Over the past few weeks, numerous business articles about the benefits of introverts in the workplace have popped up in my news feeds. I have devoured every one of them in a never-ending quest to better understand my introverted coworkers and my significant other. I also stumbled upon Susan Cain’s TED Talk on the power of introverts, which has been viewed nearly 13 million times. Clearly it’s a hot topic.
Cain’s talk, like most of the articles I’ve read, suggests that the world is biased against introverts. She challenges her audience with several calls to action designed to inspire dramatic change in academic and business environments, which she says are currently geared toward extroverts and their need for stimulation.
No doubt about it—introverts and extroverts thrive in different types of surroundings. I agree that everyone deserves an opportunity to study, work and just be in what Cain refers to as the “zone of stimulation” that allows him or her to flourish. And while it’s true the world is sometimes a big loud ball of chaos, I can tell you from firsthand experience that it is not always a warm or welcoming place for extroverts either.
I was born an extrovert with a gift for gab, but it has not always served me well. Elementary school report cards noted that I talked too much in class and distracted other students. In high school, I struggled to regulate my volume, and teachers and classmates shamed me for being loud. As I entered the business world, I learned to suppress parts of my personality. I worked in industries where my outgoing nature was more acceptable, but also environments where I was told my direct communication style made others uncomfortable.
The point is that having an extroverted personality does not necessarily make life easier or more comfortable. I disagree with Cain’s belief that the world—especially the business world—accommodates us. We learn to adapt. And not every assumption she makes about extroverts is accurate.
With input from my extroverted colleagues, here are a few truths about extroverts that might surprise you:
1. Some of us were awkward in high school … and still are.
The majority of us were not class presidents, homecoming queens or star quarterbacks. We struggled to fit in, we were rejected and teased by our peers, and at times we wished we were invisible. We experienced many of the difficult things introverts did—and still do—just in different ways.
2. We are not always as confident as you may think.
Just because extroverts are vocal and assertive does not mean they are so sure of themselves. We desire input and validation to help make decisions and build our confidence, just like introverts do.
3. Some of us suffer from OEF (overly expressive face).
When extroverts are “in the moment,” it can be a challenge to mask our emotions. Our facial expressions can be misinterpreted and give others the wrong impression. Introverts would probably agree that it is hurtful to be unfairly judged by others. You know what they say about books and covers.
4. We do not always excel at interviews, presentations and public speaking.
One article I read noted that extroverts are often top job candidates because they engage quickly and energetically in the interview process. While it may be true in some cases, I have seen plenty of extroverts bomb interviews, lose their cool during presentations or experience major jitters while delivering speeches. Our nerves get the best of us, too.
5. We didn’t achieve success by being popular.
Does personality and likability influence success in the business world? Absolutely. But plenty of extroverts have been passed over for promotions despite being well liked within their companies. As is the case with introverts, extroverts who want to achieve success do so by being smart and working hard.
6. We don’t always want to be the center of attention.
Being “on” all the time takes a lot of work and can be exhausting, even for extroverts. We are often counted on to be the leaders, storytellers or entertainers of the group and there are times when we just want to hang back and be an observer without any expectations of us.
7. We really don’t mean to interrupt.
Often extroverts think and process information out loud. Occasionally we get so excited to share an idea that it just comes out. This also happens when we are nervous. Please know that our intentions are usually good and we aren’t trying to be rude.
8. We are sensitive about how we may be perceived in a group.
Extroverts sometimes feel vulnerable when sharing or giving feedback in a group setting, especially if others comment on how quickly we process information and respond. Our intent is not to dominate—we care about what others think and feel. Extroversion doesn’t equate to being oblivious to those around us.
9. We enjoy quiet time alone.
Not every extrovert enjoys working in an environment with lots of people and noise—it can be a huge distraction for us. We enjoy solitary activities and have even been known to forgo a social event for an evening at home with a good book.
10. Our needs are important, too.
Most extroverts appreciate that not everyone is like us and we understand that introverts need time and space to process, power down or recharge. Though it might cause discomfort, we fight the urge to be in your presence during those times. We hope you understand that our need to connect is equally as important and you will meet us halfway, even if it isn’t comfortable for you.
About the author: A strategic storyteller and an inspired graphic designer, Chris Olsen has devoted her 20-year career to connecting individuals and organizations using the power of words, images and experiences. Chris Olsen Communications, LLC partners with nonprofits and mid-sized organizations to develop and implement innovative marketing and communications strategies including content development, copywriting, blogging, ghostwriting, technical writing, graphic design, social media/web/presentation graphics, branding, experiential marketing and event partnerships.