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5 Myths About Introverts and Extroverts

| September 29, 2015

by Jim Bruce

Adam Grant, in a recent blog post, 5 Myths About Introverts and Extroverts, debunks five strongly held beliefs about introverts.  Grant has been recognized as Wharton’s top-rated teacher for four straight years, as one of the world’s top 40 business professors under 40, and as one of HR’s most influential international thinkers.  He is the author of Give and Take, a New York Times bestselling book; his forthcoming book, Originals, examines how to reject conformity and champion new ideas.

Grant notes in his post, that despite growing and professional acceptance, and perhaps due to Susan Cain’s book Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, introverts are still misunderstood.  Everyone continues to cling to beliefs that don’t stand the test of rigorous research.

Here are the five debunked myths:

1.  Extroverts get energy from social interaction, whereas introverts get energy from privately reflecting on their thoughts and feelings.
Although this is a quote from MBTI materials, there is a significant body of research that says, not true.  Introverts and extroverts spend similar amounts of time with others and both enjoy the interactions about as much.  Grant writes:  “the energizing hours and weeks for all of us are those that involve more active social interaction, regardless of whether we’re working, reading, eating, or partying.”

Introverts and extroverts are different in their sensitivity to simulation.  Introverts are more prone to becoming over stimulated by intense or prolonged social interaction and then need to recharge by reflecting on your thoughts and feelings.  In contrast, extroverts crave stimulation – skydiving, and very active involvement with others.  Introverts enjoy retreating to a quiet place either alone or with a friend.

2.  Introverts are plagued by public speaking anxiety.
Introverts do experience more anxiety than extroverts about speaking.  However, research has shown that about 85% of it has nothing to do with introversion or extroversion.  The largest components have to do with being anxious in general, believing that the audience will not be kind, and fearing they will bomb the speech.  Malcolm Gladwell, an introvert who speaks a lot said:  [Speaking] “has nothing to do with extroversion.  It’s a performance, and many performers are hugely introverted.”

3.  Extroverts are better leaders than introverts.  
While there are more extroverts in leadership positions, research by Grant, Francesca Gino and Dave Hofmann has shown that extroverts and introverts were equally successful as leaders.  However, they excelled with different kinds of individuals.  Extroverts had the enthusiasm and assertiveness to get the best out of passive followers.  Introverts were more effective in leading individuals who were proactive, who put suggestions forward, who improved work processes.

4.  Extroverts are better networkers than introverts.
It’s true that extroverts have larger networks than introverts.  But, great networking isn’t about quantity, it’s about the quality of the relationship.  Observations suggest that extroverts can be overbearing, engage in behaviors that create high initial expectations, but fail to deliver.  Introverts are often just as comfortable networking as extroverts.  (We sometimes confuse “shyness” with introversion.  It’s something different and extroverts can also be shy.)  They, too, initiate conversations with those they don’t know at events and have meaningful interactions.

5.  Extroverts are better salespeople than introverts.
Everyone believes this.  However, the average correlation between extroversion and sales performance is zero.  The reason is fairly simple:  most people are ambiverts, neither introverted nor extroverted.  They sit right in the middle of the spectrum and based on the situation can behave in either introverted or extroverted ways.  With regard to sales, ambiverts brought in more sales revenue than introverts or extroverts.  Ambiverts have the flexibility to adapt to the demands of the situation.  Dan Pink gives this advice:  “Get in touch with your inner ambivert.”

So, what’s the point here?  Step away from being forced into a category.  Some of the things we’ve heard about introverts and extraverts are myths and there is a great gulf in between the extremes in which we can learn to function more effectively.

Make your week a good one.  .  .  .     jim



Adam M. Grant, Francesca Gino and David A. Hofmann, Reversing the Extraverted Leadership Advantage:  The Role of Employee Proactivity, Academy of Management Journal.

Elizabeth Bernstein, Not an Introvert, Not an Extrovert?  You May Be An Ambivert, The Wall Street Journal.