Negative perceptions of introversion

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67% of introverts I’ve surveyed believe that they are at a disadvantage in business as a result of being introverted. A causal factor is the negative perception of introversion portrayed, which leads to people thinking of the negative traits of introverts. Some recent newspaper headlines, where negative traits of introverts are highlighted, make the point for me.

Newspapers and negative perceptions of introverts

What would you assume of the following news headline?

“Theresa May inflexible, introverted and surly, biography claims”

Putting introverted into the middle of the other claims is highlighting one of the perceived negative traits of introverts. Do you think being introverted is often perceived in a negative way?

In many business settings people conflate quiet with not being strong and both of these get called introvert. Introvert does not mean the same as shy (I know many shy extroverts), yet shy is often used as a negative label in the same sentence as introverts.

Introversion is poorly understood

Returning to the Guardian’s headline on 26/10/19; being introverted does not mean that you are surly or inflexible! As the article went on to say when discussing May’s campaign which “cruelly exposed her unusually inflexible and introverted character”

Apparently rather than talk to journalists she said “This is not what I believe in, I want to be out campaigning.” I have nothing against journalists but not wishing to talk to them doesn’t make somebody introverted! In fact her desire to be out campaigning does not sound like an introverted statement.

“She was very quiet and seemed unhappy.” That’s one that many introverts get frustrated by, just because you’re quiet doesn’t mean you’re unhappy or there’s nothing wrong. Most introverts are quiet when, in their mind, they have nothing to add (as opposed to some people I know who just have to say something in a meeting even if it’s been said three times before).

Negative traits of introverts

I don’t know what you see as the negative traits of introverts but I have often heard these cited.

  • Don’t like group work. Wrong – I’ve met many introverts who like working in a group. If it’s a group that’s loud, chaotic, ego driven and there’s no clear reason for it existing as a group, would you want to work in that group? Most introverts I’ve interviewed would not.
  • Stand offish or snooty:  Wrong – Where I’ve heard this one cited and examined it further, the rationale is that introverts don’t always jump into conversations which are mainly about small talk. It’s true most introverts don’t like small talk, but does that mean they’re snooty?
  • Shy: Wrong – Shy is a very different trait to introversion. You might be a shy introvert, but you might also be a shy extrovert! Click here for three tips to get over shyness.
  • Don’t like meetings: Let’s start with the simple question – who does like meetings? Disliking meetings isn’t a negative trait of introversion, but running bad meetings shows poor leadership. Click here for ideas to improve your meetings.
  • Don’t like being in a team: Wrong – Most introverts I’ve interviewed do like being part of a team, in fact they like being a contributing member of a cohesive team.

Being an introvert has many positives

Maybe May is, or isn’t, an introvert; my point is that the reporting of this “fact” fuels the misunderstanding of what an introvert is.

“I’m the leader of the Conservative party, not a presidential candidate,” May said, according to the book. “I’m not comfortable. I don’t want it to be about me.”

I certainly know many introverts who would make a similar statement to the one above, when talking about their team or their business. I see those statements as positive, in a business setting it’s like sharing the praise for the department/ team/ business with the whole team, not one person who likes to hog the limelight.

Other introvert positive traits often include:

I call many of those introvert superpowers and think we should focus on these rather than erroneous negatives.


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