We Really Need to End the Stigma About Introversion in the Workplace

IntrovertDear.com introverts workplace

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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Read this: 21 Things People Don’t Realize You’re Doing Because You’re an Introvert  retina_favicon1

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  • David Bley

    The stigma starts in school.

    • I agree, David. As a shy, introverted kid I remember classmates making fun of me and once a teacher even saying that I seemed like the kind of kid who builds bombs at home because I was so quiet. We need to work on educating children and educators about the values of introversion.

      • Zanderson

        It is disheartening because school is supposed to be a place that fosters confidence. I had always been studious, excelled in my studies, but was rather inconspicuous. I had some teachers who wanted me to be more “out there”. For what, I don’t know. Maybe to serve as a role model? Who knows. Some even equated my quietness to not living up to my full potential. The worst teachers were the ones who forced me into the spotlight. My 4th grade teacher was the biggest offender. She noticed my academic abilities right away and gave me a lot of classroom responsibilities as a result: writing on the board, putting up class decorations, manning the record player, etc. I was fine with all of it until I felt like she was pushing me to be someone I wasn’t. She always signed me up for essay and art contests without my consent which I’d ultimately win, then have to attend the ceremonies and go up on stages and receive awards (which were torture for me). I resented her for doing that but I felt like I couldn’t really complain since they were rather harmless “good things” (I just didn’t enjoy them). But the last straw was when she told me I’d have to give a speech to the entire school over the PA system during the morning announcements. I was petrified. I even stayed home from school the day I had to do it, but when I returned the task was still waiting for me (getting caught trying to weasel my way out of it was embarrassing enough, haha). Walking down the hall to the front office felt like I was walking to my doom. I recall reading the long legal-sized paper top to bottom but the words were a blur. When I was done, I felt relieved and accomplished…until another teacher buzzed into the front office and said she couldn’t hear a word I said. Ugh!!! Of course my heart sank. I had to read the speech again, but this time LOUDER. I think I angry-shouted my way through it. I remember leaving the office humiliated, hot-faced and on the verge of tears. When I returned to class my teacher gave me the nastiest disapproving look, which only added to my frustration. She is a classic example of an extrovert who didn’t know how to handle an introvert (child). I think about how much better it would have been if she had gone over the speech with me, given me one-on-one time to help me practice…anything in the way of preparation and assurance. Positive-reinforcement goes a long way for children. It makes scary things less scary. She just threw me out there thinking, “now that’s how you turn an introvert into an extrovert!” No, that’s not how any of this works. You can’t turn an introvert into an extrovert no more than you can turn someone’s sexual orientation. Introversion is a way processing the world, just as extroversion is another way. How extroversion became the correct, default, or only way is beyond me and what we need to work on.

  • njguy54

    Until very recently, introversion was seen as a quasi-disability, or at very least a serious character flaw. And to the list of misconceptions, I’d add: “We’re weirdos who live in our moms’ basements who enjoy torturing small animals, who may or may not be serial killers, and who may very well show up at work one day with an assault rifle.” Even now you often encounter this bias when someone makes news by doing something horrible: “But he was so quiet…”

    So it’s little wonder you lost the interviewer once you dropped the I-bomb. And once again, an article here is totally on point, especially on the need to fight misconceptions. We are “biased toward bias” because our brains like to pigeonhole things. The key, then, is to borrow a page from our LGBTQ friends and to educate people and be “out and proud”… because the more people know and introvert and what introversion means, the more supportive of us they will be.

  • Alinka Lesbianka

    Yet it does make sense when you consider the dominant office-design trends of the last decade or two. My employer recently spent millions of dollars constructing a chic new building, and everything was meant to be adaptable, open, multi-use space. It was a fight to even get a desk for myself, let alone a cubicle or an office. I could totally see how an introvert wouldn’t be desirable in that fantasy of a workplace.