There's a theory that you can be an extroverted introvert.

The concept was probably started by people who like to analyze the introverted personality type, but it makes about as much sense as trying to turn a Toyota Corolla into a Chevy Corvette. Nice idea, but not possible.

As a lifelong introvert, I'll be the first to admit it would be helpful to be able to change into something else. However, there's a danger in suggesting to the analytical and introspective among us that your personality type can change. Here's why.

True introversion is not an ailment. It's a perspective on life as much as a personality, and it is baked into our identity. Introverts tend to get tired when we are placed in situations where we have to act outgoing. Insisting that it's possible to be the life of the party or to meet people over and over at an event and not have to pay any consequences is a disservice to anyone who has struggled with this personality type.

Rather than making excuses or trying to "convert" to an extrovert, as if that's even possible, my advice is to communicate even more about what works for you and what doesn't when there are situations that cause stress.

As an example, let's say you are heading to a conference and you'll be meeting an entire team. Don't bother trying to explain you'll need downtime, because you shouldn't have to explain that, and people might not understand anyway. It's better to make a specific plan. Set aside an hour, and let people know you can meet during that time, and then you'll need to do some other work. This gives you a clear out so you won't have to tell anyone you are feeling overwhelmed. You don't have to pretend to be outgoing because that's what society thinks you should be.

Sadly, there's pressure for introverts to "get over" their personality type and get along with everyone, to go with the plan and to avoid being too intellectual about everything. My advice is to embrace the idea that you are intellectual, that you'd rather spend time alone to refuel. It's OK to have your personality type.

It's also important to remind yourself about what you can handle. Introverts can speak in front of a group, but we tend to see everything as a one-on-one conversation. Even in a group, we speak to one person. That means, if we're asked to speak at a meeting and told to keep things lively and fun, it's OK to push back. How about if we keep things intellectual and interesting because that's what we do? That's what we have to offer. We're not going to temporarily act extroverted.

I tend to schedule my time, even though I'm not a detail-oriented person. I don't like process; I like to think creatively. Yet I've learned that having a plan is a good way to deal with the challenges of being an introvert when other people expect me to act like an extrovert. By scheduling things, I match up my work with my personality.

This happened to me just last week. I spent the day meeting people at a conference. Then someone floated the idea of going out to dinner as a group. I balked. An "extroverted introvert" would have joined in on the fun, but that type of person doesn't exist. Instead, I met with one person and then biked to my Airbnb. I knew, from many years of experience, that the extra social activity would not work.

Are there times when you might act like an extrovert? Sure. You might feel the rush of a new job or the excitement of being in a new city. That doesn't mean you have become an extroverted introvert and everything will be different, that you won't be analytical anymore. It doesn't mean you have suddenly found the secret. It's a sign that you might be going through a transition (sometimes literally when you board a plane or jump on a bus). Yet you should avoid feeling pressure to maintain that giddy and excited demeanor, because for those of us who are true introverts, it can lead to even more stress and resentment. In fact, when I travel and feel that rush of energy, I become even more intentional about my downtime. I don't start wondering if I'm an extroverted introvert. The danger is in suggesting that those times when you might act more outgoing will lead to some long-term personality changes, or that there is a "better" way to act that leads to more success in work and in life.

It's not true. Success can come when you act the way you're wired.

Ironically, society doesn't put the same pressure on extroverts. Oh, you've started reading books more. Maybe you're an introvert? There's no conversion, no downgrade. We understand that it's OK for extroverts to need some rest as well. We don't suddenly wonder if their personality has changed.

Fight the urge. There is no such thing as an extroverted introvert. Feel free to debate me all day long. Just make sure you give me some time and space to argue back.

Published on: Jul 19, 2016
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