The July 8, 2012 edition of the New York Times included an article entitled, “The Spotlight Dims and Shyness Sets In” which states:
The terms “shy” and “introvert” are used almost interchangeably and without distinction in the common parlance. “Psychologists debate about the overlap,” said Susan Cain, author of the recent book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” which extols the power of those who prefer listening to speaking, or reading to socializing. “Shyness is fear of social judgment, a consuming worry about how people view you. Introversion is more about a preference for environments that are less stimulating: someone who’d rather have a glass of wine with a close friend than go to a cocktail party.”
I was unhappy to see this paragraph because I believe it leads readers to believe it’s OK to use the terms “shy” and “introvert” interchangeably. And yet, per the experts on introversion (The Myers Briggs Foundation, whose work is “to continue the pioneering work of Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers in the field of psychological type, especially the ethical and accurate use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® instrument”), shyness and introversion are not related and not to be confused.
Why the danger? Because like it or not, others judge us by the labels we place on ourselves. And because I believe this article overgeneralizes and casts an unfair and inaccurate light on introversion, with ramifications for introverts in the world of business and leadership.
If I tell someone I’m an introvert they usually say something like, “I never would have guessed that…you seem so confident (or bubbly, or sociable).” And then I go on to tell them that introversion has nothing to do with confidence, (or bubbliness or sociability) and everything to do with where I get my energy and my preference and love for my inner world of ideas, memories and vision for the future. Typically the other person’s eyes then glaze over and I realize just how much misunderstanding exists in the world about us introverts!
In response to the article: I enjoy a stimulating cocktail party or rock concert as much as my extroverted friends and colleagues, but my preference is to go knowing that I can stay “in my element” by attending with a few close friends. And when the party or concert is over, I’ll need time to be alone or have that quiet drink with a close friend in order to recharge, something my extroverted friends will not need to do. I prefer socializing to reading, but when it’s time to recharge I might spend time alone with a good book…
So why am I worried about the subtlety here? Because I believe there is a real danger in mischaracterizing introverts. I fear:
- Introverts will read descriptions like this and believe they shouldn’t even bother going to cocktail parties (and yet networking is so important to success in business and leadership!)
- Introverts will be tempted to succumb to the challenges we face rather than feeling empowered by our strengths, including vision, creativity, and world-changing ideas
- Introverts will garner from articles like this that they are somehow not destined for success, and won’t pursue strategies that can help them be extremely successful in life
- Extroverts will misjudge us and not consider us for leadership roles or promotions into positions in which we could excel, and introverts will misinterpret this as a lack of aptitude or competence – with damaging consequences to our career and perhaps even our self-esteem
- Extroverted leaders will mistake our preference for working alone or in small groups to mean we can’t succeed at leading a large team – and will miss out on our brilliant ability to do so
- The world will miss out on our ability to shine as leaders. If it misses out even a little bit, it’s a detriment to the planet!
Thus, I will continue my mission to empower and encourage introverts all over the world to truly connect to, and understand, who they are and how they light up the world by being more of who they are meant to be! Are you with me?
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…
“The Introvert’s Guide to Success in Business and Leadership” eBook is NOW Available! Now an Amazon Best Seller, Hot New Release, and Kindle promotion in July 2012. Featured on Huffington Post, and the inspiration behind my Harvard Business Review article!
Click here to DOWNLOAD in PDF format. Thank you!
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.
Photo of Danger!Danger! by lux.musica.khaos.