The greatest single predictor of happiness is the quality of our relationships with others. So, to be rich in what matters, we need good relationship skills.
Misunderstandings between extroverts and introverts are a common source of tension in relationships. I happen to be a raving extrovert who has lots of introverted friends and family members I adore, and introverted colleagues I like and respect. I also happen to have a master’s in counseling psychology. I’ve found that the following have helped me relate better to the many wonderful introverts in my life.
Speak more softly. The volume of our voices is often louder than we realize, especially when we’re feeling excited, happy, upset, etc. Loudness can feel invasive and overwhelming to introverts. A softer voice is easier to be around. It leaves more space for the others in the room. Practice expressing emotion with your facial expression or choice of words, rather than with the volume of your voice.
Assume positive things, or neutral things. When the introvert declines your invitation despite having nothing scheduled for that evening or weekend, assume their need is for downtime, rather than to avoid you. If they don’t volunteer for your pet project, assume their plate is already full, rather than that they dislike your project. When the introvert is clearly tired, assume they’re tired in general, not tired of you personally.
Listen more. The summer I was 19, I worked on a family wheat farm in Kansas. My best friend on the farm was Amy, a bright six year old. We stayed up late talking one night in my room in the attic. I chattered on, excited about this, amused by that, relating anecdote after anecdote. I was enjoying our conversation hugely. “This is so fun!” I gushed. Amy said, “But when do I get to talk?” I was stunned and embarrassed. I had been doing literally all of the talking, not listening to her one iota. And she was unhappy about that. I stopped talking and started listening to small, articulate Amy, who turned out to have lots on her mind and plenty to say, herself. Since that humbling, forehead-slapping night, a technique I’ve used to listen more is the following.
Speak fewer words. This takes discipline for an extrovert, because we may feel we have so much to contribute to a conversation. Try this: after expressing a thought, stop, without leaping into your next thought. Assume that several beats of silence is what it takes for many introverts to gather their thoughts to respond. Speaking less isn’t exactly the same as listening more, but it helps us end up listening more. Listening well is crucial to having good relationships with others, and therefore to being rich in what matters.
Don’t stereotype introverts. For example, many introverts have excellent social skills, lots of friends, do not suffer from shyness, and are quite comfortable on a stage. If that surprises you, take into account that introversion and extroversion are defined not by behavior, but by how a person gets his/her batteries recharged. Introverts get their batteries recharged by solitude, and extroverts by sociability. That said, consider the following.
Cultivate your inner introvert. Everyone eventually needs solitude, just as everyone eventually needs sociability. When the extrovert owns that he or she also needs a break or some quiet downtime, it helps dissolve the divide between introverts and extroverts.
Have a wide range of friends. Assume that your introverted friend or friends cannot meet all your social needs, the same way that no spouse can meet all our emotional needs. I see my overall community as my source, rather than individuals as my source. It’s kind of like needing to eat a wide variety of foods in order to get all the nutrients we need.
Match and mirror when interacting with introverts — or anyone else. This is the most tried-and-true method I’ve ever known for building rapport and good relationships. If the person you’re talking with seems concerned, mirror their concern back to them. If their tone is light-hearted, match their light-heartedness. Read what is going on in a room when you enter it. If the room is quiet, enter softly, or if it’s festive, make eye contact with others and share in the joy. Of course, you can take the lead at some point in your interactions, too.
The greatest single predictor of happiness is the quality of our relationships with others. So, building our relationship skills may be the best single investment we can make if we want to be rich in what matters.
Do you identify as an introvert or an extrovert? What has helped you to bridge the divide when relating to people who have the other orientation?