If you ask someone what behavioural characteristics they believe apply to introverts, you will likely hear words such as anti-social, shy, too much in their heads, over-sensitive, and nervous.
These aren’t exactly inspiring labels, nor are they accurate. In fact, there seems to be a dearth of positive descriptors for introverts. This isn’t news. Nor is it news that extroverts are perceived to be outgoing, gregarious, positive thinkers, inspiring leaders, high achievers, and generally fun to be around.
Being an introvert myself, I would also describe myself as thoughtful, creative, artistic, intelligent, quiet, inquiring, sensitive, open-minded, and hard-working. I sound pretty amazing right? But as soon as I substitute any of these for the word ‘introverted’, they begin to lose their positive associations, the gloss disappears.
Imagine now that I am an extrovert, and I include that descriptor in with the others mentioned above. I sound twice as amazing now right?
As much as I know that these are just parts of the greater self, and because honestly, no one wants to be reduced to a series of labels, I also know that labels make it easier for everyone to interact with people we don’t have the time or opportunity to get to know very well.
It doesn’t help that we are asked to apply labels to ourselves all the time, for example, when we use online dating, apply for a job, or meet someone in a professional/social context. Would you at some point describe yourself as an introvert in any of these situations? Probably not, and yet, if you are an extrovert there would be no problem with you saying “I’m an outgoing person who loves being around people.”
How do we turn this around? Can introverts ever be perceived as ‘alpha’?
In her article ‘Three Introverted CEOs and What You Can Learn From Them’, Susan Cain writes about the former CEO of Campbell Soup, Douglas Conant who advises to try and win peoples ‘hearts and minds’.
Could it be this simple? Extroverts make personal connections via social engagement. Are there ways introverts can make those same connections without having to become extroverts for a day?
Perhaps it comes down to simple things like asking questions and listening properly, sending handwritten notes thanking someone for their help, doing favours for someone unasked, or offering our unique skills/knowledge on a particular project.
Perhaps it’s as simple as improving the quality of all of our interactions with others. All of these things can be done without needing to become a networking, conversational, super-selling whirlwind.
What do you think? Can you think of other ways to change the introvert ‘brand’? Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section below.