5 Myths about Introversion from Harvard Business Review

Harvard Business Review

Harvard Business Review

I was exceptionally honored when the Senior Editor of the Harvard Business Review Blog Network asked me to write a post about introverts, which led to them publishing, “An Introvert’s Guide to Networking.” I have been amazed by the response it’s garnered and the number of emails I have received from introverted executives literally “pouring their hearts out” to me.

As I read through the hundreds of comments on the post and the emails, I realized there are clear myths about introversion that are relatively pervasive. I aim to dispel them here.

1. Introversion Myth #1: Being Introverted is the same as Being Shy

While there may be a number of introverts who are shy, there are also a number of extroverts who are shy. There is no direct correlation.

2. Introversion Myth #2: Introverts are Socially Inept or Anxious in Social Situations

Again, while this may be true for some introverts, this can also be true for extroverts and is not directly related to one’s introversion.

3. Introversion Myth #3: If I am Fearful of Public Speaking I Must be an Introvert

Studies show the fear of public speaking is the top fear people face, and that 75% of individuals experience speaking anxiety. Yet less than half of all people are introverts. Again, there is no direct correlation and this affects extroverts in the same way it affects introverts.

4. Introversion Myth #4: Introverts Have Communication Challenges and Difficulty Knowing What to Say

This is social anxiety, not introversion. If you research social anxiety you do not find references to introversion as a cause.

5. Introversion Myth #5: If You Act Like an Extrovert You Can “Overcome” Introversion

The truth is best summed up by an email I received from a fellow executive: “I have spent the better part of a 10-year career turning introversion into extroversion via the same technique used by people to cure bad posture – over correct it long enough and the correct posture becomes natural. This approach was certainly memorable but I made a fool of myself more times than I can remember, which is not conducive to long-term connections.”

The bottom line: there is no need to “overcome” introversion or try to be someone you’re not. Introversion is simply a natural preference, and introverts have many laudable strengths because of it.

Then, what is Introversion?

Introversion is a general preference for being alone or in small groups with others that stems solely from the fact that introverts get their energy from their “inner world” of thoughts, ideas, reflections and even memories. We get excited when we come up with new ideas, and as we begin to mull over how we’ll bring them to life we become naturally energized. We love brainstorming and talking about our ideas with just one or two other people so that we can thoughtfully reflect as we think. Generally speaking, we think in our heads rather than out loud.

Our extroverted colleagues, on the other hand, get their energy from being in the “outer world” of people and places and things. They think out loud, and they actually gain energy from being around large groups of people.  For introverts, being in a large group is draining, which is why we have to take time to recharge after being at social events or in large work groups.

A Business Example

Think about a team strategy session being held by a department of a major corporation. The introverts in the department will prefer to think through the strategies they’d like to propose, and to reflect on the pros and cons of these strategies, prior to being in a large-group environment. They will do best when they have time to develop ideas of their own, perhaps run them by a few others in small group meetings, reflect on everything, and then take their strategies and opinions to the larger group.

Extroverts would prefer to skip all of this and simply meet in a large group for the strategy session. They get energized by the ideas that everyone shares and are likely to exuberantly think out-loud.

Note importantly, none of this has anything to do with any of the individuals in this department being shy, socially anxious, not knowing what to say, being afraid to speak in public or being inhibited around others.

The Truth about Introverts

Many introverts, including many of my friends and colleagues, are socially adept, confident, adroit at networking, outgoing around others, enjoy public speaking, and never spend a moment worrying about what they’ll say next. But at the end of the day, they’ll recharge by being alone with their thoughts, and they look forward to time spent reflecting.

Introversion is a gift. If you’ve received it, honor it.

~

The Introvert's Guide to Success in Business and Leadership

The Introvert's Guide to Success in Business and Leadership

Are you an introvert looking to use your introversion to your advantage in business & leadership or an extrovert interested in leading introverts more effectively? I wrote this eBook for you…

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Being an introvert is truly an advantage in business and leadership if you know how to leverage it, and if you remain true to yourself.

RELATED POSTS:

The Extravert’s Guide to Leading Introverts

The Introvert’s Guide to Leadership

How to Design a Conference Introverts Will Love

Photo is from @HarvardBiz Twitter Page.

Comments

  1. Lisa, I would add my 2 cents, but I’m feeling shy, socially anxious, unsure what to say, afraid to speak in public, and am also inhibited by the comments of others…. ;>} Great stuff, as always!

  2. First of all, congratulations on being approached by HBR to write for them! I think that is an honor most blog authors in our niche would give parts or their body for.
    Secondly, being an introvert myself, I would like to thank you for the work you do in terms of debunking myths about introverts. I think because the perception exits that extroverts are more successful when it comes to social interaction, discounts the contribution introverts can make. Thank you for this post it is really insightful and I enjoyed it very much!
    Stephan De Villiers´s last blog post ..Comment on Three Principles for Effective Social Change by Stephan De Villiers

    • Stephan,

      This is such a kind comment; I can’t thank you enough for your support and encouragement! I will continue to write about the topic because it’s one I feel so passionately about. All the best to you!

  3. Hi Lisa, I have shared posts from you before and find your clarity on the myths above very refreshing. As a public speaking coach and introvert, I often have people surprised to learn of my temperament – because my extroverted behaviors throw their judgment. Yet many skilled performer/presenters are introverts. This drives my mission – to help introverts share their gifts with their world. Glad you are, too.

    • Thank you, Merri – I appreciate that. Yes, I want introverts to not only share their gifts with the world, but to finally be comfortable simply being who they are without trying to be someone they’re not. :) Thanks so much for your support!

  4. Congratulations on the HBR article! Another spot on article. Thanks for helping me crawl out of my shell. Your articles are just what I’ve been looking for!
    Tony Carbon´s last blog post ..Hello world!

  5. Enjoyed the post. While everyone is unique to some degree there always some good take aways. Each time I join these discussions I come away with a better understanding of myself. I must reflect on this later.
    Doug Wagner´s last blog post ..Chain Reaction (to Sustainable Profits)

    • Doug, that’s such an important point – we are all unique and, in the end, should be wary of categories and generalizations as much as possible. Honored to know you’ve found it a valuable discussion.

  6. Lisa – excellent bit of debunking, these myths seem to grow up as a sort of folk wisdom and grow beyond their initial credibility. As someone who is coming out the tail end of mid-life change I think I was an extrovert and am ‘getting in touch’ with my introvert! I have noticed that there are situations when I am happy to behave as an extrovert and others when introversion suits better. Also mu behaviour is dependant on who else is there, what my role is, and even how I feel at the time. I can’t see how business contexts can be much different.
    I am proposing that while we categorise people as ‘extrovert’ or ‘introvert’ what we are really saying is someone behaves ‘mostly’ as an extrovert or introvert – maybe that is a Gen X notion that being and behaviour are intimately linked. Can you comment on this notion?
    Rev Des Williamson

    • Des,

      You’re hitting on an important point. Though we each have a preference, we will “play along the scale” as I refer to it, depending on the situation. So, although I am introverted by nature, I get out of my comfort zone every Tuesday evening to host Leadership Chat on Twitter. When the chat is over and I’ve interacted with hundreds of people, I need time alone to recharge. As you mention, there will be times when you’ll default to your preference, and times you’ll be comfortable moving beyond it. You’ve discovered an important secret. :) Thanks so much for the comment, I really appreciate it!

  7. Hi Lisa,

    I don’t think many psychologists agree with you on your definition of introvert. It might be that you’re not really an introvert, after all. You’re just a person who performs better when not working in a group.
    PM Hut´s last blog post ..Suggestions For Better Project Planning

  8. I was an introvert or maybe just shy with low self-esteem
    I am now definitely an extrovert. Partially my work demands it but mostly I love being around people and will strike up conversation with anyone because I like the interaction

  9. Lisa, thank you for clearly defining the characteristics of an introvert as a personality type and how we interact with the world around us. I have taken the Myers-Briggs test a couple times in my life and consistently remain an INFP (introverted, intuitive, feeling, and perceiving). People often confuse introversion with shyness. You could be shy and also introverted; but being introverted doesn’t necessarily equate with shyness. Introverted people are successful in a multitude careers, it just depends (according to Myers-Briggs) what your other preferences are. The main point is we introverts need opportunities to recharge by harnessing time for reflection.

    I also loved your post on an introverts guide to networking. Thanks to you, I won’t have to continue to try to explain the traits of introversion and why it should be celebrated as a type. I can just forward the links to your posts. :-)

    • Hi Felicia,

      I am honored to know these resources have been helpful to you! Thanks so much for sharing a bit about yourself here; I sincerely appreciate it. Have a lovely weekend!

  10. I came to the conclusion that I was never shy but as an introvert my environment wasn’t sure what else to ‘label’ me – I only recently discovered that being an introvert doesn’t equal a shy person and it was like a lightbulb going off in my head!
    Diane Corriette´s last blog post ..101 things to know about being an introvert (free eBook)

  11. Thank you for separating these! I knew that introversion was where you were most ‘recharged’. But I hadn’t separated it so clearly from being ‘shy’ or reserved. Put me in a room full of people with a mic and I can Go on for hours (if I’m passionate about it). and LOVE it. But then, I’m exhausted by it – its always puzzled me. Until now!!
    Thank you so much! I would love to meet you just so I could hug you! :)
    Cathy TIbbles´s last blog post ..How this entrepreneur stumbled upon blogging, and eventually published her own book.

  12. Great stuff Lisa!

    Using a breakthrough algorithm and publicly available data, we’ve [PYCO] determined the level of introversion/extroversion of most adult Americans – in fact 181,000,000 Americans to date. In fact we have complete psychological profiles on all 181 million.

    Key point is that every single one of us, even the most extroverted among us, are introverted. No person in our database is a pure extrovert or pure introvert.

    We’d happily provide you additional demographic characteristics of introverts to help dispel misunderstandings. For instance, what are the top 5 job types held by introverts?

    No matter, thanks for focusing on this topic.

    Keith

  13. Really enjoyed reading the article, thank you Lisa!
    Hugh Madison´s last blog post ..Fireworks brushes

  14. Lisa,

    I appreciate this article, as I’m always hoping to learn, apply and share information about making work better, more productive and a more comfortable place for everyone. My workplace is fun and full of energy, but it currently lacks the quiet space introverts appreciate, and really the kind of place where you can focus and get into “flow”. But we’re always working towards making it better!

    I was also curious – were you offering a free PDF version of your e-book as an alternative to buying it on an e-reader (I have neither a Kindle nor a Nook)? If so – I believe the PDF link is currently broken.

    Thanks again!
    Jason

  15. Lisa:

    There are recent survey results about how many American adults and adolescents are scared of networking situations, public speaking, and other social fears.
    See: http://joyfulpublicspeaking.blogspot.com/2013/11/how-many-american-are-scared-of.html

    Richard
    Richard I. Garber´s last blog post ..Busting a myth – that 75% of people in the world fear public speaking

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  2. [...] recently took note of an article entitled 5 Myths About Introversion, by Lisa Petrilli (author of several books on the topic). Lisa has also written for the Harvard Business [...]

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  5. [...] recent post on the HRB Blog Network led me to an article about the 5 Myths about Introversion. The 5 myths are worth [...]

  6. [...] such as problem-solving, remembering and planning. Introverts get their energy from their “inner world” of thoughts, ideas, reflections and [...]

  7. [...] “Introversion is a general preference for being alone or in small groups with others that stems solely from the fact that introverts get their energy from their “inner world” of thoughts, ideas, reflections and even memories. We get excited when we come up with new ideas, and as we begin to mull over how we’ll bring them to life we become naturally energized. We love brainstorming and talking about our ideas with just one or two other people so that we can thoughtfully reflect as we think. Generally speaking, we think in our heads rather than out loud.” – Lisa Petrilli, “5 Myths about Introversion from Harvard Business Review” [...]

  8. […] recent post on the HRB Blog Network led me to an article about the 5 Myths about Introversion. The 5 myths are worth […]

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