67% of introverts surveyed(1) believe they are disadvantaged in business because of being introverted. A causal factor is the negative perception of introversion portrayed, leading to people thinking of the negative traits of introverts. Some recent newspaper headlines, where introvert negative traits are highlighted, make the point for me.
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 introvert negative traits . Do you think being introverted is 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.
Why is introversion seen as negative?
The issue is that 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”. Not wishing to talk to journalists doesn’t make somebody introverted! In fact May’s desire to be out campaigning does not sound like an introverted statement.
“She was very quiet and seemed unhappy.” Many introverts get frustrated by comments like this. Being quiet doesn’t mean you’re unhappy or there’s anything wrong. Most introverts are quiet when, in their mind, they have nothing to add (as opposed to people who seem to always have to say something in a meeting even if it’s been said three times before – Do you know some of them?).
The Toronto Sun also showed a lack of understanding of introversion when telling the world that Justin Trudeau is an introvert in Feb. 2020
Negative traits of introverts
What do you see as the negative traits of introverts? The following are often cited as introvert negative traits:
- Don’t like group work. Wrong – I’ve met many introverts who like working in a group. However, if it’s a group that’s loud, chaotic, ego driven and there’s no clear reason for it existing, maybe not, but then 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? If you want some ideas to make small talk easier for others (esp introverts) click here.
- 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.
“I’m the leader of the Conservative party, not a presidential candidate,”
Being an introvert has many positives
Theresa May maybe an introvert, or not; 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.”
Many introverts would make a similar statement to the one above, when talking about their team or their business, realistically that’s a positive point! In a business setting it’s like sharing the praise for the department/ team/ business with the whole team, not hogging the limelight to the exclusion of the team.
Other introvert positive traits often include:
- good listeners
- think before they speak
- make quality friends (yes, introverts like socialising)
- thoughtful networkers (introverts are good networkers, despite what some would say – here’s some tips on how)
- compassionate leaders (yes introverts can be leaders)
I call many of those introvert superpowers and think we should focus on these rather than erroneous negatives.
1 – Survey carried out by Jon Baker in 2020