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Business News/ News / World/  Zoom fatigue: The differing impact on introverts and extroverts

Zoom fatigue: The differing impact on introverts and extroverts


Video tools take a toll on both kinds of personalities—sometimes in surprising ways

Photo: ReutersPremium
Photo: Reuters

Over a year into the Covid-19 pandemic, more people are increasingly familiar with “Zoom fatigue," the tiredness and burnout caused by overuse of videoconferencing tools such as Zoom.

Zoom fatigue, however, can hit people differently depending on whether they are extroverts, who need more external stimuli to recharge their batteries, or introverts, who can be depleted by too much stimulation.

Surprisingly, some medical experts say the toll of these video tools might be harder on extroverts. The reality is that both personality types prefer socializing in person, even if they do so differently. Here’s a look at the difficulties extroverts and introverts face with videoconferencing, and some workarounds depending on which part of the personality spectrum people land on.

Extroverts: Diminishing returns

After the pandemic hit, lots of people loaded their work and social calendars with videoconferences and virtual happy hours. To many people—extroverts in particular—it seemed like a smart, fun and safe way to see people.

The experience, however, has proved to be less rewarding to many extroverts. “Zoom does not provide the same visceral feedback as a live conversation, so it is less satisfying," says Roger McIntyre, a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at the University of Toronto.

In a videoconference, Dr. McIntyre says, the body language and other visual cues that are so often part of in-person conversation aren’t fully there. And that can weigh especially on extroverts.

“One area where extroverts excel is the in-the-moment processing of bodily cues," says William Lamson, an assistant professor of psychology in clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine. But because video calls are more about talking heads, extroverts end up “using more focus and not likely getting the same reward as a live interaction," Dr. Lamson says.

Extroverts can also chafe at some of the structure and controls that videoconferencing platforms impose on conversations, says Elias Aboujaoude, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. Functions such as muting, for example, control the conversation in a way that does not happen with in-person conversations, says Dr. Aboujaoude.

Dr. McIntyre suggests that extroverts who want to improve their videoconferencing experiences experiment by making their calls more immersive. Larger screens, louder audio and shared activities such as listening to music can help, says Dr. McIntyre.

For others, trying different virtual backgrounds or participating in larger groups to increase the amount of stimuli could be fun, says Allison Baker, a child and perinatal psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital. “Extroverts seek out and thrive on interactions with many people and stimuli," says Dr. Baker, who is also an instructor at Harvard Medical School. “Virtual meeting platforms can be particularly energizing," she says, “as they offer the capacity to engage with 100-plus faces at the same time."

Creating more satisfying Zoom experiences does not, however, mean adding more video calls, say experts. Each individual has to find the right balance. Ken Schmitt, an executive recruiter in San Diego, says he used to use Zoom to socialize and even organized 40-person Zoom celebrations for his own and his wife’s 50th birthdays in 2020. Now he has cut back as he finds he experiences some Zoom fatigue every day from his virtual work calls.

“I break up my day and Zoom fatigue with mini workouts like running up and down the stairs for 10 minutes or I take the dog for a walk," Mr. Schmitt says.

Introverts: Portion Control

For introverts, the structure and control of videoconferencing platforms could be somewhat comforting, compared with typical workplace social exchanges.

“There is less spontaneous water-cooler chitchat, which isn’t necessarily their forte and can sometimes provoke anxiety," says Dr. Aboujaoude.

Video meetings feature frequent glitches that can offer some cover to introverts who often worry about how they look to others. “Introverts can be harsh critics of their social performance and second-guess what they have said in social settings," says Dr. Aboujaoude. When people come to expect little things to go wrong—like having images freeze on the screen—it can help people feel less responsible for how their own performance came across.

In some social contexts, such as first dates, many introverts actually prefer video meetups, says Wes Colton, a coach for introverts.

“It’s a good halfway step to an in-person date, and you can avoid the extra pressure of finding the person and still practice conversation," says Mr. Colton, who also considers himself an introvert.

Still, video calls pose their own special challenges for introverts. For one thing, in most virtual meetings, with multiple participants observing one another, “you feel like you’re being constantly watched," says Dr. McIntyre. “Introverts prefer to control who is in their personal space and for how long."

Or, as Dr. Aboujaoude says, “a Zoom call with 15 faces looking at you can feel more draining if you naturally prefer to connect with people one-on-one or in small groups."

What’s more, speaking before a group rarely comes easily to introverts, who tend to prefer one-on-one conversations. In-person conversation also offers pauses that, while sometimes awkward, can give a person time to contemplate a new thought. Pauses while on-screen, however, can be confusing. Has a person finished speaking? Or has the internet connection caused the screen to freeze? “Pauses or silence between thoughts or topics feels more unbearable and difficult to interpret due to the video," says Dr. Lamson.

Another feature of video meetings with special challenges for introverts: those embarrassing moments when children, pets or roommates wander through the background.

“One second I’m a psychologist, then a father, then a husband," Dr. Lamson says. “Having to keep switching can cause fatigue."

To mitigate some of these issues, a good first step for introverts is to eliminate optional video calls where possible and switch social Zoom calls to phone calls, says Dr. McIntyre.

“Portion control is critical for everyone," he says. Shorter video calls or making the video feature optional can help.

For video calls that can’t be avoided, and that feature a large or particularly talkative group, using the chat features or “raise-hand" buttons can make it easier to be recognized and given a chance to speak, says Dr. Baker.

Setting boundaries beforehand can also help, says Dr. Lamson. This could take the form of telling others at the beginning of a call when you need to leave, so you’re not stuck trying to exit a call gracefully.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.

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