Social interactions are a vital necessity when it comes to work, school, and general life circumstances. Although some may be more comfortable at home alone, eventually we all have to venture out into the social sphere. Does that mean that introverts are at a disadvantage in such a social expectant culture? Not necessarily. Introverts are hard to spot in casual passing, and sometimes our assumptions can cloud the ability to notice the small details of behavior. The assumption that introverts are better at “blending in” is foundationally flawed. Where that may be the case in some, others are often mistaken for extroverts. Here at the TECHniques Center that could mean your tutors, counselors, or even our wonderful administrative staff. How is it possible for an introvert to be perceived as the complete opposite? A famous sociologist by the name of Erving Goffman gives an interesting insight into a potential reason for this misconception.
Erving Goffman influenced the sociological perspective of Symbolic Interactionism. Within this perspective of individual interactions, Goffman’s theory of Dramaturgy emerged. Dramaturgy is a metaphor that Goffman uses to explain social interaction as being dependent on the “audience”. The metaphor explains social interactions being like an actor in a play. This theory states that an individual operates in two different spheres; front stage and back stage. The back stage self is who you are when you are at your most comfortable. The front stage self is who you present yourself to be. An actor in a play will present themselves as the character they want you to see when the curtain is open, but that isn’t necessarily the person they are when the curtain closes. Basically, in the social or public sphere we present ourselves the way we want to be seen.
Goffman’s theory can be applied to this misconception of introverts and extroverts. Even though a person is not naturally outgoing or social, that doesn’t mean that they are unable to present themselves as such. Being an introvert may only be their back stage self. Think about how you act with your best friend in comparison to your boss. Do you act differently? This doesn’t mean that you are being “fake”. You are just behaving in a way that is deemed more socially appropriate. We all have many front stage selves depending on the situation. Friends, professors, bosses, coworkers, and classmates all elicit different expectations of interactions. A job interview and a night out with your friends are going to be distinct from each other.
The idea of extroverts and introverts are not as easily identifiable as they seem. The only way to tell is through close proximity, time, and differing contexts of interaction. We all take on the role necessary for a particular situation in our lives, but knowing who you naturally are (your back stage self) in contrast to who you present yourself to be is a trait that should be highly prized. With enough practice, it is easy for someone to develop an automatic social response that goes against their natural tendency.
So, think about if there are any introverts here at the TECHniques Center despite the outgoing and friendly atmosphere. Don’t be afraid to ask! You might be surprised by the answers you receive.