I was listening to Desert Island Discs yesterday morning and was struck by the way Bob Mortimer described himself as being shy as a child. He suggested that it had defined the first 30 years of his life. The comedian, the other half of Reeves and Mortimer, told Lauren Laverne that it’s a crippling thing to have something to say but not be quite brave enough to say it; to have something to contribute but to not quite dare do it.
What’s interesting is that shyness is about social anxiety, which in itself is about a fear of the judgement of others, which most of us have to a greater or lesser extent. It’s certainly true that social anxiety can be crippling, but often what is perceived as shyness starts off as an introversion preference. This is something that Bob Mortimer has possibly never given any thought to.
An introversion preference quite often leads to those with this particular way of being feeling as though they’re not quite ready to speak up in the moment during conversations. Typically introverts prefer to process their thoughts on a subject internally until they have mentally wrestled them in to a shape that they are happy to utter out loud. Conversely, those with an extraversion preference will tend to just blurt things out without too much thought and then fret about the fact that they perhaps shouldn’t have said what they just said.
And society has traditionally rewarded the extraverts. School children in Bob Mortimer’s day would have been rewarded for thrusting their hand in the air and pleading “Me Miss, Me”, and the introverts would have been ignored, which might well have led to some social anxiety if you weren’t quite ready to say your truth out loud when the teacher asked.
And I see still see it in the workplace too, with managers continuing to using meeting facilitation methods with their teams such as brainstorming; an exercise that is designed to get the best out of the extravert’s tendency to shout out and to filter out any ideas that the introvert’s might have that still require some processing.
Obviously, context is everything and an introversion preference doesn’t mean that an individual will never take the opportunity to speak up, but being more considered in the way they communicate is probably how they would like to be, something managers should be taking in to consideration.
I can’t begin to know the inner workings of the mind of a teenage Bob Mortimer and whether what he describes as shyness was just that, but I wonder, had his shyness been reframed for him more positively as an introversion preference, whether that would have made something of a difference.
Mortimer spoke of his life as it is currently and how he rarely goes out socially, maybe just two or three times a year, when he has to for an event. For the most part he just stays at home, him and his wife Lisa; behaviour which would seem to suggest an introversion preference.
Following heart surgery in 2015, Mortimer was persuaded by fellow comedian and heart surgery survivor Paul Whitehouse to take part in a television series about fishing, which was actually much more a programme about two blokes sat on the side of a river pondering life and the universe, with a very occasional fish thrown in to liven proceedings. I can’t really think of a pass-time more suited to introverts than fishing, sitting alone for the most part and not having to engage with anyone or anything.
Shyness or introversion, it depends on your perspective I guess. What thoughts do you have?