Hurtful Misconceptions Across the Introvert-Extrovert Divide
Reasons why introverts and extroverts get testy with each other sometimes.
Posted August 13, 2012 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader
My last post saw lots of action and stirred up lots of discussion, which, of course, delights me. I'm always thrilled to have people engage in discussion here.
I’m sad, though, to see genuine animosity between introverts and extroverts. It crops up from time to time on this blog, and it's a bummer.
Some people are just cranky or misanthropic, I get that. Some introverts are fed up with being told to change, with struggling to get their say, with being called party poopers or wet blankets or whatever. You can’t blame them, can you? And extroverts take exception to the hostility leveled at them by some introverts. Can’t blame them either.
In today’s post, I would like to address (in sweeping generalizations) some of the misconceptions that cause friction between introverts and extroverts. After all, neither personality type is “better” or “right.” We are yin and yang, peanut butter and jelly, fife and drum, sunset and dawn, thought and action. The world could not function without both types so we needn’t squabble. There’s enough of everything to go around.
This time, let's start with seven misconceptions introverts might have about extroverts.
- Extroverts are all noise, no substance. No, no, no, and no. I hear this a lot from angry introverts on my blog and categorically reject it. Extroverts don't lack substance because they make a lot of noise any more than introverts lack anything to say because they are quiet. This is style, not substance. Why this hurts: It’s just plain insulting.
- Extroverts are not as creative as introverts. This is a tenacious myth that I also reject. Creativity happens in an introverted space, inside our brains. And while introverts may spend more time in that space, extroverts have access to it as well. Besides, sometimes the stimulation of interaction can help a nebulous idea develop and grow. That’s creativity in an extroverted space. Why this hurts: It implies introvert superiority.
- Extroverts are afraid to spend time alone. Maybe some, but that has nothing to do with extroversion. Even extroverts require solitude sometimes to decompress. It just takes them longer to get there than it does introverts. Why this hurts: It’s the flip side of the assumption that introverts are afraid of people. We all have varying needs for solitude vs. socializing.
- Extroverts don’t listen. Extroverts might not be the hard-core listeners that introverts are, but that doesn’t mean they have their hands over their ears. I am sometimes surprised by what my extroverted friends pick up on that I think they couldn’t possibly have heard over the din that is their life (to my introvert ears). Why this hurts: You underestimate your extroverted friends if you think there’s no point in talking to them because they won’t listen.
- Extroverts are needy. If you mean extroverts need a lot of interaction, then they are needy. But if introverts need a lot of solitude, does that also make them needy? Why this hurts: It takes a harmless and healthy desire and turns it into something negative.
- Extroverts want to change introverts. Some do, yes. And that’s annoying. But they don’t all feel that way. They just want to understand and make sure the introverts in their life are happy. Why this hurts: This misconception causes introverts to approach relationships with extroverts from a position of defensiveness, and no good can come of that.
- Extroverts are bullies: Extroverts, by their nature, might get right up in your face to get a point across. And they tend to state their case in no uncertain terms. But that doesn’t mean they have malevolent motives. And remember that you can only be bullied if you let yourself be bullied. Why this hurts: Bullies are mean. Extroverts aren’t mean. Well, some might be, but that has nothing to do with extroversion.
Now then, here are some misconceptions that get introverts all het up.
- Introverts need “help” in social situations. Not necessarily. Introverts manage social situations in our own way, in our own time. We might, for example, want to survey the scene to figure out where we fit in rather than plunging right in. Given time and space to do it our way, introverts are perfectly capable in social situations. Why this hurts: It can be patronizing, and might cause you to try and force introverts to behave in ways that make them uncomfortable.
- Introverts hate parties. Some do, many don’t. Again, we just party our own way. I love people watching and like finding a quiet spot to watch the scene and talk to anyone who drifts my way. This is my kind of partying. Sometimes I mingle, but that's usually at parties where I know a lot of people, which are my favorite kind. Why this hurts: I, for one, hate being told what I do and don’t like. Also, if I don’t want to attend a party, I don’t go. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invite me. I would be hurt to hear that a friend gave a party and left me out, even if it was with good intentions.
- Introverts would be extroverts if we could. Maybe some. But most of us are fine with our introverted ways. Why this hurts: It assumes that extroversion is preferable. Besides, many of us can behave like extroverts when we want to.
- Introverts don’t have fun. Not true. We just don’t have fun the same way extroverts do. Our fun tends to be low-key and doesn’t necessarily involve a lot of people—or any other people at all. Why this hurts: How would you like being called a party pooper?
- Introverts need to be drawn into conversation. Again, not necessarily. What we do sometimes need is for everyone else to slow down a little so we have some airspace to enter the conversation. We’re not good at jumping into conversations. Why this hurts: It assumes that we need help expressing ourselves. We don’t, we just prefer not to talk unless we have something to say and the time to say it.
- Introverts are not team players. Teams need all kinds of people to function well. Introverts might get steamrolled in a group setting, but give us the opportunity to make a contribution without having to fight to be heard and you’ll find that we can be integral cogs in the machine. Why this hurts: It can be damaging to a career to be perceived this way.
- Introverts are not leadership material. Actually, research finds that introverts can be quite good at leading teams of extroverts because we don’t compete with the team. Introverts have a quiet confidence and can lead without bluster and bombast given the chance. Why this hurts: Another misconception that can be a career killer.
So, can we all just get along please, and respect and appreciate our differences? The world spins a lot more smoothly when we do.