Introversion: Independent or Interdependent?



Two cultural psychologists, Hazel Markus and Alana Conner recently (2013) published Clash: 8 Cultural Conflicts That Make Us Who We Are.  It’s a brilliant look at the things that tend to divide us from one another.  Among the things they discuss are: masculinity/femininity, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, regional distinctions, religious differences, workplace sectors, global north / south economics.

Overriding these cultural differences, they see a core clash between independence and interdependence.  When the authors connected independence to western culture (yang-dominant) and interdependence to eastern culture (yin-dominant), I immediately connected the dots to the conversation about introversion and extroversion.  Here’s how the authors describe the two categories:

  • Independent selves [valued by mainstream American culture] view themselves as individual, unique, influencing others and their environments, free from constraints, and equal (yet great!).”
  • Interdependent selves [valued in the East], by contrast, view themselves as relational, similar to others, adjusting to their situations, rooted in traditions and obligations, and ranked in pecking orders.”

The Nature of Introversion

The unfair and untrue stereotype around introversion is that of the loner, the person who doesn’t like people, a misanthrope or someone who is antisocial.  None of these popular myths are true, nor is the false idea that introverts are “shy.”  It is true, however, that introverts prefer enough time alone to think and that we tend to produce our best results working for substantial periods of time alone with those thoughts (I’m in a coffee shop in a corner writing this as evidence).

What may not be as obvious, on the face of it, is that introverts are actually more inclined toward interdependence.

The Nature of Extroversion

Extroverts are outgoing, results-oriented people.  They are energized by social interaction and outside stimulation in their environment.  They prefer less alone time and enjoy working and living in groups, or do they?  At first blush, this seems to describe someone who is more interdependent.  But hold that thought.

What may become clear as we look deeper is that extroverts tend toward the independent side of the equation.  Being “social” is not the same as being interdependent.  Most extroverts (either gregarious or decisive ones) would, upon closer scrutiny, be found to be much more independent.  Often, working with others frustrates them.  People don’t seem to get things done as quickly or be as positive as they would prefer.  In the end, they often feel like they need to do it themselves for the task to get done.  They fit well the western cultural stereotype of the rugged individual “going it alone.”

Interdependence and Introversion

Though introverts need time alone and are more sensitive to over-stimulation, they are most comfortable not only working but defining themselves in an interdependent manner.  They like to invest deep amounts of time and energy generating good ideas.  They also highly value the feedback and input of others around them.  They love being part of something good and are less inclined to worry about where the credit for superior results is given.

This may help you understand yourself as an introverted leader.  You are wired to produce collective versus individual results.  You are well-positioned to be a great team leader, someone who cares deeply about others on your team and who wants to gain indispensable input from each one.  You are made to live and work interdependently.  Your need for time alone to think does not mean that you are non-social, non-relational, or certainly independent-oriented.

By its very nature, introversion is group not individual in its disposition.  Introvert-favoring eastern culture (yin) has always produced people who have a hard time defining themselves in isolation, apart from the group.  Extrovert-favoring western culture (yang) is all about standing out from the crowd.  The answer to our original question is clear.  Introversion is more interdependent and extroversion is more independent.

The authors’ conclusions: healthy people tend to better balance these two aspects of self and to have greater understanding and appreciation of people on the other side of the proverbial fence.

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