I’d been told to come to the interview prepared with several questions. After interviewing with the HR director for nearly an hour, I asked, “What does the ideal personality for this position look like to you?” “Well,” said the director. “The person doesn’t necessarily have to be an extrovert, but they need to be able to act like one.”
I was a bit taken aback by her reply. However, as someone who is never shy to talk about introversion and extroversion, I responded that I am an introvert — I need plenty of alone time to recharge — but I can also be outgoing and friendly when the situation calls for it.
The mood in the room immediately shifted. The comment, “I’m an introvert” was enough to change her entire perception of me as a candidate for the position. She briefly answered my remaining questions, and I left within the next five minutes. Ninety-five percent of the interview went well, but I knew in that moment that I wouldn’t get a call back. I didn’t.
Misconceptions About Introversion in the Workplace
Although more people are learning what being an introvert means, there are still several misconceptions about introverts in the workplace. Even some of the most well-meaning extroverts I know still have trouble understanding what being an introvert really means. My extroverted colleague often says things like, “You don’t seem like an introvert. You actually like to talk to people!” I still see job descriptions using terms like “extrovert” when describing the ideal temperament to fill an available position.
Some of the biggest misconceptions about introverts in the workplace include:
- We don’t enjoy communicating or engaging with others.
- We don’t enjoy going to events or social functions.
- We’re not comfortable presenting or speaking in public.
- We’re a bad fit for customer-facing roles like sales, marketing, or customer service.
- We’re timid and unable to speak up for ourselves.
- We make poor leaders.
The biggest reason these misconceptions exist is because introversion is still closely linked to shyness and social anxiety. Many introverts and extroverts experience shyness and social anxiety. However, as I’ve said before — and will say again to drive home this important point — shyness and social anxiety are not the same thing as, nor consequences of, being an introvert.
Shyness is still linked to introversion in some dictionary definitions. Fortunately, the introvert-positive movement has helped to clear up many misconceptions, but we still have a long way to go — especially in the workplace.
What Introverts Can Do to End the Stigma at Work
As an introvert who works in marketing and sales, I’m frequently surrounded by extroverts. There are some days when it feels like the easiest thing to do would be to withdraw into myself or completely change work environments. While both of these options may be necessary for introverts in certain situations, there are other things we can do to help our colleagues understand the strengths related to being an introvert.
1. Clear up misconceptions when they happen. For example, when an extroverted coworker made a comment that another coworker couldn’t be an introvert because he enjoyed planning social events, I reminded her that introversion is a preference for minimally stimulating environments and a need to recharge after extended periods of socialization. However, many introverts still like to plan and attend social events. Turns out, the coworker in question did indeed identify as an introvert.
2. Share educational resources. I’ve enjoyed sharing and discussing the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) with my coworkers. Sharing my INFJ personality type and learning the personality types of my coworkers has helped us form stronger relationships because it has given us a deeper understanding of each other’s personality preferences. (Not sure of your personality type? We recommend this free personality test.)
3. Identify your own beliefs about introversion.
What does introversion mean to you? Do you find that you equate being an introvert with the negative stereotypes? Many introverts discover that they have limiting beliefs that keep them from excelling in their careers. This makes sense because we so often hear these same beliefs coming from friends, family, and coworkers. Early on in my career, I did this very often, and still find myself going into a negative headspace during times of stress or anxiety at work.
Sometimes my mind will try to shift the blame to others, for example: “They won’t give me a promotion because they’re looking for someone more extroverted.” These sort of beliefs play a big role in keeping the stigma about introversion alive in the workplace. If we want our coworkers to understand our gifts as introverts, we have to start by believing in them ourselves. Once you’ve identified your own core beliefs about yourself, you can work to rid yourself of limiting beliefs.
What Extroverts Can Do to End the Stigma at Work
If you’re an extrovert with introverted friends, family members, or colleagues, we need your help, too. We need you to understand that introversion is not a bad thing, and it’s not something that has to hold us back in our careers. We need you to understand what your own beliefs about introversion are and work to reduce the negative associations, just as we are working to do ourselves. Most important, we need extroverts to simply listen. Take some time to reflect on what we tell you about our temperament, and try to understand.
What your more quietly-oriented friends and coworkers don’t need is for you to pity them or label them based on limiting stereotypes. We don’t need you to make assumptions based on what we can or can’t do because we’re introverts, regardless of how well-intentioned your assumptions may be. We would never assume that an extrovert can’t be capable of excelling in a quiet desk job, like as a programmer or graphic designer. So we shouldn’t quickly assume that someone can’t excel in sales or management because they have a preference for introversion. We don’t see our personality as a weakness, so we ask that you don’t, either.
The Value of Introversion in the Workplace
We all have unique personality traits that make us successful in different careers. Unfortunately, introverts have experienced being judged and stereotyped due to our quiet temperament for years. We’ve worked hard to help society understand and accept the strengths that we have to offer, and our biggest hope in the workplace is not that we’re viewed as better than extroverts, but as equals.
We still have work to do, as there is still plenty of pressure to “act like an extrovert.” People still use introversion or extroversion as a decision-making factor when offering someone a job. It takes both introverts and extroverts to end the stigma about introversion in the workplace. Once we do, we will have every opportunity to perform at our highest abilities, which is a win-win for everyone.
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