Most of us can be introvert-ish, at least sometimes. In a recent survey by Student Health 101, 32 percent of students who responded identified as full-on introverts, and an additional 50 percent said they can feel introverted, depending on the context. Many of us have a mix of extrovert and introvert traits—the technical term is ambivert—according to psychologists. “I’m a part of both worlds. I’m a homebody who likes having a few close friends I can trust, but I get along with everyone,” says Lidia, in Wichita Falls, Texas.
“Introversion is different from being shy. Shyness is about fear of social judgment. Introversion is more about how you respond to stimulation, including social stimulation,” says Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking in her TED Talk. “Extroverts really crave large amounts of stimulation, whereas introverts feel at their most alive, their most switched-on, and their most capable when they’re in quieter, more low-key environments. So the key then to maximizing our talents is for us all to put ourselves in the zone of stimulation that is right for us.”
Check out how to maximize your innate introvert qualities in these common scenarios below.
1. Someone says “You’re so quiet”
✸ Introvert advantage?
Thoughtfulness. You tend to think before you speak. It’s rare that you’ll say something without considering how it will come across.
“It may seem like [introverts] are being antisocial, but trust me, they aren’t. Never make comments like ‘Wow, you’re really quiet’ or ‘You need to get more involved.’ Politely ask them if they want to join in—they will be ecstatic you asked—but don’t force them.”
—Name withheld, first-year undergraduate, Kutztown, Pennsylvania
What to say if someone tells you “you’re so quiet”
- Take your time thinking about your response. You’re on trend: Mindfulness is in.
- Say: “I’m paying attention. There isn’t someone in the world that I can’t learn something from.”
“The ‘fake it till you make it’ mantra can actually be more helpful than most people might think.”
—Tyler M., fifth-year undergraduate, Indiana University Southeast
“My best strategy for situations outside my comfort zone is to participate in them; overcoming my fear of riding a roller coaster, trying different foods, things of that nature. If it’s something that I know [might] cause physical harm to me or others, such as smoking or drinking, I won’t participate, even if I see a lot of people doing it at a party or event.”
—Vera G., second-year undergraduate, Wayne State University, Michigan
2. There’s no escaping the group project
✸ Introvert advantage?
Creativity. You can come up with good ideas when you’re able to focus on your own and then bring them to the group once you’re ready. In a recent CampusWell survey, 40 percent of extroverts said they admire introverts for their independence and focus.
“Ask someone to please explain their view rather than jumping right in with a counterargument. Take three deep breaths with each exhale longer than the last. That turns my anxiety into courage.”
—Jennifer S., recent graduate, Collin County Community College, Texas
Tips for surviving group projects
- Brainstorm solo before meeting up with the group.
- Write out thoughts that are difficult to present in person, and send your group an outline.
- You’re good at thoughtful feedback. Starting with a compliment validates your peers’ work and makes them more open when you then state a need.
- Set parameters (e.g., meet in the library room or someone’s house for whatever duration you can tolerate). Let everyone know you will need to leave at a specific time for your next obligation.
- Offer to present the part you are most passionate about and use your prep powers to nail it in front of the class.
“If I weren’t visually impaired, I would be an extrovert. I hate group projects; I’ve learned to deal with them, though. I always have to explain myself to the group. People think I am dead weight, but I’m usually the one to pull the group together and the one who does the most work.”
—Caitlin W., fourth-year undergraduate, Northern Illinois University
“After a meeting or event, I would maybe approach the leadership [or team] about ways that we could make the situation more inclusive of introverted personalities. I find that most people are usually understanding of this and make appropriate changes.”
—Tyler F., fourth-year undergraduate, Tulane University, Louisiana
3. You’re attending a crowded college fair
✸ Introvert advantage?
Self-monitoring. You may be skilled at paying attention to your environment and adapting your behavior to fit the situation.
“I seem to have a talent for understanding people’s ways, viewpoints, and lifestyles even if they are not similar to mine. I know how to meet people in the middle rather than sticking to the comforting norm for me.”
—Kendra B., third-year undergraduate, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
When attending a crowded job fair
- Think of this as “human connection,” an opportunity to talk to someone who represents the companies you’re interested in.
- Ahead of time, identify two or three key organizations you want to connect with. At the event, ask questions that you’ve prepared beforehand. Make notes and follow up by email, thanking them for their time.
- Use your listening skills, ask insightful questions, and absorb the vision and interests of the person you’re talking to.
“I have a list of go-to questions to get other people talking about themselves.”
—Chris L., fourth-year graduate student, University of Wisconsin-Madison
“If it’s a meeting with a new employer, I give myself a pep talk and make a strategy, and I set small sequential goals in order to get through it without hitches.”
—Jessica S, second-year student, John Tyler Community College, Virginia
4. You’re feeling the pressure to go out with friends
✸ Introvert advantage?
Valuing strong connections. You’d rather have a few close friends than 100 acquaintances or 1,000 followers.
“I try to focus on what I can add to the situation and the needs of those around me. I do things like pick up trash, refill drinks, and be the good listener that someone might need. That usually eases the discomfort and I do not have to talk as much.”
—Rachel B., graduate student, University of Kansas
When you’re feeling the pressure to go out with friends
- Plan to go for a limited time or offer to ride with/take someone who also wants to leave early or who has plans after.
- Watch a funny video clip or TV show before you leave home so you’re more relaxed when you get there.
- Offer to hang out one-on-one (e.g., “Let’s go to the movies together instead”).
- Let your friends know that you enjoy spending time with them in doses, you appreciate the invite, and you unwind in your own way.
- The old standby: “I have plans.” (A Netflix binge by yourself.)
“When in doubt with an introvert, approach them first. Maybe they want to talk with you but aren’t sure how to engage.”
—Murphy M., fifth-year undergraduate, Northern Illinois University
“Bringing along an item I can busy my brain with, such as crossword puzzles or a Rubik’s Cube, helps put me back into a world where I’m comfortable.”
—Cameron S., third-year undergraduate, Utah State University
5. It’s your turn to present in class
✸ Introvert advantage?
Concentration and hyper-focus. Your slides will be awesome, and you’re likely to practice your presentation instead of winging it.
“I challenge myself to find something to enjoy in the situation or focus on being really good at a small aspect [of it].”
—Kelly H., fourth-year undergraduate, University of Wisconsin-Madison
When you have to give a class presentation
- To launch confidently into the project, talk through the requirements privately with the instructor.
- Practice alone or with one other person.
- Arrive ahead of time. Make sure your slides are working smoothly, and practice standing comfortably in front of your soon-to-be audience.
- Step out from behind the podium and your notes. Use note cards only for key words to jog your memory.
- Look above people’s eyes instead of directly at their eyes. Then, when you’re ready, ease into eye contact.
“[I practice] mental meditation, pre-event. Sort of storing up energy.”
—Ryan C., second-year undergraduate, Red Rocks Community College, Colorado
“I rehearse what I’m going to say. Then [when talking publicly] I pretend that I’m alone.”
—Alex C.*, third-year undergraduate, University of California, Los Angeles
“Giving a class presentation might be a time when you should plan time for yourself after.”
—Kristina M., third-year undergraduate, University of New Mexico
6. The campus environment is way too stimulating
✸ Introvert advantage?
Listening one-on-one. When you find someone who’s worth it (a friend, a professor), you’ll pay close attention to what they’re saying and give a thoughtful response.
“As a leader on my campus I am very enthusiastic and inviting, and sometimes introverts are frightened by that. So I need to remember to take it a notch down and get to know them. Instead of getting them to do what I’m doing, I plan events targeted to their interests.”
—Michael S., third-year undergraduate, Oregon Institute of Technology
When the campus environment feels way too stimulating
- Use headphones and books to signal that you’re not available for chitchat.
- Target several quiet nooks on campus for working, reading, and alone time.
- The app Headspace offers meditation and mental escape. Emma Watson, a self-proclaimed introvert, tweeted that this app is “kind of genius.”
“I recharge by spending time alone or with my close friends. This keeps me grounded when I feel like I cannot take another moment of being around people. I also find that listening to music at school helps me feel less like part of the larger group. This, along with time in the library, helps to keep me calm in a sea of people.”
—Dawn L., third-year undergraduate, Missouri University of Science and Technology
“I try to reframe difficult situations as if they were familiar. For example, when I studied abroad, I quickly found some favorite places and new routines that gave me strength to deal with the unexpected.”
—Sarah H., fourth-year undergraduate, University of Wisconsin-Madison
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Steven D. Cohen, PhD, assistant professor, Klein Family School of Communications Design, University of Baltimore, Maryland.
Matt McGarrity, PhD, principal lecturer, Department of Communications, University of Washington in Seattle.
Sylvia Merschel, co-director, UCLA Summer Institute in Communication Skills for International Students, California.
Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. New York: Random House LLC.
Cain, S. (2012, February). Susan Cain: The power of introverts. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts?language=en
Laney, M. O. (2002). The introvert advantage: How to thrive in an extrovert world. New York: Workman Publishing.
Student Health 101 surveys, October 2014, August 2015, and May 2016.