Would you describe yourself as calm, quiet, or a deep thinker? Do you know someone who relishes having alone time above all else? If so, the person you are thinking of is probably an introvert. (Not sure? You can take this quiz: Are you an Introvert or an Extrovert?)
For me, it wasn’t until early adulthood that I really knew what it meant to be an introvert. There are a lot of misconceptions about introverts, so I thought it just referred to people who are shy ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Since then, the more I learn about introversion and extroversion, the more helpful it has been in understanding myself and others.
Introversion and extroversion are at the heart of how we interact with the world, including socializing and how we restore energy, so understanding yourself (or others) as an introvert gives us permission to be ourselves. One book in particular, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain helped me start to see the strengths of being an introvert. So, what follows is my attempt to debunk some common myths about introverts and shift the focus to our gifts.
Myth #1: Introverts Aren’t “People Persons”
I was speaking with a VP recently about an open position at her organization, a position that is externally-facing for a regional collaborative of partners. “It’s a great role for extroverts,” she said as she described how the role was primarily about building relationships.
Now, there was only a few minutes left in our scheduled exploratory call, and this woman was already doing me a favor, so I decided not to present her with the following case. But, here’s why she may have missed an opportunity for a great new hire...
It’s a common mistake to assume that introverts aren’t good at dealing with people, that we all clam up when we interface with other humans. But the truth is, introverts are actually very skilled at building relationships. Introverts are observant, ask a lot of questions, and are GREAT listeners – all relevant skills for the type of role she was describing.
Yes, it’s true that lots of people time can be draining for introverts. For that very reason, we tend to prioritize meaningful interactions over transactional ones to preserve our energy. Introverts will often skip the small talk to go deep – the type of meaningful conversation that is the foundation for strong relationships.
Myth #2: Introverts Can’t Handle Conflict
Another misconception that I hear often is that introverts don’t do well in situations with conflict. I even heard someone say that they “try to be mindful” to not bring up certain topics around introverted colleagues because they didn’t think they could handle it.
First of all, by definition conflict is uncomfortable for most people, and introverts are no different. But to assume that we are conflict-averse by nature is selling introverts short. As an introvert, I like to think of the trait as “socially selective” as opposed to avoidant. Introverts are keenly aware in social situations and tuned in to when things can become chaotic. This could result in a strategic decision to engage more selectively, or to retreat entirely if we know we don’t have the energy for the situation.
I love this example from Quiet about a woman who was approaching a tense conversation about a salary negotiation and considered backing out until she was reminded of her often-overlooked superpowers:
“She was an introvert, and as such she had unique powers in negotiation -- perhaps less obvious but no less formidable. She’d probably prepared more than everyone else. She had a quiet but firm speaking style. She rarely spoke without thinking. Being mild-mannered, she could take strong, even aggressive positions while coming across as perfectly reasonable. And she tended to ask questions - a lot of them - and actually listen to the answers, which no matter what your personality, is crucial to strong negotiation.” – Susan Cain
Myth #3: Introverts Aren’t Leaders
It may come as no surprise that we are living in an extroverted world, where things are designed by and for extroverts. Workplaces are built for groups with open working spaces. Social spaces overvalue the loudest, most outgoing players. And when asked to describe a “leader”, people often recite a list of extroverted characteristics: speaks with confidence, influences others, self-promoting, takes risks, makes quick decisions, and the list goes on.
Our society’s bias towards extroversion often leaves introverts undervalued, overlooked for promotions, or denied leadership positions. I’ve heard from many introverts (who are aware of their introverted tendencies) that they choose not to talk about their trait in the workplace for fear of being judged negatively.
If we take another look at the gifts of being an introvert, we’ll find another side to the story.
“It makes sense that introverts are uniquely good at leading. Because of their inclination to listen to others and lack of interest in dominating social situations, introverts are more likely to hear and implement suggestions. Introverted leaders create a virtuous circle of proactivity... In the [study], team members reported perceiving the introverted leaders as more open and receptive to their ideas, which motivated them to work harder.”
– Susan Cain
Introverts can be thoughtful, empathetic, calm, self-aware, warm, creative, innovative, and responsible – all qualities that I find crucial in a manager and incredibly powerful in a leader.
What myths would you add to this list? Other strengths that you have observed about introverts? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
Lastly, if you are an introvert and looking for more resources to understand your gifts, check out Introvert, Dear (another one of my favs), or send me a message! It can be challenging to navigate this extroverted world as an introvert, but there is a quiet revolution happening! :)