Extroverts often get a bad rap.
While much attention has been paid to the plight of introverts in a loud, hyper-stimulated world, the unspoken corollary is that it’s the fault of extroverts. After all, if those brash, loudmouthed, self-absorbed people would just hush for a minute, maybe the introverted folks could focus or get a word in edgewise.
But both experts and science tell us that there are some common misconceptions about extroverts. The traits that may make them seem overconfident, gregarious, and even obnoxious are often motivated by the way that extroverts process information, recharge, and naturally interact with others. Here are five things people commonly get wrong about extroverts.
1. They’re not just talking—they’re thinking out loud
While extroverts do tend to be more talkative, it’s because that’s how they process certain information, says Los Angeles-based psychotherapist, Mike Dow, PsyD, PhD, author of Chicken Soup for the Soul’s Think, Act & Be Happy. Extroverts typically arrive at an answer by talking out a situation, while their more introverted peers may look inward to think things through and arrive at an answer or decision, Dow says. So while it seems like the extrovert is just going on and on, what you’re typically witnessing is the person working out a situation, decision, or problem.
“Extroverts, the way that they experience relationships, [think about] information, they really need to take it all in by engaging in the world, versus introverts who are really creating their sense of the world in a more internal way,” he says.
Their affinity for talking things out also doesn’t mean that extroverts can’t be good listeners, says executive coach Olivia Fox Cabane, director of Innovative Leadership for Stanford’s StartX program and author of The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism. “Equating narcissism and extroversion is unfair,” she says. Their longing for connection can make them good listeners and sounding boards. And, sometimes, their reasons for dominating a conversation stem from nervousness or even instinctive generosity, which compels them to fill in an awkward silence or provide enjoyment for others.
2. They doubt themselves
Extroverts’ outgoing nature leads some to believe that they’re self-assured and don’t struggle with self-worth or confidence. But that’s not the case, says Katherine Lucas, head of marketing in North America and global head of account management for Boston-based financial services company State Street Corporation. After she received feedback that her outgoing personality was a detriment to her leadership skills, Lucas changed her management style. Doing so both confused her team and made her unhappy and unsure of herself, as she recounts in her 2015 TED Talk, “In Defense of Extroverts.”
“It really became this internal, psychological struggle, because I’m very extroverted. I’m also very type A, so you get feedback and you want to attack that feedback,” she says. “And so I had these little fits and starts of, ‘Maybe if I tweak this, then that will work. Or maybe if I change that, that will work.’ But the fact of the matter is, how do you change something that’s really ingrained in your personality? It’s not a façade. It’s not an act. It’s not a mask. It’s just who I am.”
Dow says that many extroverts struggle with self-worth and confidence, just like others. “But unlike people who are quieter, they actually lean into it. Instead of being gun shy, they’re a little trigger-happy,” he says. And sometimes, that can backfire in people’s perceptions of them.
3. They’re not all alike
In her research for her talk, Lucas found that there are types of extroverts, including “agentic” extroverts, who are ambitious and thrive in leadership positions, and the “affiliative,” who are more oriented toward social situations and developing deep, interpersonal bonds. And of course, most are combinations of both types.
And bucking the stereotype of the gregarious go-getter, some extroverts are actually shy, Cabane says. Shy extroverts may have trouble creating the connections they crave, so they may surround themselves with more outgoing types to “ensure there’s a generous supply of new humans passing through their days and their lives—that their days are fairly full of human interactions,” she says.
4. Their brains are different
Extroverts tend to be “sensation seeking,” looking for that next rewarding experience, and their brains process the neurotransmitter dopamine differently, Dow says. A 2011 study published in the journal Cognitive Neuroscience found that highly extroverted people crave social stimuli. They like being around other people and often get energy from social situations. In other words, it’s not just being “fake”—they actually like hanging around with others.
Their affinity for finding the next pleasurable sensation makes extroverts more prone to addiction, Dow says. But it also makes them less likely to be diagnosed with anxiety, because they can handle more stimuli without being overwhelmed.
And giving someone like Lucas negative feedback about being cheerful or smiling “too much” is only going to backfire. “Why are giving people this feedback? It’s A, not actual. B, not helpful. And C, seems contrary to the types of culture that we would want to facilitate in the workplace,” she says.
Dow helps his extroverted clients find and maximize their strengths, and to better understand those who process the world differently than them, both of which help them be more successful in work and life. “Sometimes, you’ll even find a yin-yang relationship at work where you have an extrovert and an introvert. It can really help a team to be more successful and really function better as well,” he says.
5. They need time to recharge, too
But even though extroverts crave sensations and interaction, they still need time to recharge. A 2016 study published in The Journal of Personality found that socializing makes extroverts tired, too. It just takes a little longer for the fatigue to kick in. So the image of the “always on” extrovert isn’t correct. When he’s working with individuals, Dow often uses mindfulness techniques to help extroverts experience situations without feeling like they must act.
“I think that there is that link between extroverts and being perceived as rude because they have trouble holding their tongue. I think that’s why sometimes they’re perceived as rude or brash or self-absorbed. That’s just their way of being in the world,” he says.
Companies can help people with different personality types work better together by fostering understanding between them, Lucas adds. When you see the “why” behind a person’s actions, it’s easier to accept—and even learn to appreciate—these differences.