The College Experience: What’s Personality Got to Do With It?
Try to find someone whose personality tilts entirely introverted or extroverted and Carl Jung – the Swiss psychiatrist would say...
Try to find someone whose personality tilts entirely introverted or extroverted and Carl Jung – the Swiss psychiatrist and Go-Daddy of Personality Type Theory — would claim that such a person would be insane. The truth is, we are all a bit of both. (Not insane, mind you — rather, we all do Extroverted and Introverted things. But we usually do not do them with equal comfort. Most of us have a preference for one or the other.
Jung observed that we all live in two worlds:
The outer world of things, people, and events. (Extroversion)
The inner world of our own thoughts, feelings, and reflections. (Introversion).
To unpack the essence of Jung’s theory and value in understanding human behavior, I take you to the complexity of the college classroom, where students of all backgrounds and personality types merge to learn and interact.
But least we think students who lean toward the Introspective zone are in the minority – the actual consensus is that anywhere from a third to half of the American population expresses a preference for introversion. And that’s just those who have bravely ventured out-of-the closet. Still, our society and the college environment seems to value the traits of the extrovert over those of the introvert.
Why? Think about it.
College encourages putting yourself out there. It’s a social environment where students are encouraged to join groups, get involved and build a social network. And while that is great and necessary for forming meaningful relationships and learning to work with others, colleges often neglect to consider the value of cultivating the introverted side of one’s personality. You know, the discipline required to hit the internal pause button and practice introspection, internal analytical thought. Skill sets just as necessary to cultivate as exhibiting extroverted “people skills.”
Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking depicts a growing trend and bias in our society that can impact young people, beginning with the college admissions process. It can appear there’s a clear preference and advantage extended to the most extroverted and visibly accomplished applicants. Successful resumes are packed with the roles that play to the natural strengths of these students, while those who may be equally adept, but shy away from the spotlight, can be viewed under a softer focus.
Defining Introvert and Extrovert Preferences
Find sources of energy through the external world
Feel drained by too much time alone and recharge with outside interaction
Focus on making many friends and acquaintances
Prefer to learn through actions
**Extroverts tend to do something, then think about it, and then do it again.
Introverts, on the other hand:
Harness energy from inside of themselves — their ideas, their thoughts, their feelings
Feel drained by too much outside interaction and recharge with time alone
Focus on cultivating a few close friendships
Prefer to learn through observations
**Introverts think first, then do, and then reflect again.
How Personality Manifests in the Classroom
Many agree that the college classroom tends to play to the skills and strengths of extroverts. Curricula often include oral presentations, group projects, and participation grades for discussion sections. Professors tend to place a lot of emphasis on who’s participating the most. These weekly discussion sections can offer both an exhilarating opportunity for extroverts and an overwhelming experience for introverts. And although these two personality traits may seem at inherent odds, they need each other — and can learn from each other —
Consider: When introverts are given time to reflect and share, they provide nuance and new perspectives. The challenge – finding spots to insert their ideas, which can be daunting. And by the time their ideas are ready for prime time, the discussion has moved to another topic, and their lack of immediate participation causes professors and peers to believe they have nothing significant to add or God forbid – not paying attention.
Extroverts on the other hand, prefer continuous dialogue — think external tumbler – sometimes drowning out opportunities for introverts. But give credit to extroverts by helping to “get the ball rolling” and keeping the discussion alive.
Of course, not all classes are discussion-based, and discussion-based classes are not always troublesome for introverts. By understanding that classrooms are comprised of different personalities, professors need to offer quieter students a fair shot at expressing their potential. Plus, encouraging other methods of participation helps students develop equally important introverted qualities of concentration and deep thought. Learning how to be a good listener and work one-on-one or even alone–strong skills of an introvert–are as valuable as being a good speaker and able to work in groups.
Balancing empowerment with skill-building
While it’s important for students to feel empowered by their innate introversion or extroversion, it’s equally important to develop the agility and confidence to “flex” and lean into the less preferred side their personality. The trick, of course, is to figure out in any given situation, do you need to extrovert or do you need to introvert?
In the end, our higher learning institutions have an opportunity to ensure every voice – big and small – is heard. That we strive to create an inclusive community of learning where students feel honored, encouraged to share, venture out of their comfort zone and embrace their true nature.