The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World by Marti Olsen Laney (Workman, 2002)

This book was recommended by a friend, and while it did not suffer from "obligation + time pressure = irrational barrier syndrome," I did have to struggle through the first third of the book, which didn't say much that I found useful.  Perhaps if it had been my introduction to the introvert/extrovert distinction, I'd have felt differently.  But I found the author's approach overly psychotherapeutic—no doubt because she is, herself, a psychotherapist.  I also felt that her description of an introvert didn't fit me as well as others I have read, and I had a hard time getting over her use of the terms "innie" and "outie," as if introverts and extroverts were belly buttons.

However, the rest of the book is bristling with sticky note markers.  There's a section on parenting introverted/extroverted children that in itself makes borrowing the book from a library worthwhile.  My primary complaint is that I'd be afraid to let any of my extroverted friends read it.  Valuable as are some of its insights, I fear an extrovert would take from it the attitude, "See, I knew introverts were crazy, weak, inferior creatures." Despite the title, there's not a lot about why it's great to be/live with/work with an introvert; I was hoping for fewer tips on how to overcome my weaknesses and more on how to play to my strengths.   Nonetheless, there's a lot worth reading, especially if you're willing to skim over what doesn't apply.

My best take-away?  There are measurable, physical differences in the brain pathways used by introverts and extroverts.  While we can, and often should, train ourselves to function in our areas of weakness, it's important to realize that something an extrovert takes for granted—as easy, requiring no thought, something "every civilized person" does—may be counter-intuitive and extremely difficult for an introvert.  And vice versa.

Here's a taste—or maybe a full meal—of The Introvert Advantage.

Communication styles:

Introverts tend to:

  • Keep energy, enthusiasm, and excitement to themselves and share only with those they know very well. Hesitate before sharing personal information with others.
  • Need time to think before responding. Need time to reflect before reacting to outside events.
  • Prefer communicating one-to-one.
  • Need to be drawn out or invited to speak, and may prefer written to verbal communication.
  • May occasionally think they told you something they didn’t (they’re always going over things in their head).

Extroverts tend to:

  • Share their energy, excitement, and enthusiasm with almost anyone in the vicinity.
  • Respond quickly to questions and outward events.
  • Share personal information easily.
  • Communicate one to one or in groups with equal ease and enjoyment.
  • Think out loud, interacting with others, and, in the process, reach their conclusions. In addition they often don’t give others a chance to speak and don’t always attach tremendous meaning to what they say.
  • Prefer face-to-face, oral communication over written communication.


If your children are primarily introverts, they will probably:

  • Watch and listen before joining an activity.
  • Concentrate deeply on subjects of interest.
  • Enjoy time alone in their room, energized by introspection.
  • Speak after thinking things through.
  • Have a strong sense of personal space and dislike people sitting too close or coming into their room without knocking.
  • Be private and may need to be asked what they are thinking or feeling.
  • Need validation; may have irrational self-doubts.
  • Talk a lot if the topic is interesting, or if they are comfortable with the people.

If your children are primarily extroverts, they will probably:

  • Be gregarious and outgoing, except during normal developmental stages.
  • Be energized by interactions and activities.
  • Want to tell you all about their experiences and ideas immediately, covering lots of topics.
  • Think out loud. They’ll walk around the house saying, “Where’s my ball?” or “I’m looking for my walkie-talkie” as they hunt for these items. They need to talk in order to make decisions.
  • Prefer time with others rather than time alone.
  • Need lots of approval. For example, they need to hear what a good job they are doing or how much you like their gift.
  • Like variety and be easily distracted.
  • Often volunteer what they are thinking or feeling.

[Introverted children] think and feel more than they show to the outside world. Puzzling as it sounds, they often know more than they themselves think they know. If they are not helped to understand how their mind works, they can underestimate their own powerful potential.  Introverted children learn by taking in information and then needing quiet time to process it—to integrate all of what they observed, heard, and absorbed. When they finally have their thoughts formulated, they can take action or talk about their ideas and impressions. In fact, talking can help them understand how their mind operates. Interrupting causes them to lose their place, and they have to exert extra energy and concentration to retrieve their thoughts. … If introverted children don’t have time and physical space to shut out other stimulation, they can “zone out” and become unable to think.

Introverted kids often need help learning when and how to take a break. They don’t know they need one, aren’t familiar with taking one, or don’t want to leave the group. This is why it is so important for parents to know their child. They have to be sensitive enough to notice if their son or daughter is zoning out, getting crabby, or withdrawing.

Extroverted children need feedback. “Atta boy/atta girls” are important. A few words of positive reinforcement, and they are flying high. All children need to be mirrored, to have their personality reflected back to them, but this can be especially important for extroverted children; it helps them have more understanding of their behavior.  … Extroverted children are less self-reflective than introverted ones, and they need help to develop this capacity. It is important for them to understand that feelings are not the same as actions: they are internal states, and they can be thought about. I’m feeling nervous, why? Then they have a choice about what actions they decide to take. “I know you wanted a turn, but you waited for Sean to have one first. That was being a good friend.” … These comments can help children to become less impulsive and develop a capacity for reflection—to learn to think before acting.

Don’t get into an arguing match [with your child]. Many extroverted children are quite verbal and may be able to outtalk you. Stay calm and in charge. “I love you, but I didn’t like what you did.” Remind them we all need to think about our actions sometimes. Even Mom and Dad.

I had to include the following, not only because it says something important, but because the author chooses for her example the names of one of my favorite introvert/extrovert pairs.  :)

Most families have members all along the introvert/extrovert continuum.  It is quite common, however, for a family to have one spirited extrovert who takes up a lot of airtime, leaving little space for more introspective children.  If for any reason there is an imbalance in your family, it is crucial to protect introverted children from siblings who can dominate, squelch, or overshadow them.  At the dinner table make sure all the children have a turn to talk. Introverts feel uncomfortable about interrupting, so they may not join a family discussion.  If they know they are going to have a turn, they can have time to prepare their thoughts.  Help the facile talkers learn to wait for their slower-paced brother or sister.  Don’t let one sibling interrupt or talk for another.  It’s obvious that no child should be made fun of or humiliated for his or her communication style.  Notice if your introverted children tend to just go with the flow and, as a result, get overlooked.  Ask them what they think or feel about family activities.  “Was today a little busy for you?”  Teach your other children to include the introvert’s opinion.  “Jon, I know you want to go to the park—ask Heather what she thinks about that.”  Encourage the other siblings to wait if an introverted child takes longer to give his or her opinion.  “Heather needs a minute to think about that, Jon. Let’s see what she thinks.”  By respecting everyone in the family, all of your children will develop stronger interpersonal skills.

While introverts are in general reluctant to talk, that changes dramatically when the subject is something they have a particular interest in or knowledge about.  Now I know why I generally prefer for another person carry 75% of the conversational burden, but can't shut up on my favorite subjects.

Introverts can be energized by one-on-one conversations about subjects that interest them, and they are recharged (up to a point) by a complex discussion where each person considers the other’s opinion thoughtfully.

In the "I am not alone" department...

Most introverts hate name tags because they draw unwanted attention and increase their sense of exposure.

On the questionnaires I sent out to introverts asking about their experience of introversion, so many people mentioned phone phobia that I decided to include it as a separate section in this chapter.  Here’s how most introverts view the phone:   It’s an interruption that drains energy and requires losing internal focus, which you have to gain again; it requires expending energy for “on-the-feet thinking.”

Studies show that many introverts have trouble with face and name recognition.

Another introvert characteristic that's important to recognize and overcome, at least if one wants to advance at work or get past the "what do you do all day?" question:  introverts are lousy at self-promotion.

Why don’t innies disclose more or promote themselves? As I mentioned in an earlier chapter, introverts are territorial. They like their own protected space. One way they keep it private is by guarding what they show the world, thereby reducing outgoing energy and limiting what the world directs toward them. 

Another reason introverts may not share their knowledge is because often they don’t realize all they know. They take their rich emotional, intellectual, and imaginative life for granted. … 

At the same time, introverts often feel they don’t have to let other people in on what they are up to—at work, in particular—because, if they were the boss, they would notice how much time and effort they were putting in.  Innies don’t realize that extroverted people don’t pay attention to the same behaviors in the same way they do. Extroverts need to be told in more detail what introverts are doing at work because otherwise they may not think anything is happening.

The last reason innies don’t expose their internal selves is because they aren’t looking for outside approval. Though they want to be appreciated for their achievements, getting public attention can be painful and/or uncomfortable—like hearing fingernails scratch on a blackboard: squirmy and shrill. All of these factors can add up to innies appearing remote, uncooperative, or, in the worst-case scenario, expendable.

Because introverts tend to speak slowly, with long pauses, they can appear hesitant and uncertain of their opinion.  Actually, they give deep thought to their ideas.  And since they value meaning, they want to be precise and select just the right words to express them. But this can drive extroverts nuts. Spit it out, they think.

In addition, introverts are willing to consider the value in the other person’s opinion.  But what is actually openness can be misread as a lack of conviction in their own opinion.  As I mentioned earlier, innies often don’t bother to tell other people about their thinking process.  Predictably, this leads to lots of misunderstandings.

More communication tips:

Best bets for communicating with innies:

  • Talk about one topic at a time.
  • Ask, then listen.
  • Give each person adequate time for a response.
  • Don’t finish anyone’s sentences.
  • Communicate in writing, if possible.

Best bets for communicating with outies:

  • Communicate orally.
  • Let them talk and think out loud.
  • Include a variety of topics.
  • Expect immediate action.
  • Keep the conversation moving.
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, March 17, 2012 at 10:02 am | Edit
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According to her definitions I am a clear IntrovertExtrovert. Hopefully these tips will help me when I'm talking to myself. ;)

Posted by IrishOboe on Sunday, March 18, 2012 at 8:46 am

Agreed. I found her descriptions fuzzier than most. Maybe we can ditch labels altogether and simply acknowledge that people are different, that we need to take those differences into account, and that "different" is not a synonym for "flawed"?

Still, I do find some of her strategies helpful. For example, I've long known that what looks like bad behavior in a child is often better prevented by sleep than followed by punishment. But it never occurred to me that sometimes all a grumpy child needs to be restored to his happy, agreeable self is a break from the stimulation of interaction.

Posted by SursumCorda on Sunday, March 18, 2012 at 8:59 am

Thank you for posting the highlights. Wonderful reminders. I LOVE the way she describes phone calls: "an interruption that drains energy and requires losing internal focus, which you have to gain again; it requires expending energy for 'on-the-feet thinking.'" That's it! A phone call can (and often does) upset/throw off my entire day, and I've never before been able to pinpoint why.

Posted by Sarah on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 11:38 pm

Glad you liked it, Sarah. I'm totally with you on phone calls!

Posted by SursumCorda on Saturday, March 31, 2012 at 9:22 am

Introverts are very often misunderstood. People are very often surprised when I tell them that I am an intravert and so they expect me to ALWAYS be the life of the party when I would rather be alone. Extraverts find it hard to understand how intraverts can be "happy" like this but we really are and we do not want to change. Extraverts often think that we are rude,cold,anti-social,or stuck up, and they end up taking our lack of wanting to hang out with them personally. I always explain this aspect of myself to others so that they don't read me wrong. It seems to help in that when an intravert does not return the extraverts phone calls in a timely manner, or when they let the call go to the answering machine, it wont be taken so personally. The thing is that we do not want others to take our behavoiur personally. Just accept us for who we are. Thanks for your article.

Posted by Lisa Barrow on Tuesday, September 17, 2013 at 9:14 pm