social isolation

How introverts and extroverts can manage through social isolation

You may have heard the joke that staying home sheltering in place is what introverts have been training for their whole lives. 

Or the meme asking introverts to please check on extroverted friends because they are not okay with social distancing.

While it’s true that facing social isolation is arguably harder on extroverted personalities in some ways, it’s very challenging for all of us to be home because of COVID-19 and not by choice.

We’re several weeks into this COVID pandemic and it’s wearing on most people, even the ones who are safe at home and not worried about their incomes. For those struggling with layoffs or professions that have them on the frontlines, it’s a particularly scary time.

It’s really shades of introvert and extrovert

At Padraig, we do a lot of work with leaders and their teams on understanding personality differences. There are different assessment tools available our coaches use one called Everything DiSC to help folks understand themselves and others better. 

If you’re familiar with the DiSC personality styles or a regular reader of the blog, then you’ll know that the Dominant “D” and Influential “i” tend to be more extroverted and the Steady “S” and Conscientious “C” tend to be more introverted. 

Some people think introverts like to be alone and extroverts like to be around a lot of people, but it’s a little more complicated than that. For example, introverts can be very outgoing and sociable but tend to like to recharge with some alone time. Extroverts can accomplish things solo but like to recharge with others. And there is no “right” or “best” style, by the way, because all of us have strengths and challenges being able to work with different personalities is where we find true success.

Typically introverts:

  • Draw energy from within, spending time alone
  • Seldom like to be the centre of attention
  • Like to think before they speak, which to others may make them appear reserved or quiet
  • Don’t need a huge social network

While extroverts usually: 

  • Draw energy from other people and enjoy being around others
  • Enjoy participating actively in things and being the centre of attention
  • Are usually seen as outgoing and enthusiastic
  • Enjoy cultivating a large social network

If you’ve ever done a personality assessment like DiSC or perhaps Myers Briggs, then you know that personality is not as simple as introvert or extrovert because it’s a scale where some will score very high, very low or in the middle. Our personality styles affect how we approach work-life balance, work, and personal relationships.

So when it comes to social isolation, we need to remember that while there may be some truths to introverted personality types adapting to being socially isolated more readily than their extroverted counterparts, we’re all learning how to manage this new normal. 

As leaders, understanding personality styles can help us anticipate what works not just for ourselves, but for some team members and what will help other folks manage better. 

What helps introverts manage social isolation

I’ve spoken with clients, heard from blog readers and touched base with my Padraig team members. Introverts may not mind some aspects of self-isolation, but here are some helpful strategies:

  • Create and adapt to new routines: For many people who are more introverted, routine is a great comfort. Thanks to COVID-19, most people’s normal schedules have been disrupted. And it’s not just the work routines that have been derailed! Introverts who are used to picking up a coffee at their favourite bistro in the morning or going to see a movie every week are missing their habitual practices just as much as extroverts. Building new routines is very helpful while physically distancing. If there are things that you can keep on schedule with working from home (from sleep schedules to the timing of regular team meetings), it can really help some personalities feel more settled.
  • Reach out when and how you need to: That’s right, connect with people! Nearly every one of the more introverted personalities I spoke to said that everyone assumes they are happy and relieved (rejoicing even!) to be home all the time, but that while they do like solitary time it’s different when they’re feeling confined to barracks. They’re also missing the freedom to go out to eat, visit public places and travel. One introvert shared that he has found it really hard to deal with stress since his gym closed and his band can’t meet: “I like having alone time, but I enjoyed these activities and now they’re off-limits. It’s really hard for me to lose them.” He’s started running and says he now appreciates being invited to participate in an online meeting or streamed concert or movie. An introverted account manager I know said, “I’m actually gaming online or going on social media to interact with people and look at photos of friends who live in other places. It’s great because I can enjoy a bit of a diversion, but it’s still interacting on my terms.”
  • Deal with non-essential chatter: It’s not that more introverted folks don’t like people, because most value close one-to-one relationships and are very thoughtful. What’s hard is feeling inundated by small talk or too much casual conversation, which is draining for introverts. “I don’t like meaningless texts,” one self-described introvert shared. “We have a text chat for our team and I’m not kidding, the other day there were 183 new texts and only five were actually work-related. I can’t skip them because I could miss something important. It killed me.” The simple fix is to ask for or offer a way for introverts to opt-out of the contact that the more extroverted need and want. Maybe suggest a chat stream or a Slack channel for socializing (“The Break Room” or “The Watercooler”) and one for each project?

What helps extroverts manage with social isolation:

It’s not hard to see why folks who feel energized when they’re with other people and out there interacting with clients and colleagues all the time are struggling with social isolation. Here are some ideas to help the more extroverted personalities:

  • Figure out remote ways of connecting with people: The more extroverted you are, the harder it is to be socially isolated. Feeling lonely can increase your stress, interfere with your sleep and exacerbate feelings of anxiety or depression. You might also be feeling shame, or guilt, if you’re at home with spouse and kids but still feeling lonely or disconnected. I recently spoke with a client who is exceptionally capable, very positive, creative, and intelligent who shared that he’s been in despair for about three weeks now as he tries to figure out what to do to cope with social isolation. First, it’s very helpful to name what you’re feeling, to know you’re not alone and to reach out to someone who can be a good listener. Next, strategize and find ways to fill that need for human interaction. This is where having video conference calls for work (seeing people, not just chatting with them), online coffee breaks with friends or coworkers, virtual coffee dates and checking in with loved ones and friends is essential. Participating in Instagram streamed events with your fave celebrities (many musicians and authors are streaming interactive concerts and readings or Q&As) and going for walks where you can pass people at a safe distance may also help to fill your bucket.
  • Get creative and stay active: The more extroverted folks I’ve heard from miss the busy-ness of life before COVID-19. They’re missing the events, lectures, meetings, parties, and all the opportunities to network and mingle. Living within four walls and rarely venturing out unless it’s for a careful shopping trip alone is not just boring, but depressing. Find some inspiration and do something that allows you to interact with others at a distance. We’ve seen the balcony concerts and serenades in Italy first and now many other places, online dance parties, and surprising friends with drop and dash goodies left on their doorsteps. I’ve heard of friends playing a game of hide-and-seek in the car where one vehicle hides and texts clues to the others. Go for walks and exercise to keep all those feel-good endorphins and dopamine flooding your system.
  • Ask for space if you need to: Just as introverts do need some human connection, extroverts sometimes need some downtime and quiet. One of our Padraig team members is on the extreme end of the extrovert scale, but working from home while also schooling her children has been a strain. Her partner, an introvert, was genuinely shocked when she dissolved in tears because she wanted him to take over for a few hours at least one day a week. “He genuinely thought that I’d be in my element, loving having everyone home. And while that’s true, it’s also stressful to lose my routine and ability to work uninterrupted when I need to.” 

No matter where we fall in the continuum of introversion or extroversion, it’s important for us to learn to live and work remotely with different personalities in these uncertain times. Everyone is adapting to new situations and how we’re feeling can change day-to-day.  That last phrase is an important one our feelings can, and do, change from day-to-day. If you’re having a bad day, set an intention to, later in the day, or tomorrow, try one of your new goals above.

When we’re aware of what we and others find comforting or challenging, we can be more mindful about feelings and what we all need for our physical and mental health. It helps to communicate clearly when we’re feeling anxious or stressed, and to reach out when we need support.

Don’t assume people know how you’re feeling or that you know how those around you are doing; share your real situation with those you trust and check in with people. It’s especially important to listen to understand right now to support one another and strengthen relationships.

Coach’s Questions: 

Where do you fall on the introvert or extrovert scale? Who on your team is more an introvert or extrovert? What can you do to manage social isolation on those difficult days? What could you do differently or better to help those on your team?

Next up: I’ll explore more about how the pandemic is affecting our mental health and then how to have an attitude of gratitude in social isolation.


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