It seems like these days extroverts rule the world – would you agree? Everyone seems to attend 50 networking events per year, make speeches at TedTalks, record YouTube videos or run their own companies…
I see all of the above trends indeed. But I don’t actually think you h a v e to be a pure extrovert to succeed nowadays and be a happy, well-functioning individual. In fact, you can’t even really be a ‘pure extrovert’ or a ‘pure introvert’. We should be thinking about the Introversion-Extroversion scale as a spectrum, where you might have a strong preference for one or the other, but depending on the situation you can adjust your behaviour beyond that preference as well.
10th of October is a World Mental Health Day. Last year in autumn, we were focusing on the stress in expats’ lives and discovering the most popular reactions to stress: Freeze, Flight and Fight responses. This year, I’d like to put introversion in the centre of attention.
This article will touch upon various misconceptions that people have about introverts and introvert behaviours. In the coming weeks, we will go deeper into the topic and consider various challenges that might be more typical for expats or international assignees who are introverts, as well as think about some solutions to overcome those challenges.
Misconception #1 – You can either be an introvert or an extrovert
There are multiple theories and concepts that describe people’s temperament, personality, behavioural preferences. All of the ones I know treat Introversion-Extroversion as a spectrum, where in a vast majority of cases you are neither one nor the other. Rather, your preference for certain behaviours and reactions can be closer to one description or the other and if in most situations you see your natural preference for more inward-focused behaviours, you are likely to call yourself an introvert.
Misconception #2 – Introverts are shy
I’m a bit torn on this one. First reaction is No, of course not! Well, not all introverts are shy, for sure. Introversion and shyness are two separate character traits and shyness is not reserved only for people with introvert preferences.
There is a research though, by Cheek and his colleagues, that has indicated four types of introversion, one of them being the anxious type. This type seems to be the one that people first have in mind when they think about a stereotypical introvert. The anxious type’s characteristics include avoiding many social interactions and a certain feeling of awkwardness in them. However, it’s usually not due to the fact that they’d rather be by themselves and charge their batteries alone, but rather due to the feeling of insecurity, shyness and feeling of awkwardness. This type might have a particular ability to focus on the details, noticing people’s looks, worrying about them, thinking through the darkest possible scenarios, playing the devil’s advocate in various discussions.
So, yes, introverts can be shy, but it doesn’t mean that everyone who is shy is also an introvert.
Misconception #3 – Introverts don’t have many emotions (because they don’t show them)
That is a big one. And so wrong as well. Again, the fact of being emotional or not being emotional is a slightly different dimension. The fact that introverts don’t necessarily show all of their emotions or focus them outside does not mean they don’t have a rich emotional life. The emotions are presented to the outside world in a slightly less visible way. Equally, introverts very often also have a lower threshold for emotional reactivity, meaning that it might be much easier to elicit an emotional reaction in them, be it happiness, sadness or anger. Interestingly, people who are directing their strong negative emotions outside are usually introverts, while extroverts would most often shut down and escape, as a way of trying to deal with an emotion in an opposite way than usual.
Misconception #4 – Introverts don’t need company or social get-togethers
Human beings are social creatures and introversion is not equal to being antisocial. Although it is true that given the big amount of stimuli, conversations, sounds etc, introverts in general prefer smaller gatherings rather than big full-on parties or networking events. Because they can be draining. Because introverts are not necessarily longing for any kind of social interactions. They choose the interactions that will be interesting, enjoyable and will fulfil the social need without being massively exhausting.
If they have the choice to go to a party where they don’t know anyone, they don’t expect interesting interactions or stay at home, they would probably be more likely to stay home. If however they had the choice to meet with their good friends, catch up, have fun in a smaller group of people versus stay at home – likely they would go meet those friends.
Introverts do need social interactions, but it’s likely that they need them in a different way or in smaller doses than extroverts do.
Misconception #5 – Introverts are bad managers
This is an interesting one in our “western” world. If we put our cultural lens on, it will turn out that what one person can see as a good manager, for another person might be the exact description of a bad leader. The introvert characteristics may not always be most helpful in a managerial role, but there are certainly professions and industries where an introvert manager can be more effective than in others.
Skills that are often associated with people of strong introvert preference are for example detail-orientation, ability to actively listen and build fewer but deeper relationships. These can be particularly useful when working with data or documentation on a daily basis, when working with team members that are proactive and willing to share their ideas, where there is no expectation from the manager to be very directive and expressive. From my own experience, I valued both introvert and extrovert managers that I’ve been working with, but the introvert ones were those who made the most effort to coach me and selflessly provide development opportunities. Coincidence? May as well be. But I like to believe that it was their listening skills and the willingness to read between the lines and hear my needs, that led them to really get to know me well.
Misconception #6 – Introversion can be cured
Hmm…nope. It’s as if you’d say I’m short, can I cure this? It’s not a disease, it is a behavioural preference, a certain characteristic, the way you are. That said, it can be of course that this certain preference or characteristic is posing some challenges in your life and you do want to change ways in which you react to various situations. And this can be done. Just as if being short is annoying you and you decide to wear heals more often – most healed shoes are not the most comfortable, but they fulfill other requirements and needs.
There are certain situations in life where waking up the extrovert side might be beneficial, such as during networking events or adapting managerial style. You can adapt some behaviours or approach situations with a different mindset, to mimic the more extrovert ways. At the same time, your preference might still be to recharge your batteries at home alone. Nothing wrong with that. But although some of those adjustments might be a bit more draining, they can give introverts many benefits that they otherwise wouldn’t get. Myth busted – introversion doesn’t need to be cured because it’s not a disease. But if you find it challenging in life at times, in order not to sabotage your success, you can work on creating new habits and mindsets and teach yourself some more extrovert behaviours.
You can achieve success. You can fulfill your dreams. You can work in a multinational environment, in a big company and in a small enterprise. You can be a manager and you can be a specialist. You can go to networking events and enjoy them. You can be a great speaker. You can have your own brand and have own YouTube channel. You can develop in any way you want.
Sometimes you might need to go out of your comfort zone by being more expressive or spending more time around people, similarly to extroverts who might need to tame down their excitement sometimes or be able to spend time alone.
Take care of your mental health by not always taking for granted what other people say or how they show up on social media. Try to understand your values, who you are and what you like or don’t like. This will help you figure out how you want to live, which activities you like to choose, where you want to adapt to be more efficient or successful.