Introvert or Extrovert? The Surprisingly Best Way to Tell

I am an introvert, and thankfully, so is the woman who cuts my hair. It took me a while to find her. For years, questions about my job and love life over the hum of a blowdryer made me feel like I was on an unsolicited first date. With Leslie, it's different. We say "hello." We talk about the cut I want. We say maybe 50 words to each other about weekend plans (more miniscule than small talk, really) and then -- silencio. Which is why the following test might be the best way to identify whether you're an introvert or extrovert: Do you enjoy bantering while getting or giving a haircut?

A third to a half of all humans are introverts, and ever since Carl Jung defined the two personality types in the early 20th century, people have attempted to categorize themselves. The Swiss psychologist and psychiatrist's explanation, now popularized by the Myers-Briggs personality test, has to do with energy. In Jung's view, extroverts gain energy from the outer world, while introverts gain it from the inner world. A quick search online brings up countless articles with a checklist of qualities for each -- introvert: I often let calls go to voicemail, extrovert: you are almost always the life of the party -- all of which speak to the obsessive tendency we have to brand ourselves as one or the other (though some claim about 70 per cent of us fall somewhere in the middle, a category unofficially dubbed "ambiversion"). Are these distinctions even useful? I think so, because in the end, understanding our differences reveals we are really just working towards the same goal: forming good ol' fashioned connections.

I can only surmise about you extroverts, but I can explain the particular way in which introverts use energy to have meaningful interactions. A helpful cartoon is being circulated on the net called "Dr. Carmella's Guide to Understanding the Introverted" which says fairly self-evidently that "extroverted people gather their energy from their surroundings," but more interestingly that "introverted people make their own energy and, rather than taking it from others, give it on social contact." Now that's a definition I can get behind. As an introvert, I am social. I am just very particular about who and what I socialize with.

Small talk is the hardest form of communication for introverts: if you're giving energy in a social situation, the most rewarding scenario will be one with purpose, one after which you feel as if you learned something substantial or made a real connection. With chit-chat, the gutter level of conversation, it's hard to transcend surface interactions, an utterly depleting experience for introverts. We are very utilitarian: if we're going to leave our own thoughts and enter the world, we want it to be with a small group of people, someone we haven't seen in a while, or someone we have a crush on. In sum, don't ask me to "veg" or "schmooze" with you -- those words sound gross and I'd rather stay home.


Now I know some people who look forward to the small talk that usually comes with a haircut (or a trip to the bank, or a bar stool), but those people tend to be extroverts who gain energy from any kind of social interaction. Just as true movie buffs can appreciate a bad movie (all those midnight screenings of The Room by Tommy Wiseau, anyone?) for the mere fact it represents a point on a spectrum they love. Similar to the way real foodies have an appreciation for the grotesqueness of poutine or bacon donuts, I imagine for extroverts there is still something satisfying about the empty calories they gain from banter, and that sometimes, it turns into something more meaningful.

So while we could waste more time pointing out what makes each of us better -- you guys are happier, we are smarter, you are rewarded by society, but we secretly make better leaders -- the more productive conclusion is to understand how we act differently to achieve the same goal (which I think could have saved my introverted father and mildly extroverted mother a lot of grief). The next time you roll your eyes at an introvert for not leaving the house, or judge extroverts for their banal banter, keep in mind each is probably making the best choice about using or conserving his or her energy to form actual connections -- something you want to do as well.

Down the row from me in the salon, I watch a meeting of two extroverts. The hairdresser, who is wearing a backwards baseball cap, is about to cut a woman's hair and they begin chatting about sending their kids to school. Ten minutes later, after Leslie has turned off the blowdryer and I'm able to hear their conversation again, it has escalated. The woman is telling her life story, and now the whole salon knows that after living in Hong Kong for three years she came back to Canada for university. Conversationally, she and her hairdresser have progressed by embracing the small talk I loathe.

I look up at Leslie, who is silently making final trims to my hair, and still feel grateful the only thing we learned about each other is that she's heading out East on vacation and I'm staying home for the long weekend. I feel confident our few words aren't because we don't like each other, but rather because we both know that if we're going to form a connection, we'll save our energy for outside of the salon.