The question is, of course, a rhetorical one…or at least I hope it is. Student affairs is, after all, a profession that values the ideals of diversity, balance, and inclusion. I am often surprised to discover just how many student affairs professionals identify as introverts, probably because even I assume that this is a field dominated by extroverts. And why do I, and many others, make that assumption? I know many introverts who have both thrived and succeeded in student affairs. Yet, I wonder if you conducted a survey and had people identify the “characteristics” of a student affairs professional, how many of those would align more with what we perceive to be extroverted characteristics? How many people believe that student affairs professionals are omnipresent, eternally peppy, and always ready with an icebreaker at a moment’s notice?
Yesterday, I posed this question to on twitter
Curious – how many introverts have recorded feedback from colleague/supervisor that their introversion was perceived negatively #SAchat
— Christopher Conzen (@clconzen) July 24, 2013
Many of the responses I received, both on twitter and privately, that many folks had received some type of negative feedback. The response that resonated the most with me was this one from Jeff Pelletier
@clconzen totes. I get being present feedback all the time. Because my internal processing is perceived as being checked out.
— Jeff Pelletier (@JeffBC94) July 24, 2013
This is also feedback I hear frequently. I sometimes have to go the extra length to prove that I am, in fact, engaged and “present”. I most recently received this comment from someone who was in fact also an introvert. What made this especially surprising for me was that this person is often criticized by other (unfairly) for not being “present”. I decided to push back a little and ask the person to define what they meant by “present” and, as I expected, the person was at a loss to give a solid and measurable definition.
I think introverts are at the biggest disadvantage when compared with extroverted colleagues or predecessors. The gregariousness that often comes more naturally to the extrovert can make the introvert look almost anti-social. 16 hours into an Orientation Day, the extrovert seems almost to gain more steam while the introvert may often be running on fumes. While the extrovert may be jumping right into the middle of a crowd of students, the introvert may be on the perimeter, observing the activity and connecting with the outliers.
Now, as I addressed in a previous post, introversion cannot be used as an excuse for being overlooked or misunderstood. For me, I realize that I have chosen student affairs as my profession and if I do believe it is an “extroverted” profession, I have to do what I can to succeed in that environment. I can’t expect that all of my colleagues have read articles on how vital a role introverts play and how introverts are misunderstood. But I can work to help create a better understanding and appreciation for my introversion by doing what I can to dispel the myths while also demonstrating that I’m just as good (if not better) at my job as they are.
So what do you think? Is Student Affairs a natural fit for introverts? Is it not as compatible, but with a little work, we can fit in as well? Or is it forcing a square peg into a round hole?