This is the second in a two-part series on which personality type (extrovert or introvert) works best in collaborative care. Click here for Part 1.
To all my fellow introverts, tell me if this sounds familiar. You’ve probably heard all your life that introverts are people who don’t like being around people, like to spend their free time in a cave, and are shy and withdrawn. While that is often society’s definition of introversion (I’m looking at you, extroverts!), this is not the case. Introverts don’t have problems being around people, but, in general, introverts need alone time to recharge while extroverts recharge through being around others. Susan Cain clarifies that introverts "prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues and family,” in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. "They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation.”
So introversion and extroversion are really about where we get our energy and the type of environments we prefer. Just because someone is outgoing, doesn’t mean they’re an extrovert. Similarly, just because an extrovert can be quiet or get tired of being around people doesn’t mean they’re an introvert. There is no clean line between extroversion and introversion – we all reside along a spectrum of these personality traits. In fact, some people who can’t seem to agree on which "side” of the spectrum they fall are labeled "ambiverts” as they have traits of both sides fairly equally.
While a job at a fast-paced integrated care setting can appear to run counter-cultural to the introvert’s preferred, not overstimulating environment, I think there are a few key things to keep in mind that can help introverts take their place as a valued and successful team member in these settings. For me, this process involves examining the typical challenges faced by introverts and re-defining and re-framing them in a way that provides a way to elicit my inborn traits that are both useful and deeply valuable in any setting. Let me show you what I mean…
Everybody’s talking a mile a minute!
While at first glance, a day filled with quick interventions with patients and brief reports to colleagues may sound antithetical to an introvert’s values, I’d like to reframe these interactions as a way to bring out the best of an introvert’s personality. For instance, while this way of talking can often be interpreted as being difficult for introverts as they typically don’t like to interrupt or speak off the top of their head, I like to re-frame this as an interaction which can be a boon for introverts in that you can skip the small talk (which introverts typically dislike) and go straight to the substance of an interaction. In essence, communication in integrated care is often about getting to the essential point quickly and introverts have the capacity and skills to do this well.
Rush, rush, rush
Granted, most any integrated care setting keeps a pretty fast pace due to the busy nature of the medical setting. While on the surface, this seems like a way to quickly drive an introvert mad by presenting them with interruptions and an unbridle pace of work, I find this to be an excellent opportunity for introverts to practice their preferred way of feeling centered and calm. While there may be a rush around you, an important aspect of maintaining your ability to do and think your best is to not allow people to make you feel rushed. An introvert who can practice their natural preference of calm, mindful interactions can be a valuable asset to his or her colleagues and the medical setting at large. There, of course, will be times when you have to speed up your natural rhythm, but harnessing your ability to find your sense of calm within the busy-ness is something that will help an introvert survive and thrive in this kind of setting.
I don’t fit in here
If you ever find yourself awash in what feels like a sea of extroverts, look around and you might be surprised to find other introverts in your midst. There are varying statistics regarding how many introverts there are in the general population (somewhere between 25 and 40%) so I bet if you look around the typical integrated care setting you will find physicians, PA’s, nurses, schedulers, managers, etc. who identify as introverts and are making integrated care a better place. You are never as alone as you think and this is important to remember when you can feel like you’re swimming against the current of the preferred, extroverted way of being in an integrated care setting.
"Stay true to your own nature.” (Cain)
For introverts in integrated care, we need to figure out how to take care of ourselves as the environment can often stretch our natural boundaries and use up our reserves. To re-charge, introverts need alone time and it is important to know how much you personally need and when. Do you need an hour after work each day? Do you need a weekend day devoid of people plans? Do you need to log off all social media for a certain amount of time? It’s important to take care of yourself and it’s a mandatory part of thriving in a setting that can work against our innate nature and preferences.
Overall, I think the most important aspect of being an introvert in integrated care is to be happy with who you are. It is important to believe that you can be different and still be liked. If you are agitated at your introverted nature, you will fight against the very things that are your greatest assets by trying to be someone you’re not. However, if you appreciate your indelible strengths of introversion, you will believe your skills are valuable and look for ways to let those skills shine through – even in the midst of a busy medical clinic.
Jackie Williams-Reade is an Assistant Professor and Director of Medical Family Therapy at Loma Linda University. If she had a quarter for every time she was either 1) told she was definitely not an introvert after a delightful conversation with someone new or 2) told she was definitely an extrovert after giving a well received public presentation or 3) mistaken for being aloof or distant when using her deep listening super-power or 4) mistaken for not having any ideas simply because she feels everything has been said already and why waste words, she would be filthy rich... and still an introvert.