Should Introverts Act Extraverted to be Successful?

Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on October 01, 2017

One of the biggest lies about introversion is that an Introvert, with enough practice, can turn into an Extravert. For a long time, this misconception was supported, even encouraged, by everyone from psychologists to business professionals. Fortunately, we have enough research and information about introversion and extraversion today to know that these are fixed personality traits. An Introvert can’t turn into an Extravert, and shouldn’t feel pressured to do so.

However, many self-identified Introverts are outgoing, sociable, and animated. They claim to put on an extravert mask but need plenty of alone time and minimally stimulating environments to recharge their batteries. Introverts can “act extraverted,” but should they? Is wearing the Extravert mask imperative to Introverts who want to succeed, especially in leadership roles?

What does it mean to ‘act extraverted’?

Extraversion is being primarily interested in and gaining energy from the external world. Common personality traits associated with extraversion are being talkative, outgoing, friendly, and charismatic. When people talk about Introverts acting Extraverted, they’re usually talking about people who embody these characteristics.

In Quiet: The Power of Introverts In a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, the author tells the story of University of Cambridge psychologist Brian Little. Little is a well-liked professor whose personality is often described as a mix between Robin Williams and Albert Einstein. He gives such inspiring, animated lectures that he often gets standing ovations from his students. What most people outside his inner circle would be surprised to learn, is that Little is a self-identified Introvert. He wears the Extravert mask during his lectures, and thoroughly enjoys the performance. He loves connecting with his students and helping them understand the topics he’s passionate about teaching.

Little embodies what Cain calls the Extravert ideal. He and many others are proof that it’s possible to act extraverted without losing your soul in the process, but what works for one Introvert doesn’t always work for another. We’re all unique individuals, after all. Let’s look at the pros and cons of wearing the Extravert mask.

The benefits of acting extraverted

Acting more extraverted, especially if you live in an Extravert culture like the United States, can help you become more successful in certain careers. As someone who works in marketing and sales, I often have to step outside my comfort zone so as not to appear timid or unconfident. I think I do a pretty poor job of passing as a true Extravert, but I do enjoy some extraverted behaviors. I love engaging in one-on-one conversations, learning more about co-workers and clients, and even going to events and meeting new people, every once in awhile.

Studies show that acting more extraverted increases happiness for both Introverts and Extraverts. So, whether the behaviors I mentioned above frighten or excite you, the chances are once you participate in them, you’ll most likely enjoy the experience, at least momentarily.

This is not a huge surprise if you consider that humans need interpersonal relationships and the feeling that we belong. Social attachment is a fundamental human motivation. “Love is all you need” is more than a song lyric, it’s truth, and the opposite leads to depression, anxiety, and loneliness.

In many ways, acting extraverted is a good thing, but is there a limit to how extraverted an Introvert should be?

The downside of acting extraverted

Little, the quasi-Extravert described above, is one example of how acting extraverted can lead to success, but he warns that it comes with a price. Introverts who suppress their personality for extended periods of time risk burnout, stress, and poorer mental and physical health. On the flip side, Extraverts who spend too much time acting introverted, i.e., spending extended periods of time alone or acting quieter than usual at work, experience even greater amounts of stress and dissatisfaction overall.

Another downside of suppressing personality is that it can make people more resentful and cynical over time. According to Cain, “People who tend to [suppress their negative emotions] regularly, might start to see the world in a more negative light.” An Introvert who acts cheerful and bubbly doing a job she dislikes will eventually develop even stronger negative feelings toward the job than she initially had. In cases like this, “fake it ‘til you make it” isn’t the best advice. Wearing the Extravert mask is harder for some Introverts than for others. Many self-aware Introverts who are highly in tune with their values and beliefs reject the idea of acting extraverted since it’s not true to who they are on the inside.

Wearing the mask feels fake. Why should an individual have to adapt their self for society, rather than teach society to value who they are? Shyness and social anxiety also make it harder for some Introverts to act extraverted. Introverts who value harmony or strive to reach career goals, no matter the cost, are more likely to act extraverted when the situation calls for it.

Finding balance

Since Introverts are focused on their internal world, it’s often the idea of acting extraverted that they dread more than the act itself. Studies show that Introverts often overestimate the adverse effects of extraverted behavior. Basically, acting outgoing, talkative, and friendly doesn’t impact Introverts as negatively as they imagine it does. In some cases, rejecting the idea of acting extraverted can lead to limiting beliefs that can hurt the Introvert’s career and relationships.

The key is finding balance and saving extraverted behaviors for situations that really need them. Anything that doesn’t feel authentic to you will eventually cause burnout, whether it’s changing your personality or working in a job you can’t stand. However, if we engage in work and relationships that are meaningful and manageable, we can thrive as introverts in the extraverted world. Rather than focusing on acting like an Extravert, we should focus on finding what it is that makes us feel truly alive inside.

Wrapping it up

Introverts should act extraverted, but only in situations where it feels authentic. Remember that Introverts tend to enjoy socializing more than they think they do. Don’t let limiting beliefs or fears hold you back from getting to know someone new or achieving your career goals. But do maintain awareness of how you spend your external energy and allow yourself plenty of time to rejuvenate.

Tell us, do you think Introverts should act extraverted to be successful?

Megan Malone

Megan is a freelance writer and brand marketing consultant at Truity. She is passionate about helping people improve their relationships, careers, and quality of life using personality psychology. An INFJ and Enneagram 9, Megan lives quietly in Fort Worth, Texas with her husband and two pups. You can chat with her on Twitter @meganmmalone.

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About the Clinical Reviewer

Steven Melendy, PsyD., is a Clinical Psychologist who received his doctorate from The Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. He specializes in using evidence-based approaches in his work with individuals and groups. Steve has worked with diverse populations and in variety of a settings, from community clinics to SF General Hospital. He believes strongly in the importance of self-care, good friendships, and humor whenever possible.


JennyGump76 (not verified) says...

I had a conversation with my mother this week and we were talking about how I was as a child.  She was telling my new boyfriend (whom she had just met) how sociable and outgoing I was as a child.  "Jenny always had friends over to the house, she was bouncy and vocal and all over the place."  I kind of leaned in and said, "Yes, but I always had to find time to myself, usually with my books or music.  There was as much of that as there were friends and silliness."  I could see that after years of me telling her over and over that I'm just not that social butterfly she always proclaimed I was, it finally dawned on her that, yes, I had always retreated to my room or the woods to decompress.  My friends were important to me (a small group of them who pretty much remained the same from my elementary years through 10th grade, when we moved away), but being on my own doing the things I loved most (reading/writing/daydreaming) had also been very dominant throughout my youth.  I am an INFP, unabashedly and uncompromisingly...I love that I have the ability to put myself out there and be footloose and crazy when I want to be.  However, I am also aware that long drives to nowhere, big, thick books full of fantastic characters and plot lines and time just to be with my thoughts are really what make my world spin.  I love the times I have being my "social self" but equally enjoy my time alone.  I need it.  I make space for it, because without it I am exhausted, depleted and really not fun to be with.  The new boyfriend is ESFJ (with a lot of P thrown in the mix) and he's learning to give me space when I ask for it.  The concept is somewhat foreign to him, but he's doing great and I am also learning to give him bigger pieces of my inner world...we're all learning every day, all the time.  That's what makes life worth living.  Good luck to all the Introverts out there who are surrounded by Extroverts.  You have just as much to offer the world as these shiny, glittering unicorns.  LOL...

Megan Malone says...

YES! There are so many misconceptions about what it means to be an introvert. Acting friendly and outgoing does not equate to being an extravert. Still, many people have trouble understanding the concept. We just have to continue to learn and grow as introverts and help educate others through our words and actions. Thank you for your thoughtful reply. :) 

MDR1374 (not verified) says...

Thank you for this article!  I really enjoyed reading it.  I wish I could find a job where I could pay my bills AND love my work.  I am  in outside sales and it is destroying me more and more every day...

Megan Malone says...

I get it. I'm a full-time marketing manager in addition to my freelance work. Even though we can put on the mask when needed, some days are exhausting. Never stop striving for a fulfilling career that pays the bills. It's out there! Wishing you all the luck, inspiration, and support you need to find it. 

Essaysmith (not verified) says...

I find that the older I get, the more likely and more successfully I wear the Extravert mask. Perhaps it comes from confidence of years of experience or just caring less about what people think of me.

Megan Malone says...

Yes, I think confidence plays a bit part in it. Trying to please others is far more draining than being yourself. 

Jara (not verified) says...

I am an "extroverted introvert". People who only have a shallow understanding of introversion and extroversion rarely believe that I am an introvert when I tell them, but I am telling them so that their expectations are managed. What they are seeing is the "charged up" version of me. I am lively in public, but it takes a lot of solitude and prayer to be "on" in public. Social interaction, especially with extroverts, is draining. People who live with me know the truth.

Megara (not verified) says...

I have the same "extraverted introvert" issue. I am very lively when I can bond with people, but I need my alone time with just me or perhaps with one very close family member. At this point, when it comes to my introversion, my closest family members are practically extensions of me. I do occasionally need my time away from them as well, though.

Megan Malone says...

People judge you by what they see. They don't see the solitude and prayer required to be on in front of them, so it's easy to peg you as an extrovert. I think it's great that you express this to them so that they know what to expect! 

Ayman Salem (not verified) says...

Love is all what u need "dangerous quote" 

Introvert solution "However, if we engage in work and relationships that are meaningful and manageable, we can thrive as introverts in the extraverted world."

Marcia Reisz (not verified) says...

Interesting article. I'm an INTJ (heavy on the I, N, and T - moderate J). This has been an issue for me since... well, forever. I'm 61 now and the anwer to the question, "should I act like an extravert to get ahead?" has changed over the years. In my 20's I was trying to get established in a career so I was more willing to project extravert characteristics. As my career developed I realized that I had to limit my use of E traits or I would get burned out. I decided to go a direction in my career that would not require as much extraversion. I decided I did not want to become a manager. I knew it would limit my progress but I realized that I valued job satisfaction more than the money.  My ES relatives were incredulous *lol*. You have to really get to know yourself and respect what you find out about yourself. 

Megan Malone says...

Marcia thank you for sharing your experience. It is so true that introverts need to to get to know themselves in order to find what works. If we feel like we are acting like someone we're not just to get ahead, we will burn out fast. I'm glad that you found what works for you! 

Megara (not verified) says...

Some people might be surprised to hear that I am an INTP. I am often outgoing in public, am highly talkative around people I bond with, and I frequently use my close friends and family as a sounding board for my thoughts. Overall, I'm not as pensive as the INTP label might make me seem. However, the key is that I mostly only display these extraverted traits with people who I bond with, the least extreme example merely being people who share my interests and the most extreme being only my family. To others who don't fit in these categories, I might even seem shy. Interestingly enough, based on my research, this behavior isn't unlike the INTP personality at all. We are quiet and observant until we get to know someone, and then, being the super-thinkers we are, we love to share our ideas with the people we think will understand or show interest. Along the same lines, I highly value conversation as a learning tool, and that is what INTPs are all about, right? We absolutely LOVE to learn. I also have to remind my family that for everything I share with them (which is a lot; around them, I rarely ever stop talking), I have at least twice as much buzzing around in my head. My brain never stops. It is a constantly whirring machine filled with possibilities.

Megan Malone says...

Megara I can so relate to the brain never shutting off. For a quiet person, my mind is super LOUD. I do think it's an "INTP thing" (mostly related to Introverted Thinking/Ti) to want to share your ideas and knowledge with anyone who will listen. I also love to learn, but I'm picky about who I share with because in my experiences many people prefer small talk to discussing the latest thing I read about. But when you find someone who really wants to listen, it's euphoric. Like I mentioned in the article, once introverts are passionate about something, we no longer feel like we're wearing a mask. 

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