Myths and misunderstandings about both introverts and extroverts abound. Introverts don’t like people. Extroverts are shallow. Introverts are snobby. Extroverts are awful listeners.
These are just some of the fictions surrounding these types. So what are the facts?
“The introvert gets their energy from within, while the extrovert is charged up by people, places and stimuli outside of them,” according to Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, Ph.D, a certified speaking professional, executive coach and author.
Introverts embrace solitude and require alone time, she said. They enjoy deep one-on-one conversations. “They let their fingers do the talking, opt for email over telephone and like to express ideas in writing, because it gives them a chance to self-reflect.”
Extroverts like to mingle and move around in social situations. “They talk first, think later, because they express themselves more easily verbally.” They tend to be more energized and have a faster pace and cadence in their voice, she said.
In other words, external activities excite extroverts, while ideas and inner reflection stimulate introverts, writes clinical psychologist Laurie Helgoe, Ph.D, in her book Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength. In it, she notes that introverts tend to have busier brains than extroverts.
“Brain imaging studies have shown that when introverts and extroverts respond to external stimulation, introverts have more activity in the regions of the brain that process information, make meaning and problem solve,” she said. This may explain why introverts need solitude and time to self-reflect in order to analyze ideas and think things through.
Below, you’ll find more common misconceptions, followed by the facts.
1. Myth: Introverts are shy.
Fact: There are certainly shy introverts. But introversion and shyness are not synonymous. Introverts just “seem shy because they tend to think before they speak,” said Helgoe, also an assistant professor of psychology at Davis & Elkins College in West Virginia. They process things internally, whereas extroverts process things as they’re speaking, she said.
As Susan Cain writes in her bestselling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, “Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not.”
2. Myth: Introverts don’t make good public speakers.
Fact: “At least half of people who speak for a living are introverted in nature,” Kahnweiler said. They just prepare and practice really well, and “they draw from their strengths.”
Cain is a great example of an introvert who’s a powerful public speaker. Just check out her TED talk, which has received almost 5 million views. Cain also recently won the Toastmasters’ 2013 Golden Gavel award, the organization’s highest honor.
In her book she writes about a former Harvard University psychology lecturer who’s been described “as a cross between Robin Williams and Albert Einstein” and whose “classes at Harvard were always oversubscribed and often ended with standing ovations.”
This same professor also lives in a remote area with his wife, keeps to himself, prefers to spend his time reading and writing, favors one-on-one interactions, and when he has to spend too much time out and about “can literally become ill.”
Kahnweiler, who is author of the book Quiet Influence: The Introvert’s Guide to Making a Difference, also pointed out that many comedians are introverts. Johnny Carson was one of them.
3. Myth: Introverts aren’t happy, or extroverts are happier.
Fact: Lately, Helgoe has been seeing this myth or versions of it all over the media. But it isn’t that introverts are unhappy, or extroverts are happier than introverts. They’re simply happy in different ways.
“There is evidence that extroversion is associated with a more upbeat, exuberant, high-energy affect.” Researchers refer to this as “high-arousal positive affect.” Introverts, however, tend to “seek out a different kind of happy. Because we tend to get more easily over-stimulated, we look for something that’s lower key.” Introverts prefer low-arousal positive feelings, such as tranquility and relaxation, she said.
“Unfortunately, in a culture that promotes highly-visible, high-energy happiness, an introvert enjoying a peaceful mood may be regarded with concern.”
4. Myth: You are either an introvert or an extrovert.
Fact: Think of introversion and extroversion as falling on a continuum. “Most people fall somewhere in the middle,” Kahnweiler said.
Also, our behavior isn’t predictable across all situations, and there are many kinds of introverts and extroverts, according to Cain. “We can’t say that every introvert is a bookworm or every extrovert wears lampshades at parties any more than we can say that every woman is a natural consensus-builder and every man loves contact sports. As Jung felicitously put it, ‘There is no such thing as a pure extrovert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum.’”
5. Myth: Extroverts are bad listeners.
Fact: “Extroverts can be incredible listeners, because they draw people out by their open-ended questions and paraphrasing,” Kahnweiler said. For instance, they might say, “So tell me more about that” or “What you said was…” Extroverts are able to develop rapport with others and know how to make people comfortable, she said.
6. Myth: Extroverts don’t like quiet or alone time.
Fact: Extroverts do need this type of time to recharge. But they need it in “shorter doses and in different ways,” Kahnweiler said. For instance, an extrovert might listen to music with their headphones on while sitting in a coffee shop, she said.
7. Myth: Extroverts are shallow.
Fact: Again, extroverts and introverts simply have a different way of processing information, Helgoe said. She gave the example of her husband, an extrovert. “He might strike up conversations with different people or be more active in a conversation. But he’s going deeper in a different sort of way. By the end of the night he’ll have a better idea about this group of people or more information on a topic, because he’s explored it deeply through interaction.”
As Cain writes in her book, we are exquisitely complex individuals. Your introversion or extroversion will interact with your other personality traits, personal history and the culture you grew up in, she says. So, again, there are many differences among introverts and among extroverts.
The key message to take away when thinking about yourself is an insight Cain regularly comes back to in her book: Whatever type you lean toward, embrace it and feel entitled to be yourself.