5 Myths About Introverts, Busted

You were the child who was always being told to speak up in class and be more outgoing at birthday parties. Now you’re the grown-up who’s exhorted to do the same thing in meetings and at bars.

Yet you still prefer listening to talking, one-on-ones to big groups, and quiet reflection to noisy revelry. In short, you’re an introvert—and you’re probably getting tired of being urged to act some other way.

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The 33 Percent

Our society tends to underrate introversion, says Susan Cain, author of the bestselling new book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. In psychological research, she notes, talkative, outgoing people are consistently rated as smarter, more interesting, more attractive, and more desirable as friends. Meanwhile, the subtler strengths of introverts—reflectiveness, perceptiveness, sensitivity—tend to be discounted.

Cain argues—and the one-third of people who are introverts surely agree—that it’s high time for quiet types to get the respect they deserve. Below, she sets the record straight on five common myths.

Myth 1: Being introverted is the same thing as being shy.

“Introversion is a preference for quiet, minimally stimulating environments, whereas shyness is a fear of social judgment. They’re two different things,” Cain says. As the exemplar of a non-shy introvert, she cites Bill Gates. “He seems quite private and reserved, but he doesn’t seem very fazed by other people’s opinions of him,” she says.

Myth 2: Introverts don’t like other people very much.

“Introverts aren’t asocial or antisocial. They’re just differently social,” says Cain. This difference is rooted not in a dislike of people, but in an aversion to overstimulation. “In any social interaction, there’s a tremendous amount going on,” she says. You’re not only listening to other people’s words, but also reading body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice—and then communicating in return.

It’s a lot to take in, especially for someone who gets easily overwhelmed by too much stimulation. “That’s why introverts tend to prefer a glass of wine with a close friend to a raucous party full of strangers,” Cain says.

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Myth 3: Introverts always hate going to social events.

Despite a natural preference for quiet settings, introverts can still have a satisfying social life. “They might really have fun at a party, for instance, but just want to leave a little earlier instead of staying all night,” Cain says. “Or they might enjoy a group event, but want to have a one-on-one conversation on the side of the room.”

Myth 4: Introverts don’t make effective leaders.

“Studies tell us that extroverts are routinely groomed for leadership positions much more often than introverts are,” says Cain. Yet there is some evidence that introverts may actually have a leadership edge in certain situations.

For example, research by Adam Grant, a Wharton management professor, found that extroverted managers were at a disadvantage in workplaces where employees were proactive about solving problems and offering suggestions. “Introverted leaders will let their employees run with their ideas, whereas extroverted leaders are more likely to dominate the situation and want to put their own stamp on things,” Cain says.

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Myth 5: Introverts and extroverts don’t mix romantically.

“There are many introvert-extrovert relationships, and they often have a wonderful synergy to them, because each partner is completing the other,” says Cain. “But the success of these relationships usually depends on each also having an understanding of what the partner’s needs are.”

One common problem, she says, is when the introvert in a couple walks through the door after work with a “don’t talk to me” attitude. Cain says, “Quite understandably, that can be perceived by the partner as a sign that the introvert isn’t interested or doesn’t care—when all it really means is that the introvert desperately needs an hour of downtime.”

As Cain sees it, the world can use a little more quiet anyway.

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