Five Myths About Introverts and Extroverts

This post is a companion to our “Success Secrets for the Introverted Consultant” article.

Adam Grant, a professor at the Wharton Business School has studied some popular notions and misconceptions about introverts and compared them with what the research literature says. And he identified five myths that don’t hold up to the scrutiny of research.

Myth 1: Extroverts get energy from social interaction, whereas introverts get energy from privately reflecting on their thoughts and feelings. Grant says that research has found that introverts and extroverts spend about the same amount of time with people and enjoy it just as much. Extroverts and introverts both “experience greater energy when they talk more.” And, introverts and extroverts “report the most energy when they’re talkative and assertive.”

So, what was the difference he found between introverts and extroverts? Sensitivity to stimulation. Introverts are more prone to be overstimulated while extroverts are charged up by stimulating activities. Bottom line though, introverts can be social.

Myth 2: Introverts are plagued by public speaking anxiety. The vast majority (84%) of public speaking anxiety is unrelated to extraversion-introversion. In other words, if you’re anxious about public speaking, it’s not necessarily because you’re an introvert. It’s probably more a matter of experience and preparation.

Myth 3: Extroverts are better leaders than introverts. Introverts and extroverts lead differently. Introverts excel at leading proactive, self-directed team members while extrovert leaders are better when their followers are more passive. Extroverts are more likely to insert themselves into the limelight, possibly usurping their followers.

Myth 4: Extroverts are better networkers than introverts. While extroverts may have larger networks, more Facebook friends and LinkedIn contacts, quantity doesn’t translate into the quality of the network or effectiveness in working one’s network. Based on a study of job seekers, the most effective predictor of networking success was comfort with networking, in other words working one’s network.

Myth 5: Extroverts are better salespeople than introverts. Actually, the most effective salespeople – the ones who brought in the highest revenues in his study – are ambiverts who fall somewhere toward the middle of the introversion-extroversion scale. According to Grant, rather than introverted or extroverted: they’re quiet in some situations and loud in others, and alternate between seeking the spotlight and staying backstage.

Conclusion: Don’t buy into extrovert ideal or other myths. We introverts can be social, we just need some time to recharge. We can become strong public speakers, just in our own way. We can be good leaders, but just like any leadership situation, whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, you have to be matched with the right team. And we can be good at sales when we lean into our strengths and find ways to offset weaknesses.