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.
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?