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How Introverts and Extraverts Can Thrive in a Lockdown

Posted 17 Jun 2020 by Jess Shankleman
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Given that personality assessments say she’s an introvert, Hannah Harding figured she’d love life in lockdown. The 37-year-old usually gets drained by the buzz of an office and was looking forward to working from home, but two months in, Harding says that even she has had enough solitude. In recent weeks, she’s started visiting her sister to chat on the doorstep, six feet apart.

“I definitely thought, ‘I’m fine, I’m happy on my own, I don’t see people for days, I can cope with this, and it’s great,’” Harding says. “But then you get these moments where you realize, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t touched anybody for eight weeks.’”

Feeling this way isn’t unusual, given the levels of stress many of us are under, says John Hackston, head of thought leadership at The Myers-Briggs Co., the purveyor of ubiquitous tests developed in the 1960s that sort people into 16 different personality types, based on psychological preferences. For decades, organizations have used the assessments to promote harmony among staffers, helping them understand that individuals are simply wired differently, and conflict isn’t always an affront.

Of the four pairs of psychological preferences measured by the tests, two can predict reactions to the lockdown, says Hackston. The first concerns interactions and whether you lean toward Introversion or Extroversion. The second is about structure: People deemed Judging prefer to get things decided and done quickly; those who are Perceiving are more open to new information and options.

You’d think these days of social restrictions would be high times for people such as Harding, with a preference for Introversion, while Extraverts would suffer. But that’s not always the case. “We’ve all seen introverts on Twitter saying they’ll find this easy, but it’s not as simple as that,” Hackston says.

Under extreme and prolonged stress, such as having to work at home in isolation for weeks, people may see their behavior flip, turning them into an ugly version of their opposite personality type. “We can put so much energy into our favorite process that we exhaust it,” he says. “We suddenly start to exhibit very atypical behavior, as parts of our personality that we don’t usually use take over.”

Under pressure, most people fall back on and overuse their preferred style of operation, like a comfort blanket, Hackston says.

In early isolation, Introverts can appear to become withdrawn. If the stress continues for too long or is extreme, they will exhaust all their introversion energy and their psyche flips to what’s known as “being in the grip” of the opposing characteristic. For Introverts, that can manifest as becoming aggressive and angry—an unpracticed version of an extraverted personality.

Extraverts, by contrast, get louder as they try to get input from others and seek the contact they thrive on. The lack of attention they face in isolation can cause them to become uncharacteristically withdrawn, to an inner world that’s dark and dismal.

When it comes to preferences around structure, those who are Judging seek routine. They can find the sudden shift to shelter in place difficult but will thrive once they find their rhythm, says Hackston.

In contrast, people with Perceiving tendencies may have slipped easily into the lockdown, but the novelty soon wears off, and they find it monotonous.

Here are some tips from Hackston to help make your lockdown go smoothly.

For Introverts:

Find a quiet place to work. If you have roommates, retreat to a space where you can be alone or buy noise-canceling headphones.

Be more playful with colleagues and take opportunities to chat.

Make time to sit down and reflect on what’s happening, perhaps having lunch in a quiet spot instead of eating at your desk.

For Extraverts:

Maintain connections by taking part in virtual pub quizzes, say, or using Zoom or Skype to keep in touch with pals.

Make your home environment stimulating by playing music, taking regular breaks to chat with friends, or spending time outdoors.

Ask for some quiet time, if you need it.

For Judgers:

Try to move as quickly as possible to a new routine to overcome the shock of a sudden lifestyle change.

Dedicate a corner of the room for working, since you prefer things to be compartmentalized.

Change into work clothes each morning to create a sense of separation from home life.

For Perceivers:

Mix up your days and change your work schedule to avoid a sense of monotony.

Consider taking longer breaks in the day and catching up with work in the evening, when necessary.

Respect deadlines, and don’t start shooting off emails at 2 a.m. that might cause a panic among colleagues.

Hackston says knowing a colleague’s personality type can be particularly helpful now that team members can’t see each other in person or meet informally at the coffee machine. It can help us make allowances when people seem down and to better understand what they might need to get out of a bad mood.

“None of us are islands at any time,” Hackston says, “but really, now is a time when we can all help each other.”

This article originally appeared in Bloomberg Businessweek