Charisma and the Introvert

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Yesterday, someone who works for me posted the results of one of those wonderful personality quizzes.  For her, it said she was introverted and observant which she objected to (in a nice way) because she’s always going on about being the only extrovert in a group of introverts.  So being told she was introverted perhaps felt like a bit of an insult.

Because it was one of those silly personality quizzes, the first thing I did was to take it.  I’m a sucker, what can I say.  This one was five images and you chose what you saw first and it supposedly tells you about your personality.  For me, it came back as a Charismatic Superstar who radiates charisma, personality and individuality.

Naturally, I had to say something about it.  I like to use Facebook to share dog stories and I use it to post photos when I travel.  I also like to share the misfortunes that occur over my life but I try to do it with humor so it isn’t just a listing of complaints and grievances although sometimes that is unavoidable.  Basically, I like to make people smile.  If someone sees a post and likes it and feels good for a minute or two, then I’ve done my job.

So my comment was that I was going to agree with her that the test was flawed but my results were spot on so clearly the test is not wrong.  Then, she comes back with wanting to try the introverted thing but needed ideas on how to minimize contact with others.

I get that was an attempt at humor but it just falls back on that whole trope that introverts are loners and don’t seek out contact with others.  You know we introverts had a bit of a renaissance with the publishing of Susan Cain’s book and I think that resulted in a little introvert revolution because there are multiple websites about introverts and for introverts by introverts.  And that’s not such a shock since, by and large, we do better at writing than speaking so I suspect the blog world leans towards introverts.

But I guess it hasn’t filtered to everyone yet.  I get that this was just a bad attempt at stereotype humor but it misses the main point people have been trying to make about introverts.  It has nothing to do with shyness or social anxiety even though many introverts have those.  It is all about where you draw your energy from.  Some of us don’t mind connecting with people as long as we eventually get past small talk and into something of relevance.  The difference is how long we can do it before it wears you out.  It really has very little to do with wanting to limit contact; it is that we have to limit contact.  I’ve gotten to that point where your social battery is completely drained and there is really nothing you can do be withdraw and recharge.  At that point, contact with people becomes the torture and pain that most people assume it always is for introverts.  The stereotypes of us being loners camped out in front of a computer screen and avoiding all human contact simply don’t universally apply.  Even if I am, right now, sitting at my computer and avoiding all human contact.  But I have a dance lesson to attend later so it all evens out.

Then, she makes another joke about how you have to talk to have charisma.  Well, I think it was a joke.  Might have been one of those statements that was a dig loosely disguised as a joke.  The talking part did irritate me because, I’ve learned to act like an extrovert at work which means I do spend a good part of my day talking with people.  I do tend to limit my time with her if she shows up first thing in the morning wanting to drop all her problems in my lap because nobody else is in yet to hear them.

I was then thinking if it was possible for an introvert to have charisma.  The simple definition of charisma is a compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others.  Does that necessarily imply that only outgoing and talkative extroverts can have charisma?  No, I don’t think so.  A person of few words but words that are well timed can have a bigger and better impact than someone who talks all the time but says nothing of value.

There are plenty of websites that speak to qualities of charisma or things charismatic people have.  (Yeah, I kind of went off the deep end after that comment and did a couple of searches)

So, know that this is not a definitive list, but one article listed these:

  1. Be Self Confident
  2. Tell Great Stories
  3. Body Speak (be open and approachable)
  4. Make the conversation about the other person
  5. Be a good listener

“Tell great stories” implies someone who can hold a conversation but the last two points are not so much about talking as they are about listening.  Making the conversation about the other person does require conversation but I take it to mean steering the conversation back to the other person rather than launching into your own tale of problems.  Ever listened to a conversation that went something like this:

Person 1 “My daughter came down with the flu so I had to stay home with her”

Now, I’ll give you two possible responses.  Not that these are not the only two responses but it is just to illustrate a point.

Person 2a “Oh tell me about it.  My wife and three of my four kids got that and it was a nasty strain.  There was puke everywhere and I had to spend so much time playing nursemaid, blah, blah, blah.”

Person 2b “Oh, that must have been awful to deal with.  Is she doing better now, though?”

So which person is demonstrating charisma as defined by point 4 above?  The talkative one who launched into their own battles with the flu or the not so talkative one who expressed empathy and then asked an open ended question to allow Person 1 to continue.

Now, there are certain extroverts who would choose path b.  And there are certainly introverts who would just mumble something and walk away.  But the point is you don’t have to be talkative to have charisma.  Yes, we introverts can have charisma.  Still doesn’t mean that test got my personality right but it means they aren’t mutually exclusive as this person implied.




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