Estimates put nearly half the world’s population as introverts, yet this personality type is still greatly misunderstood, both by extroverts and fellow introverts.
Introversion and extroversion are personality types that are defined by how people get their energy and process the world. While both types have their own complexities, the basic difference is that extroverts recharge by being around people and generally process the world externally (e.g. being part of the conversation and talking while or before they think), while introverts recharge by spending time alone and generally process the world internally (e.g. being more of an observer and thinking before they speak).
Here are five common mistakes that people make about introverts, and the truth behind them:
Introverts are shy
The idea that introversion and shyness is the same thing is one of the most common introvert-related myths. As I mentioned above, introversion is a personality type that is defined by how people manage their energy. Shyness is born out of social anxiety, insecurity and fears. So while introverts and people who experience shyness might appear very similar on the surface, introverts are more likely to spend time alone because it leaves them feeling refreshed and energetic, while people who experience shyness are more likely to spend time alone because they feel fear around social interactions.
Shyness and introversion can go hand in hand—especially as we live in a society that is biased towards extroversion and perceived pressure to be outgoing and bubbly can be anxiety-provoking in itself. However, they are not the same thing, nor is one a result of the other.
An introvert doesn’t enjoy company
A second common introvert-related myth is that introverts don’t enjoy the company of other people. It’s true that you’re more likely to find an introvert at home with a good book than schmoozing a bunch of people they don’t know at a busy party, but introverts—just like everyone—thrive on human connection.
While extroverts tend to gravitate towards larger groups, introverts flourish in small groups and within one-to-one interactions. They tend to feel drained by small talk but love having deep, thought-provoking conversations about the things that really matter to them.
An introvert can certainly be a people person—they just need to be mindful of their energy and take time to recharge after social interactions.
Introverts are unfriendly
To begin with, introverts can seem reserved, haughty, and distant, but it’s probably not personal—the majority of introverts will become warmer the more you get to know them. I remember someone once telling me that the first time we had met they thought I didn’t like them—I did, I just didn’t know them very well at the time so they saw a more reserved version of me than my closest friends might.
In general, introverts tend to have a few close friends that see a very different side of them than people they’re meeting for the first time. Most introverts have a lot more going on underneath the surface than first meets the eye. Once you’ve established a mutual connection and trust, you’ll start to experience this for yourself.
Introverts hate public speaking
Contrary to popular belief, many successful public speakers and performers are introverts. As I mentioned above, introverts don’t usually reveal much about themselves to people they don’t know or acquaintances, however public speaking or performing requires an element of play-acting and giving a performance. For many introverts, that’s what public speaking is and, although they will need time to recharge afterwards, being introverted certainly doesn’t preclude anyone from taking the mic.
The idea of standing up in front of a room of people and sharing ideas can be terrifying for anyone—not just introverts—but public speaking is a skill and, like any skill, we can practice. Susan Cain shares some useful tips for introverts who are ready to jump into the public speaking arena (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/quiet-the-power-introverts/201107/10-public-speaking-tips-introverts) and points out that with the right preparation and technique, introverts can bring the house down.
Introverts can’t be entrepreneurs
This was a belief I held for a long time—to my detriment. When people think of running business, they think of things like networking events and naturally assume that introverts are going to be out of their element. As you’ve probably guessed by now, however, this isn’t the case!
Introverts’ thoughtful, observatory natures mean they can make excellent entrepreneurs; they’re good at watching and analyzing a problem before presenting a solution. Equally, while the average introvert might find traditional networking, marketing and promotion draining, social media and the explosion of online businesses now mean that anyone can set up a business from behind their computer screen—and run it in a way that aligns with their personality preferences. While some introverts might balk at the idea of attending in-person networking events, their businesses flourish through blogs, social media, written interviews, and other introvert-friendly activities.
Labels like introvert and extrovert can be useful, as long as we make sure we’re not pigeonholing people based on our misconceptions of what those labels mean. Whether you identify as being introverted or extroverted, remember that there’s nothing you can’t do because of your personality type. Listen to the story you’re telling yourself and decide how you want it to end.
Featured photo credit: eleannab via flickr.com