Should Introverts Fake It Till They Make It?

A proposition for introverts who feel compelled to be extroverted.

Introverts recharge their energy levels from being alone, whereas extroverts are energised by their interactions with others.

It goes without saying that many jobs involve some interaction with people. Other jobs require more contact: negotiation, or even confrontation.

When faced with such a situation, some introverts might feel compelled to “act” out of character in order to succeed – based on the “fake it till you make it” mantra.

But can you really overcome your personality? In Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, she highlights two pseudo-extroverts, Alison and Jillian. Alison was trying but failing to fit into an extrovert’s world while Jillian was thriving.

Though highly qualified for the law counsel positions she wanted, Alison never got past the final interviews. Hirers could tell she did not have the right personality for the job. Alison was drained from negating her true self all the time in order to reach the next step in a career she had no real affinity for, because she felt she had to.

In contrast, Jillian loved the research work she did at an environmental advocacy group. Her beliefs and purpose led her to brave chairing meetings and presentations, worthy tasks for which she could perform temporarily like an extrovert.

Other research in psychology has found that when people have to “fake it” for work, such as in customer service, they either do deep acting or surface acting.

Deep acting involves truly modifying inner feelings (through recalling pleasant memories, for instance), so that their emotions match their behaviour. Surface acting is merely going through the motions: repeating learned lines, faking smiles. Deep acting is said to be less emotionally draining and result in better performance. Jillian’s success as a pseudo-extrovert could have come from deep acting, whereas Alison may have only been surface acting.

Cain points out that, introvert or not, it helps to find work that you love, where you can carve a “restorative niche”, a space for you to feel most like yourself.

For introverts whose work requires meeting many people, that may mean negotiating with your boss to get some quiet, alone time to work. Extroverts who happen to do mostly office tasks may want to seek out opportunities to step away from their desks to network.

Cain’s advice: Don’t expend emotional labour on being someone you’re not, in a job that doesn’t excite you.

And if you have to (temporarily) put on a show, be a deep actor, not a surface one.

    Nov 26, 2014
    Siti Maziah Masramli
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