Are You Misunderstood?

Many of us aren't what we seem. A guide to frequently misunderstood types.

By Jay Dixit, published on September 1, 2009 - last reviewed on November 20, 2015


The Shy Extrovert

When someone's shy, we often assume they're introverted. Shyness often does go along with introversion—but not always. Some people who get anxious among strangers actually love being around others—whereas true introverts find people exhausting in general. Like other shy people, shy introverts are routinely misunderstood as being cold, aloof, or stuck-up. They're particularly likely to be judged negatively if they're also attractive, says Bernie Carducci, a psychologist at Indiana University.

The Fix: Directly challenge the mistakes you know people make, saying, "If I seem unfriendly, it's not because I don't like you; it's because I'm shy," or, "I had a great time hanging out with you." If that's too much for you, say it via email.

The Bubbly Introvert

When people come across as vivacious, exuberant, and cheerful, we assume they're extroverts. But some lively people are actually gasping for time to themselves. Having good social skills isn't the same as wanting to be around people all the time. "These things go together a lot," says Sanjay Srivastava, a psychologist at the University of Oregon, "but they're not perfect correlations."

The Fix: Like other introverts, bubbly introverts have to be vigilant about guarding their alone time. Try saying, "I'd love to, but I need some downtime. How's Tuesday?"

The Accidental Flirt

Some people are so naturally flirtatious that they send the wrong signals, inadvertently communicating, "I want to go out with you" when what they really mean is, "I'm friendly."

The Fix: Dial back the touching and eye gaze. If you think your conversation partner is getting the wrong idea, slip in a reference to a significant other.

The Effeminate Heterosexual

Just because a man is skinny, dresses neatly, and lacks a deep voice doesn't mean he's gay (or vice versa). Many men with seemingly feminine qualities are straight, just as many men with distinctly macho traits are gay.

The Fix: If you're interested in a woman, put out signs of attraction that are hard to mistake—more aggressive body language such as straight-on stance, a mischievous grin, and occasional touching. Say something like, "That reminds me of something funny my ex-girlfriend once said." She'll get it.