Introverts And Extraverts: Can’t We Just Get Along?

Being an introvert is a bad thing, right? Well, a lot of people seem to think so, judging by the number of articles I’ve read about how to “cure” introversion. In response to these articles, I wrote The Introverts Strike Back, in which I argued that (1) introverts can’t become extraverts, and (2) they shouldn’t particularly want to.

First, let’s get clear on what we’re talking about. I’m going by the definitions used by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. According to the MBTI, introverts get their energy from the internal world of ideas and images, and they feel drained if they spend too much time with people. On the other hand, extraverts (and yes, that IS the correct spelling as used in the MBTI) get their energy from the external world of people and things, and they go crazy if they spend too much time alone. It really has nothing to do with social skills, as evidenced by introverts like Jerry Seinfeld.

Whether you prefer the internal world or the external world, that preference is fixed. You can force yourself to act outside of your element, but an introvert can’t become an extravert and vice versa. Let’s face it, if hosting The Tonight Show for 30 years didn’t turn Johnny Carson into an extravert, I doubt tips like “say hi to more people” will do the trick.

However, introversion certainly has its advantages. For example, introverts make up a slight majority of the upper levels of government, the military, and the corporate world, despite being only 30% of the population. The social outcast doesn’t represent all introverts, any more than the dumb jock represents all extraverts.

But I’m not here to debate whether it’s better to be an introvert or an extravert. The fact is, we all have to interact with both types every day. Regardless of which type you are, you can greatly improve your relationships by learning to get along better with people of the other type. Here are some tips for getting started.

For Introverts:

1. Indicate to others when you’re busy.

When an extravert sees you reading, writing, or maybe just thinking, they might assume that the only reason you’d do this is because you don’t have someone to talk to. So they think they’re doing you a favor by striking up a conversation, when they’re actually interrupting.

To prevent this, be sure to give an indication that you’re in the middle of something and aren’t looking for socialization right now. This can be a visual sign (e.g., closing your door) or verbal (e.g., “I’m sorry John, but I’m racing to get this done. Can I get back to you later?”).

I know one person who tended to get a lot of visitors at work, and while he was actually an extravert, the frequent visits were slowing him down too much. He put a sign on his door saying “If I don’t make eye contact or respond to you, I apologize. I’m not trying to be rude, I just have a lot of work to do. Thank you for understanding.” While I don’t think many people need to go that far, it certainly worked!

2. Try to verbalize your thoughts more.

Introverts tend to keep most of their thinking to themselves while they’re working out ideas, and not speak much until they’re sure of what they want to say. The problem with this is that other people can’t see you thinking. If someone comes to you for your opinion on something, and they don’t hear you talking, they might assume you don’t care.

To show that you are in fact considering what they said, try doing some of your thinking out loud. It’s OK if you verbalize rough drafts of thoughts that you end up changing. If all else fails, just say you need time to think about it (e.g., “Lisa, this is very interesting, but I’m not sure what to suggest just yet. Let me give it some more thought, and I’ll get back to you.”).

3. Realize that extraverts often need to talk.

Because extraverts are more in touch with the external world, for them talking is sometimes as necessary as breathing. They might think out loud by bouncing their thoughts off other people, and they might need to chat in order to boost their energy.

For an introvert, this can be the most difficult part of dealing with an extravert. The same conversation that energizes the extravert also drains the introvert. But keeping in mind that the extravert is not being intentionally malicious, the introvert has at least two options for handling this in a polite way. They can patiently participate in the conversation, and then when it’s over they can be alone to recharge. Or they can cut off the conversation early by mentioning something else they need to be doing, or even by saying “I’d like to help, but I’m not sure that I’m the right person for you to be talking to.”

Of course, sometimes a conversation can be very enjoyable for an introvert, in which case this isn’t a problem.

4. Don’t forget to socialize.

As great as your internal world is, don’t forget that the external world is also good in moderation. Be sure to set aside some time to spend with other people, and take advantage of social opportunities that present themselves to you. And when you’re around other people, make yourself fun to be with!

For Extraverts:

1. Ask if someone is busy before spending time with them.

If someone appears to be lonely, they might not be. Even if they’re just sitting there and don’t seem to be doing anything, they could be deep in thought and not at a point where they want to be interrupted.

If you need something, try to ask for it up front (e.g., “Mary, do you have a few minutes to talk about a problem I’m having?”). Otherwise, look for clues that they might not feel like talking right now, such as lack of eye contact.

If they seem uninterested, don’t take it personally. You just don’t know what you’re interrupting.

2. If someone doesn’t speak up, ask them what they think.

Sometimes when you’re talking to someone, they’ll be so engrossed in thinking about what you said that they forget to tell you what they’re thinking. If you’re waiting for someone’s feedback and they’re not giving it to you, try asking them what they think.

3. Realize the draining effect a conversation can have on someone.

No matter how fabulous a person you are, keep in mind that introverts simply prefer their internal world to the external world. They might start off with a fully charged battery, but while they’re engaged in conversation, that battery is steadily draining. How long it lasts depends on various factors, but be sure to keep an eye out for when they’re starting to lose interest. Be more to the point with introverts, and save most of your chatting for extraverts who will appreciate it more.

4. Remember that introverts need their alone time.

Perhaps the hardest thing for extraverts to understand about introverts is that someone could actually want to be alone. Not because they don’t like to have fun, or because they hate people, but just because they prefer their internal world, and they need to return to it to be energized. If someone doesn’t want to hang out with you, don’t try to push them, because they just need their “me” time. Of course, there’s always the possibility that they just don’t like you!

The world has lots of introverts and lots of extraverts. Instead of debating which is better or asking how we can change people, let’s try to be more accepting of others. With a little effort, we can all get along just fine.

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[via pickthebrain]

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