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Introvert vs. extrovert: What they mean and why it matters

It's more than "shy" and "outgoing" -- here's why understanding this part of your personality matters.

are you an introvert or an extrovert

Understanding extroversion and introversion can be helpful for navigating a variety of relationships.

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Whether you prefer the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, the Enneagram, the DISC profile or one of the dozens of other personality assessments out there, it's no secret that learning more about your personality is a powerful tool. For starters, personality tests can help you be more self-aware and can help you navigate important relationships in your life.

One factor that's at the core of many personality assessments is whether you are introverted or extroverted. You probably have an inclination about where you lie on the spectrum (depending on how outgoing or shy you are) but how can you know for sure?

It turns out, the extrovert versus introvert question is pretty complex -- it's about way more than if you are considered more quiet or talkative. And since understanding introversion vs. extroversion can help you understand yourself and others better -- here's a more in-depth look at how to tell which you are and why it's important.

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What's the difference between an extrovert and an introvert?

"When I think about the words introvert and extrovert, I think about the ways in which people relate to themselves, and the world around them," Chelsea Connors, MS, NCC, LPC-A, Board Certified Coach and therapist said. She added that the biggest difference between the two is in how each prefers to spend their time.

You may be an introvert if:

  • You enjoy spending time alone
  • You prefer quality time with one or two people over spending time with bigger groups of friends
  • You need alone time to rest and recharge after a busy workday or period of activity
  • You can get lost in your thoughts easily and need time to process and think through most things

You may be an extrovert if:

  • You prefer spending your time around other people and dislike being alone
  • You like crowds, parties and other gatherings with lots of new people
  • You need quality time with others to help you recharge
  • You're outgoing, talkative and like being the center of attention

"Typically introverts tend to enjoy more time to themselves, are very aware of their internal thoughts and recharge more in solitude. Extroverts can be just the opposite. Extroverts are often more outspoken, outgoing and absolutely love being around other people. That's what really fills them up," Connors said.

You can also consider how you feel after socializing to help you decipher if you're more introverted or extroverted. "We often see that extroverts feel refueled and filled up after being with a crowd and connecting with more people, while introverts may feel drained by that same experience," Connors said.

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Can knowing if others are introverted or extroverted help your relationships?

So now that you know if you're more introverted or extroverted personally -- what about the other people in your life? Finding out whether your friends, family and coworkers are introverts or extroverts can help your relationships, Connors said.

"Awareness and information are key to creating meaningful change and fueling powerful decisions -- this goes for relationships of all types. When we feel that we better understand where someone else is coming from or how they experience the world, it can be easier to empathize, relate and communicate effectively," Connors said.

And this advice doesn't just apply to your friends, romantic partners, or family members. Understanding if someone has a more introverted or extroverted personality can be helpful for professional relationships too. Connors explained that developing a sense of understanding with coworkers and their personalities is helpful for things like giving and receiving feedback, creating a better work environment, and navigating challenges.

Can you be both introverted and extroverted?

Not a fan of strict labels? You don't have to identify as solely an introvert or an extrovert -- there's a spectrum. "There is so much middle ground here too where we're now seeing people describe themselves as introverted-extroverts, etc. It's OK to be somewhere in the middle here and to not feel that you fall in one distinct category," Connors said.

For example, if you're an extroverted-introvert, you may feel that you're mostly introverted in nature, but you don't always prefer being alone or in small groups, and you can feel energized when you're around the right crowd at the right time.

How understanding introversion and extroversion better can improve your life

While everyone is different, working on understanding the differences between introverted and extroverted tendencies can be a helpful tool when it comes to better understanding yourself and others around you. "I believe that the more information we can know about ourselves, what makes us tick and how we can take care of ourselves is always going to improve quality of life and overall happiness," Conners said.

And having more self-awareness can help when things feel off and aren't going as well in your life. "Knowing our tendencies can help us find a better equilibrium when we feel off-center," Connors explained. The same goes for when conflict arises in your relationships.

"If you know that your best friend is more introverted, you may not be shocked when she turns down your offer to go to a loud, crowded bar over the weekend, and instead opts for a movie and wine night at home with you," Connors said. Having this knowledge can help you avoid taking the rejection personally since you know it's not about you, but more about what that friend needs to feel their best.