Drawing on the introvert’s experience

Want to know what it’s like to live inside an introvert’s head? Liz Fosslien and Mollie West have drawn you some pictures.

At first glance I thought Fosslien and West were oversimplifying things. (Sounds like the introvert in me, doesn’t it? Saying that things aren’t as simple as they seem.) But before long the drawings had grown on me.

Here’s the first one. It’s the first thing you’ll see – before you see any text at all – when you pull up the article.


At first I didn’t like this at all. I took it to mean that, as an introvert, I’m an undisciplined thinker.

But if I’m honest, I have to admit it works like this. When I see and hear things, they run through a gauntlet of filters — connecting with memories, bouncing off feelings, coalescing into plans — before emerging as thoughts. It means that I might not always be quick to reply. But my reply, when it comes, will likely take into account all of the relevant factors.

Does it mean that the introvert’s way is better?

Well, no. On my team I want introverts, who ponder things and consider the nuances before coming to a conclusion. But I also want extroverts who know just what to say when the Executive VP is on the phone demanding an immediate answer.

Here’s another one.

introextro_stimuli_5Introverts, say Fosslien and West, take in everything around them. I know that’s true.

If I’m talking with you, I’m listening to what you say. But I’m also noticing the mood in the room, the people going by in the hallway, the weather outside. Then I fold all of that into the internal dialog in which I’m calling up memories, feelings, and plans.

To someone outside the introvert’s head, all of that can make it seem like the introvert is inattentive and distant.

Often when listening to someone, I’ll use that internal dialog to apply fresh insights into the topic at hand, and then I’ll wait for my turn to express those insights—only to have the conversation change course and find that my turn doesn’t come. The insight, if I gave voice to it, would be off-topic. If it’s really important I might say “Remember 5 minutes ago when we were talking about….” But usually I don’t bother.

So, no, I’m not just sitting there without a thought in my head. But I guess I have to ask you to take my word for that.

Check out all six of Fosslien and West’s drawings. Then tell me what you think.

If you identify as an introvert, do you think Fosslien and West have portrayed you truthfully?

If you identify as an extrovert, same question.

More broadly, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how introverts and extroverts can better understand each other and work together effectively.

5 thoughts on “Drawing on the introvert’s experience

  1. Susan Carpenter

    I’m very much the introvert, and five of the drawings captured my experience perfectly. I’m on the fence about the jack-in-the-box cartoon. I like most surprises and cope pretty well with ambiguity, mainly because I don’t hesitate to lend my own structure to an otherwise chaotic situation. If I’m not satisfied with a situation, it’s because the situation is still not stable enough to allow me to crawl back into my head 😉

    Regarding introverts and extroverts working together, a lot could be said about good old-fashioned tolerance. As adult professionals, we deal with people every day who have a different world view than we do. In this case, that difference is brain-deep. Respect it.

    1. Larry Kunz Post author

      Thanks, Susan. Your experience points up the importance of not making generalizations about ourselves and about others — of not pigeonholing. You say that you’re “very much the introvert,” yet you like surprises. We all exhibit intro/extrovert tendencies in different proportions, and we’re all unique. As you say, we should respect our differences and learn to blend them together for the best effect.

  2. Colum McAndrew

    Something I can appreciate as an introvert is not looking someone directly in the eyes. Subconsciously I tend to look at the bridge of the nose. Well I wouldn’t want to miss something else happening elsewhere, would I? 🙂

  3. Jeff Coatsworth

    Loved this book when it appeared – Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain – explained so much.

  4. Pingback: Finding your own community and security | Leading Technical Communication

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