Four Common Misunderstandings of Introverts: Part 2 of Working Better with Introverts

In the first part of this series, we discussed how people with introverted personality styles often are misunderstood at all levels of an organization and the real consequences this can have for the organization. In this second part of the series here, we’ll look at four common misunderstandings of introverted personalities. These misunderstandings are ones that my colleagues and I hear in our leadership development classes with senior managers and executives. They include:

1. All introverts have the same personality style.

Not at all. Prevailing contemporary psychoanalytic theories set out nine personality styles. At least three of these styles can be considered to be introverted. Yet, the motivations, core fears, and strengths of each of these three styles differ. People with one style, let’s call them the Wizard-Artist style, are motivated by creativity — creating and architecting solutions. They have fears around safety, particularly emotional and financial safety, rather than physical safety. As a result, they might stay in a role long past when it serves them and the organization and they tend to avoid conflict.

In contrast, the second introverted personality style — let’s call it the Strategist-Knight style — is motivated to find the truth or “right” answer. People with this style have an uncanny ability to perceive future threats. Like the first style, their core fear is around safety. However, it’s around physical, rather than emotional, safety. Unlike the first style they do not avoid conflict. Their personalities actually unintentionally provoke conflict by emitting an unspoken sense of anger to which their colleagues then react. These two personality styles prevail among engineering and product teams. Indeed, on any given engineering team we work with about 60–75 percent of the engineers have the first style and about 25–30% have the second style.

The third style — let’s call it the Conductor — enjoys developing and perfecting process. When stressed, people with this personality hone in on details. This can lead them to be intense micromanagers. Whereas the first two personality styles have core fears around safety, this third personality has fears around a lack of control. Also, whereas the first personality abhors getting mired in process details, this personality would be excited to set up process and procedures for project. They’d be just the person you want to handle the morass of sorting out new roles and responsibilities in a reorganization and managing the finances of your organization.

These are three distinct personality styles, each with different drivers. The overlaps among them are that they can be perceived as outwardly quiet and they need time alone to recharge.

2. Introverted managers lack passion.

Every human is passionate and can experience passion. Every human has emotions. (Even Vulcans experience emotions, folks.)

People with introverted personality styles express their passion or enthusiasm for a project or team’s progress differently than extroverts. People with extroverted personality styles tend to vocalize or communicate enthusiastically. E.g., with words, emails, and team or company wide announcements. In contrast to communicating overtly, people with introverted personality styles may express enthusiasm by doing and creating solutions.

Some ways an introverted colleague may express their enthusiasm and dedication by “doing” are by: creating an arching strategy and a solution to a systems problem, being an attentive listener in 1:1s and small team meetings; subtly ensuring all team members are heard at meetings; immediately addressing glitches or threats to a product or service; warning the team about potential threats to a product; creating order and structure on a team where roles are unclear; and advocating firmly and patiently for their people to have the work environment and compensation they need to excel. Next time you question, “Is this manager passionate about this project or the team’s goals?” look to what they’re doing — not saying.

3. Introverts are arrogant.

Yes and no. Some introverted personality styles can come across as arrogant in their silence, defense of their idea, or in questioning a workflow or systems solution. This can inadvertently cause conflict. Ironically, this in turn, triggers two of their deepest fears; conflict and being misunderstood.

The arrogance you might perceive is not they: it’s the transference of their personality style. Transference is the unexpressed emotions, desires, and beliefs we formed in early childhood relationships. According to prevailing theories of psychology, all of us transfer in our communications all of the time. The flavors of our transference — anxiety, anger, enthusiasm, devaluation, boredom, and arrogance — depend on our personality style. So when a person with an introverted style comes across as arrogant, what they may be feeling internally is frustrated and insecure, because, for example, they perceive that their dedication to a team, or a solution or strategy that they worked hard to create, is being questioned or misunderstood.

4. Introverts aren’t as emotionally aware as extroverts.

How aware one is depends on one’s level of cognitive development in any moment (i.e., ego maturity in the moment). This misunderstanding about introverts’ emotional awareness often comes down to communication style differences. The four extroverted personality types tend to express emotion when they speak and write. The three introverted personality styles tend to communicate with logic and thought, rather than feeling. One style isn’t better than another; it’s different.

In fact, introverts can be highly sensitive, perceiving with crystal clarity the emotional state of each person in a meeting. They may appear withdrawn, but they’re keenly listening and perceiving with all five senses the emotional dynamics at play. The second introverted personality style described above, the Strategist-Knight style, has a fast and accurate ability to distinguish peoples’ personality styles and predict their reactions. In contrast, I have seen executives with certain extroverted personality styles drone on and on in a meeting, unaware consciously of participants’ boredom. I’ve also witnessed senior managers inadvertently steamroll a colleague’s suggestion as if the colleague hadn’t spoken. When this happens, it’s not because the manager has an extroverted or introverted personality style, it’s because their present cognitive state is young.

Building a culture inclusive of introverts is possible. It takes willingness on the part of leadership. A willingness to understand introverted personality styles, to tailor learning development approaches to these styles’ modes of communication and to create performance measurements that value introverts’ communication styles and contributions the same as those of extroverted personality styles.

Stay posted for the third and last part of this series: Motivating and Managing Introverts. In the meantime, we can keep the conversation going below and on Twitter at @cpculverhouse. Did any of these misunderstandings ring true for you? Were any of them a surprise?