in fact, pretty much up to the past few -- these people's complete inability to cope with things like the sound of that bell were met with precisely the reaction I'm hearing from all you oh-get-over-it folks about small talk. "What's the big deal? Accomodate other people a little! Stop being so melodramatic! I can listen to that bell, and I'm very sensitive about noises; if I can do it you obviously can! You're just being selfish and exaggerating!"

And all I can really say is, gentlemen, you might want to consider that the way things are for you is not the way things are for everyone. Not everybody can learn to do anything with a little practice, just because you can.

I stand by the melodrama. Chitchat is harder than drawing a good portrait, harder than higher mathematics, harder than rocket science. Not to mention, so boring it hurts. For some of us, at least.

Posted by: Fiorinda on February 20, 2006 at 2:45 AM | PERMALINK

Fiorinda:

Have you considered (and I'm not being facetious or snarky) that you may have Asperger's Syndrome -- a form of "functional" autism?

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on February 20, 2006 at 4:59 AM | PERMALINK

Another really interesting thread ...

Amazing how so many people commenting here are self-described introverts. I'm sure some of that has to do with the self-selecting nature of the thread, but dollars to donuts people who like to blog tend more often than not (egbert excluded) to be introverts ...

One thing that helps my own introversion is being possessed with a good deal of empathy. I'm genuinely interested in how other people think. I want to understand how Osama bin Laden sees the world. I want to understand how Republicans -- even Bush -- see the world. Less than half of me gives up and launches into the usual kind of blunderbuss snark attacks on people/things we dislike/think are wrong and twists them up into hideous caracature. But most of me really *does* reject the kind of demonization that goes on here and would like to know what's really in the minds of our opponents. I'd venture that they're not monsters, but rather just as much caught up in webs of circumstance and environment as anyone else, including ourselves.

But I identify too strongly with my liberal confreres to take them to task often about this. The snark attacks can be quite amusing in their own right, anyway :)

It's so funny, but today I spent multiple hours with a neighbor and casual friend I hadn't seen in a while. A former salesman and self-described extrovert, he was his usual motormouth self while I made lunch and cleaned the kitchen. After awhile, the conversation fell into its usual pattern, with me going "uh huh ... uh huh ... no Dave, I think you're right about that" etc. as I provided the validation he so constantly craves. I don't begrudge it; people are people and he's not a bad guy. Plus, it got my ass out of blogging and I accomplished something useful instead :)

I volunteer and do professional work in political campaigns as often as I can, and I've done more than my share of canvassing. It's really against type (I'm a killer salesman; it just turns my soul to smouldering cat fur when I do it professionally), and while canvassing doesn't count as "making casual conversation" (it's all about focus and *controlling* the conversation), it helps to have social skills to put people at ease. Associating with fellow canvassers (extroverts for the most part) is very, very annoying for me, though. Brainless conversations with people you at least marginally care about -- or have a purpose (like canvassing itself) is one thing. Chicken-shit conversation with extroverts who aren't deep thinkers about politics even though they do the work alongside you, is excrutiating.

Gimme a troll to thawck any day.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on February 20, 2006 at 5:28 AM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: seeeidee on February 20, 2006 at 6:07 AM | PERMALINK

very cool. It seems Rauch is soliciting comments and feedback. There is an email address listed in the interview.

From the interview:
http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200602u/introvert-letters

"WEIGH IN: In looking for a mate, are introverts better off pairing up with extroverts or with fellow introverts? Share your thoughts by email to introversy@theatlantic.com. Selected responses will be displayed

Posted by: paul webster on February 20, 2006 at 8:57 AM | PERMALINK

I'm INTJ and anybody who calls me 'middle of the road' is just begging to be described as an enchilada short of a combo platter.

I guess we could do a class project. Take the Briggs/Meyers then trot over to politicalcompass.org for a read on political orientation.

Look for a correlation.

I'll wait here.

"Hell is other people." Jean Paul Sartre

Posted by: CFShep on February 20, 2006 at 10:11 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, Fiorinda, it is possible that your are an extraordinarily extreme outlier, in terms of the pain you feel in the presence of other people, and are thus unable to modify your behavior. It is also possible that you have been insufficiently motivated to change. To analogize, I've also been in a couple extrarodinary situations in which obtaining the calories required to ensure survival was very, very difficult. I've found that people who say that absolutely cannot eat a certain type of food, because it is just too revolting, just aren't hungry enough. Their position evolves eventually.

Luckily, we live in a society in which people can behave and react in a myriad of different ways, on a broad spectrum of behavior, and still lead productive, comfortable lives. This is a good thing, and I wouldn't change it for the world.

Posted by: Will Allen on February 20, 2006 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

Me... I'm introverted to the core. Diarrhea of the mouth... no thanks!

Posted by: tripoley on February 20, 2006 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

Man, this definitely describes me. On a particular topic of interest---say, what I think of the NSA wiretapping or Plan D---I can go on forever; but once I'm out of things to say, I have no idea how to keep a conversation going.

Posted by: Ben Bartlett on February 20, 2006 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

The definition that made sense to me is that introverts get energy by being alone and extroverts get energy by being with people.

That introverts can be just as socially skilled as extroverts, but it drains them of energy.

It made sense to me. I'm an introvert and the oldest of 8 kids. So I really had to work to be alone (hiding down by the creek to read under a tree or something) and I was tired all the time.

But, my sister - an extrovert - thrived, she always wanted to have a huge family herself.

Our family has only gotten larger and it turned out I had a career in public service that required talking to a hundred people a day. I love my family and I loved my job -- and I love to talk too. But, everynight I'd come home and take a nap from the exhaustion of it all.

Maybe my experience is weird -- but as a result of it, I've never seen a direct connection between shyness and introversion.

Posted by: katiebird on February 20, 2006 at 11:25 AM | PERMALINK

I want to echo the point, I believe made above, that extroversion doesn't necessarily mean outgoing and/or socially adept, but more that being around people is better for you in some way.

I consider myself somewhat of a shy extrovert. I enjoy being around people; but I'm not particular comfortable in social situations where I don't know a lot of people. It usually takes me a little while to know somebody before I actually get the extrovert benefit from being around them. Otherwise, I just nervous and uncomfortable.

Anyway, just wanted to throw that out there.

Posted by: Kenneth on February 20, 2006 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

It seems that almost all the people here (except for the Chinese-spam guy) are describing behaviour that falls within the bounds of 'normal', and that many are searching for labels to explain things as better or worse than they are. Lots of people are bored by boring conversation, by the way -- not just introverts, as the example so often cited. But the expectations associated with social interaction do tend to be somewhat telling about your core personality.

Posted by: Kenji on February 20, 2006 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

Frankly O states:

"What I've noticed is that a great many of the people who seem to be regarded as great company have a wonderful way of steering conversation to topics of great interest to them, usually themselves."

Wrong, Frank. People who are considered great conversationalists and great company steer the conversation towards topics that are of interest to you. A great conversationalist can generally discuss anything, and talking about your interests brings you out, thus you have a conversation. People who constantly talk about only their own interests are boors and are engaged in a monologue.

Posted by: why that's fascinating...tell me more on February 20, 2006 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

Well put! Now, as I was saying...

Posted by: Kenji on February 20, 2006 at 10:53 PM | PERMALINK

The Meyers/Briggs is an interesting typologgy scheme (INFP here -- or so I estimate; I could be wrong), but I prefer the enneagram 9-type circular typology, myself. It's an entirely Westernized concept but it was derived from Gurjieff and Sufi mysticism.

I'm a 4 wing 5 for dead-ass certain.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on February 21, 2006 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

And the tune "Enneagram" by the legendary mid-70s British progrock keyboard trio, EGG, is pretty damned flabbergasting -- not to put too fine a point on it or anything :)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on February 21, 2006 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

Will Allen wrote:

"Babba, if you don't want to talk about yourself, the best way to avoid it is to get other people to talk about what interests them (often themselves) , in an innocuous manner. I've found that even people who consider themselves introverts will often not stop talking if one can find out what grabs their attention. "

For once, I agree with Will. Most people want to talk about themselves, so all you have to do is to is to find out what turns their crank. Then all the mental effort needed to continue the conversation is an occasional question here and there, coupled with a few emphatic "uh-huhs" while the other person yaks away, while one's valuable neurotransmitters are reserved for more worthwhile activities than small talk.

I used to be involved in a professional engineering society, and man, if you can get engineers to make small talk, anything else is easy.

Posted by: Urinated State of America on February 21, 2006 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

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