Our daily lives regularly place us in the presence of strangers. Many of us introverts will, by habit, choice or social norm, preserve our personal bubble and ignore the strangers. After all, “don’t talk to strangers” is an oft-repeated maxim from the parenting handbook. Experimental data indicate that initiating a simple connection with a stranger will enhance your personal well-being and that of the stranger. In this post, we glean actionable insights from Mistakenly Seeking Solitude (Epley and Schroeder, 2014).
Humans in general are highly social creatures – hermits and misanthropes
notwithstanding. Sociability is a
continuum, with introverts tending to lie on the less-social end of the
spectrum. Epley and Schroeder (2014) examined
why people, even extroverts, tend to prefer isolation over connecting with strangers
in short-term contact settings (e.g., public transportation and waiting rooms). The researchers performed sought to test two
potential explanations for this phenomenon:
with a stranger in conversation is truly less pleasant than remaining isolated
for a variety of possible reasons. Preferring isolation in the company of
random strangers may therefore maximize one’s well-being.
systematically misunderstand the consequences of social connection, mistakenly
thinking that isolation is more pleasant than connecting with a stranger, when
the benefits of social connection actually extend to distant strangers as well.’
on nine experiments conducted on trains, buses, and taxicabs and in a lab, Epley
and Schroeder (2014) concluded that people misunderstand the consequences of
social connection. Train and bus commuters predicted a more positive experience
from sitting in solitude rather than connecting with a stranger. However, train
and bus commuters that experienced solitude or connection with a stranger
reported that they had a more positive experience when they connected with a
stranger. In these same experiments,
commuters predicted that they would be less productive if they engaged with
strangers. Yet commuters that connected
with a stranger reported no difference in their actual productivity. Similarly, travelers leaving a major airport did
not report being more tired after socializing with the taxicab driver.
another set of experiments with train and bus commuters, Epley and Schroeder
(2014) found that participants expected they would be more interested in
talking to a stranger than a stranger would be in to talking with them. Although the commuters predicted that less
than half of the strangers would engage in conversation, every commuter reported
successfully connecting with a stranger.
The researchers concluded that “commuters appeared to think that talking
to a stranger posed a meaningful risk of social rejection. As far as we can
tell, it posed no risk at all.”
the ninth and most complex experiment, pairs of participants in a waiting room
setting each reported having a more positive experience when they connected than
when they sat in solitude. The waiting
room participants also reported being similarly productive when they engaged
with a stranger as when they sat in solitude.
Epley and Schroeder (2014) wrote that “apparently, being talked to by a
stranger is every bit as positive as talking to one”.
Okay introverts, in all of these experiments, extraversion as measured by a standard personality traits survey, was not significantly related to the results. Thus, building on the work of Epley and Schroeder (2014), both you and the strangers with whom you connect are likely to have positive experiences from a momentary social connection. It is quite unlikely that your conversation-starting will be rebuffed and you won’t feel any less productive or more tired.
Putting it into Action
Assuming you’re an adult, ignore your parents and do talk to strangers. Steady yourself with the awareness that the connection will be mutually pleasant and then say something. This may feel quite uncomfortable and out of character. However, doing this repeatedly will make it flow more regularly and naturally [another finding from Epley and Schroeder (2014)].
Epley, Nicholas and Juliana Schroeder. 2014. “Mistakenly Seeking Solitude.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 143 (5): 1980–99.
Unless you live a solitary life, you depend on other people and having a positive, supportive relationship with them is necessary. Our extraverted brethren excel at building rapport whereas introverts are less innately skilled. Fortunately, we can use deliberate intent coupled with some simple behaviors to enable rapport-building. In this post, we glean actionable insights from Mimicry in social interaction: benefits for mimickers, mimickees, and their interaction (Stel and Vonk, 2010) and The extravert advantage: how and when extraverts build rapport with other people (Duffy and Chartrand, 2015).
Various researchers have described the value of mimicry as it relates to building social rapport. Hsu et al. (2018) note that “mimicry has been suggested to function as a ‘social glue’, a key mechanism that helps to build social rapport. It leads to increased feeling of closeness toward the mimicker as well as greater liking.” It has been suggested that mimicry contributes to higher quality social interactions by activating a chemical reward system in our brain.
Stel and Vonk (2010) assert that mimicry broadly beneficial and serves
to create bonds between people. Summarizing
the literature, these researchers indicate that “for both persons who mimic
(mimickers) and persons who are being mimicked (mimickees), mimicry has been shown
to enhance feelings of empathy and bonding towards each other”. They also cite studies that instructed (deliberate)
mimicry yields a similar amount of mimicry and beneficial effects as does spontaneous
mimicry helps build rapport, how is that relevant to introverts? Duffy
and Chartrand (2015) present the results of two studies that evaluated the
rapport-building effectiveness of participants when assigned a task to perform
with another person. A randomly selected
group of the participants was given an “affiliation goal” – they were informed
that the best results for the assigned task would be achieved by getting along
with the other person whom was subsequently introduced. The task performance interactions were recorded
with a hidden camera and video data were coded for amount of time spent engaged
in mimicry behaviors. The researchers
also collected survey data to provide a measure of extraversion. In one study, the video data were coded for
indicators of rapport.
Consistent with other studies, rapport-building was enhanced by mimicry. For our purposes, a notable result of the studies was that extraverts engaged in significantly more mimicry than did introverts when assigned an affiliation goal. In other words, when motivated to achieve a goal, extraverts instinctively used mimicry to connect with the other person. In the absence of an affiliation goal, there was no difference in mimicry between extraverts and introverts. Duffy and Chartrand (2015) state that their “results demonstrate a behavioral mechanism by which extraverts boost rapport. Specifically, extraverts mimic more when they want to get along with another person, and this mimicry mediates the relationship between extraversion and rapport.”
Considering Duffy and Chartrand (2018) and Stel and Vonk (2010)
together we can conclude that:
Behavioral mimicry enhances
Extraverts mimic more when driven
to achieve a goal
Deliberate mimicry produces a
similar benefit as spontaneous mimicry
Putting it into Action
may be genetically, neurologically, and behaviorally predisposed to using
mimicry as a reward-seeking behavior – it’s automated for them. Introverts, desiring smoother social
interactions and aware of the benefits of mimicry, can consciously employ
mimicry as a powerful tool.
In situations where building rapport is necessary or advantageous, employ behavioral mimicry. Consider mimicking gazing, smiling, nodding, movements, and facial expressions. Your counterpart will feel more comfortable and have a better experience. They will be more inclined to accept your perspectives and proposals under those circumstances. The more quickly you can establish rapport with another person, the more comfortable you’ll feel. Everyone can win.
Duffy, Korrina A., and Tanya L. Chartrand. 2015. “The Extravert Advantage: How and When Extraverts Build Rapport with Other People.” Psychological Science 26 (11): 1795-1802.
Hsu, Chun-Ting, Thomas Sims, and Bhismadev Chakrabarti. 2018. “How mimicry influences the neural correlates of reward: An fMRI study. Neuropsychologia 116 (A): 61-67.
Mariëlle, and Roos Vonk. 2010. “Mimicry in Social Interaction: Benefits for
Mimickers, Mimickees, and Their Interaction.” British Journal of Psychology
101 (2): 311-323.
Jenny Lawson and Neil Gaiman got it right; “pretend you’re good at it” enables introverted leaders to emerge. In a recent study, Spark et al. (2018) found that despite circumstances where introverted leadership may be beneficial, introverts tend to overestimate negative emotions of engaging in enough extraverted behavior to emerge as a leader. By strategically pushing yourself to pretend you’re good at “extraverting”, you can lead. In this post, we glean actionable insights from The failure of introverts to emerge as leaders: The role of forecasted affect (Spark et al., 2018) and related studies.
Leadership research consistently finds a relationship between extraversion and leadership. Because of this relationship, introverts are less likely to emerge as leaders (e.g., being perceived to influence decisions, lead conversations, or model desirable leadership) than their extraverted peers. However, there are many circumstances where an introverted leadership style would be advantageous. These include situations where a group benefits from a leader that serves, empowers, or teaches others in the group.
Spark et al. (2018) tested whether introverts fail to emerge as leaders as often as extraverts because they forecast unpleasant or uncomfortable emotions in group situations. The researchers again found a relationship between extraversion and emergent leadership. They also found that introverts were less likely to emerge as group leaders because the introverts forecasted they would experience higher levels of negative emotions (relating to statements such as: I will feel fearful, I will feel worried, I will feel distressed, I will feel upset, or I will feel nervous) than the extraverts forecasted. Notably, the introverts overestimated the level of negative emotions that they would experience within a group activity. This overestimation was thought to inhibit the introverts from behaving in a way that would enable them to emerge as leaders.
Other research (Zelenski et al., 2013), has found that introverts not only substantially overestimate negative emotions that would result from acting extraverted, they also underestimate positive emotions that would result from extraverted behavior. Introverts are less likely to engage in extroverted behaviors because of these forecasting errors – overestimating negative emotions and underestimating positive emotions. Yes, positive emotions from extraverted behavior. Fleeson et al. (2002) found that introverts experience positive emotions while engaged in extraverted behaviors.
Spark et al. (2018) stated that “if introverts can develop strategies to more accurately forecast their enjoyment of behavior more conducive to emergent leadership, then it is possible that such individuals will be on a level playing field with extraverts in relevant social situations.”
Putting it into Action
To emerge as a group leader, you’re going to have to push yourself to engage in some extraverted behavior. Jenny Lawson in her book Furiously Happy, recounts a story about being nervous before narrating her book. Her friend Neil Gaiman suggests that she just pretend she was good at it. The advice helped Jenny; I’ve adopted this mindset often and found it wonderfully helpful. You can leverage this advice by pretending you’re good at “extraverting”. You can use temporary extraversion as a tool. There’s no need to deny who you are or try to change your core personality.
Choose what and when you want to lead, grab extraversion from the toolbox, put it to use, and advance your objectives. Take some comfort in knowing that your negative emotions will be far less than you think, you’re likely to experience positive emotions, and the group will also benefit from your contribution.
Here are a few tips to help you exercise some extraverted group behavior:
Prepare [as an introvert you’ll prepare without my prompting] by creating the agenda, a draft product, or some insightful questions
Speak very early in the group (this is important and supported by research)
Grab the dry erase marker to capture ideas and attention
Give it a try; use extraversion as a strategic tool to provide the thoughtful leadership your group needs. Please share your experiences with other readers of this blog.
Fleeson, W., Malanos, A. B., & Achille, N. M. (2002). An Intraindividual Process Approach to the Relationship Between Extraversion and Positive Affect : Is Acting Extraverted as “ Good ” as Being Extraverted? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(6), 1409–1422.
Spark, A., Stansmore, T., & O’Connor, P. (2018). The failure of introverts to emerge as leaders: The role of forecasted affect. Personality and Individual Differences, 121, 84–88.
Zelenski, J. M., Whelan, D. C., Nealis, L. J., Besner, C. M., Santoro, M. S., & Wynn, J. E. (2013). Personality and Affective Forecasting: Trait Introverts Underpredict the Hedonic Benefits of Acting Extraverted. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104(6), 1092–1108.
Introverts! You’re likely at greater risk of distress and burnout. Self-care is vitally important for everyone but introverts may have an even greater need than extraverts. A study by Bughi et al. (2017) found that, in high-stress situations, introverts had lower indicators of general well-being and higher indicators of distress/burnout risk. In this study, stressed introverts had higher rates of exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced personal efficacy. Give yourself permission for quality time alone and proper self-care; it’s good for you and for your work. In this post, we glean actionable insights from Using a Personality Inventory to Identify Risk of Distress and Burnout among Early Stage Medical Students (Bughi et al. 2017) and related studies.
The call for self-care to promote healthy lifestyles and combat stress is pervasive in today’s popular media. There is reason to expect that introverts may have a greater vulnerability to stress than extraverts and, consequently, have particularly high need for self-care. Bughi et al. (2017) examined the relationship between Myers-Briggs personality type indicators and distress and burnout in first-year medical students.
The students completed the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) preferences test and two commonly used surveys of general well-being and burnout. The well-being survey measured subjective wellness based on anxiety, depression, positive well-being, self-control, vitality, and general health experienced within the past month. The burnout survey included measures of exhaustion, cynicism, and professional efficacy and indicated burnout for subjects with low scores on professional efficacy and high scores on both exhaustion and cynicism.
Under the stressful conditions of medical school and compared to their extraverted counterparts, introverted students tended to have significantly higher scores for depression and lower scores for well-being and self-control. Introverts also indicated higher scores for exhaustion and cynicism and lower scores for professional efficacy. Bughi et al. (2017) conclude that “administering the MBTI early in medical training may help students self-asses their potential risk [associated with introversion] for distress and burnout. Once students self-identify their risk, stress management interventions may be offered earlier.”
Putting it into Action
Your life might not be as stressful as that of a medical student but likely has an ample amount of stress. The study by Bughi et al. (2017) highlights the vulnerability of introverts to stress. Effective stress management programs emphasize self-care. You already know that you need take care of yourself. Use the knowledge that, as an introvert, you’re more vulnerable to stress as a motivator to take positive steps. Managing stress through effective self-care will help you feel better, avoid depression and cynicism, and be more personally effective.
There is an abundance of sources for self-care information and I encourage you to do your own assessment of what might work for you. However, some components of a robust self-care practice could include:
Preserving regular quality time alone to recharge [introverts need this]
Practicing meditation or journaling
Engaging in regular exercise
Maintaining a healthy diet
Avoiding tobacco, alcohol, and drugs
Making time for pleasurable activities
Spending time with supportive people [just not too many at once]
Addressing problems in your life
Take care of yourself. Please share your experiences with other readers of this blog.
Bughi, Stephanie A., Desiree A. Lie, Stephanie K. Zia, and Jane Rosenthal. 2017. “Using a Personality Inventory to Identify Risk of Distress and Burnout among Early Stage Medical Students.” Education for Health: Change in Learning and Practice 30 (1):26–30.