Myths about Introverts

ImageYou may have read my previous post on the Social Bully of Retention Plans, on the discussion of introverts and extroverts at social gatherings at the office. I received some very interesting replies, including a couple personal emails from bloggers who seemed to want to tell me, “how it really is”. One of my very good friends is an extrovert, we do a lot together both in the community and at home watching movies. When we are together, it is very difficult to tell who is the introvert and who is the extrovert because of our flexible and accommodating personalities. There are myths that introverts are “missing out”, “don’t know how to have fun”, are “cold” and “antisocial”, lack creativity, are shy, don’t like people, don’t like to talk, are only “book smart”, and more…. these are simply not true. All of these traits have no preference for personality, they can belong to anyone. Discerning the difference between the two is not as simple as outgoing and shy. There are many misconceptions between these two personalities, and unfortunately, because extroverts make up 70% and more of the population, introverts have been labeled unjustly. This post is intended to clarify the personalities in a positive light, and give more background information on why introverts should be valued in the workplace, not shamed, but encouraged to be themselves- just as extroverts are.

Myth #1) Introverts are Shy. Shyness implies a fear of social interaction- introverts are not any more afraid of people than extroverts. When I worked for a large IT company, there were mass company events, or “social gatherings” rather, once a week. The Director of Events would speak in front of aproximately 2,000 people and more over the course of the day with a team moral booster speech, act as MC, and so forth… And every morning, he would put anti-anxiety pills in his coffee about 20minutes before going on. He was an extrovert, and he could barely speak in front of a crowd without his meds. Shyness is unique to the person, not the intro-extro personality.

Myth #2) Introverts don’t have fun. I would be very interested to know what group of introverts came forward with this information. Introverts go paintballing, are horse enthusiasts, do extreme sports, belong to clubs, go to concerts, and take the train to work just like anyone else. Just like extroverts, there are high energy individuals and low energy individuals. Some introverts don’t like the outdoors, but like cooking instead- others thrive when mountain climbing but don’t like books. Introverts make their fun how it meets their own needs and what is good for them. Which leads me to the next myth, that introverts can change to be like extroverts- and it would be better for them.

Myth #3) Introverts can change to be like extroverts- and it would be better for them. Introverts cannot change, just as extroverts cannot change. Depending on the field of work that each goes into- they may adopt traits that assist them in their environment. Even more so if the individual is passionate about their line of work, and has a dynamic character. In this instance a strong introvert can be an Event Planner, and a strong extrovert can be a Librarian. Although it is a tad unusual for these, as the majority ¬†dominates the opposite personality, it is not unheard of, and will not hinder the personality’s success. If introverts are forced, coerced, or made to believe they “must be an extrovert”, it can take a severe toll on them expending more of their energy, kind of like a jaguar pretending to be a dove all day- it’s just harder. This may be why some people think introverts tire out more easily or are extra quiet- it could just be because they have used up all their energy sporting their extrovert skills.

Myth #4) Introverts make poor managers and don’t connect with employees. False. Introverts in the office are typically in the “know” for the office pulse, but tend to fly beneath the radar undetected. No doubt that extroverts make a point of their presence being noticed- however introverts as managers sport a reliable, trustworthy open door policy, as opposed to a fluttering social butterfly get around. For professionals that have worked into middle-but for sure upper and senior management, they can attest that the differences between intro-extro at these levels become very difficult to spot. This is because a good manager climbing the ranks typically has to have a dynamic personality and character to effectively manage a diverse group of individuals. A tunnel extrovert cannot manage an introvert, and a tunnel introvert cannot manage an extrovert. Either/or, the fact remains that the stats flip for management- upper management is made up of 70% introverts > this says a lot. Introverts are more sensitive to employee relations and culture which makes them valued managers. This is primarily due to the more easy going nature of introverts who enjoy exploring different types of stimulus at varying degrees as opposed to a lot of stimulus at one degree all at once.

introvertMyth #5) Introverts only want to be alone. Believe it or not, just like extroverts- there are “world class introverts” just like “world class extroverts”. There are different sub-levels and degrees of each, kind of like the difference between being outgoing and obnoxious. There are world class introverts (kind of like myself) that can go days without being in touch with the rest of the world, even without a phone or computer. Sometimes I just really enjoy reading, writing, contemplating, and being creative on my own for a bit. Usually I want to share this with someone when I’m done my time alone, and I love sharing with other introverts who do the same thing. But believe me, not all introverts like to be alone. There are a lot who enjoy talking and sharing regularly throughout their day. Typically though, introverts prefer groups of 1-3 of close friends who they have sincere, close relationships and connections with as opposed to 5-8 people (again- notice the increase in stimulus) when together at once. It’s not that they want to be alone- it’s that they require lesser stimulus overall. Introverts get lonely for company and relationships just like anyone else.

Myth #6) Introverts are not creative. A lot of this stems from the myth about introverts having their noses in books, and being quiet all the time. Introverts can be very creative, in fact, there is not a statistic that can tell you who is more creative. Each personality enjoys art, music, food, languages, culture, and everything in between. Each personality expresses their creativity differently- writing, reading, drawing, painting, playing an instrument, designing a web page, marketing, blogging, social networking, public speaking, community networking, and the lot to follow.

I hope this helps you in your journey with understanding the differences, and how to positively work with, and understand introverts. Perhaps even for some of you (30%) you recognize yourself, and can see the qualities.

Happy Office Politics.

The Social Bully of Retention Plans

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A common retention plan for employers is to have staff lunch, dinners, and nights out. Sounds good right? Actually it’s one of the most harmful retention plans. Not because there’s food involved. As an individual who has been having a torrid affair with delicious food for quite some time, I can honestly say that food is not the culprit. The culprit are the front line extroverts planning the event.

Staff lunch’s and dinners are fabulous ideas for stop in, grab a bite, say hi, if you have time to stick around-great, if not- also great, but the there’s “no pressure” and “no shame”. When a vote was taken on favorite holiday, Christmas and Halloween ranked suspiciously even. When asked why, the voters said that those who chose Christmas did so because they simply wanted their family to be involved; those who chose Halloween said they wanted their family, without obligation of religious, social, or institutional “perfection”. Wouldn’t you know it, similar reasons are used with staff dinners and nights out. The extroverts wanted to get to know everyone and have employee bonding time, while the introverts didn’t want to have to conform to extroverted culture and social pressure when getting to know everyone.

Typically, when Bob or Sally never attend a staff lunch, and dodge all staff parties, they are seen as shy, cold, antisocial, dysfunctional, hidden agenda, weird, and other label types. Go Bob and Sally! You rock! Admittedly I am¬†that employee that dodges anything after work hours in a “you must conform environment”, and I’ll tell you exactly why. Those are my boundaries. And just as I respect you for putting on the event, (heck, I’ll even book, plan, and facilitate the first half) respect my decision to politely say “no thank you”. Believe me, it’s nothing personal.

Introverts are 70% of upper management and executive teams. However, the stats flip for anything other than upper management or executive staff, then it’s primarily extroverts. The detailed stats for this are even more interesting. If you read Psychologies UK, or subscribe to employee stats through Government HR websites, then you can begin to link the common themes between extroverted and introverted characters. The reason why upper management, etc, is composed primarily of introverts is because introverts lead different lifestyles that enable them to observe more, read more, take more educational upgrades and specified training (not necessarily attaining a MA or PhD- those stats are surprisingly parallel- however introverts are more likely to specialize), more inclined to critically think over hot topics, thus have a better employment track record, and be more preferred for promotion etc… The truth is, introverts run the world whether anyone likes it or not. Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, Celine Dion, Steve Jobs, Sheryl Sandberg- they are all introverts. This does not mean the extroverted culture is left out- au contraire. The extroverted culture does make up an odd 30%. There is also a false pretense to introverts that they are shy, quiet, bookworms. I am sure that there are people reading this that are thinking, “Bill Clinton? An introvert!? You’ve got to be kidding!” Being shy is a trait that an extrovert can have also. Shy implies you possess some sort of fear or anxiety for crowds. Who’s to say that Obama doesn’t have a fear for crowds and gets nervous, although he may adore the limelight? Being introverted simply means your temperament prefers observation to explosive stimulus, thus you typically recharge when you are not social. And sometimes, people just don’t like other people. I would hardly call that shy.

So when front line extroverts are planning dinners out in swanky restaurants with alcohol, party atmosphere, and BFF attitude, it makes us laugh and cringe. A night out is always nice. Good food is even better. A beer?- don’t mind if I do. But expectation to be Facebook friends and chat it up like we’re some big family…? You’ve got to be kidding. Because believe me if anything, this one thing: the boardroom ain’t no bedroom, and BFF’s don’t run no company; it’s snakes and doves in this game. I have seen in practice that more employees attend outings and dinners when it is a laid back atmosphere, no conformity, no shame, no blame, and honestly-in this setting, you can’t tell the introverts from the extroverts apart if your career depended on it! But when work doesn’t feel like “work”, they are more likely to attend, at least once a year :) Let’s make what could be the world’s best plan, an appeal to everyone please. I promise this year, I’ll drop in and grab a plate to go, at least at one outing!