How Extroverts Can Relate Better To Introverts

By Sunday, February 2, 2014 20 4

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?

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  • Steven
    October 24, 2014

    Alison, I really enjoyed this post. And HAD to share it with my wife /life partner.

    My wife (who considers herself an “extreme” Extrovert and I (an INTJ by Meyers-Briggs personality profile testing, introvert) have been dialoguing on the apparent discrepancy between the profile results and my behavior. I am NOT shy by any stretch of the imagination. I will engage in conversation with anyone and often do with a complete stranger, without prompting. I enjoy people. Thus my wife is convinced that I am a “closet” extrovert.-BUT I cannot continue to engage without sufficient time for solitude, and quietness from the ‘noise’ of life. I agree wholeheartedly that it is from whence one derives the recharging of one’s energy whether in introspection, solitude as I, the introvert, do or with sharing and processing with others, in socialization, as my wife does. Failing to take that time of solitude, I become exhausted, & depressed amongst the very people I care the most for. I become inwardly irritated, and frustrated. Fortunately, I AM an introvert, hence prone to introspection, and I usually recognize both that I am irritated (effect) and that I haven’t taken the time for the solitude that I KNOW that I need; the primary cause of my exhaustion/irritation (my batteries are drained and I am still trying to draw on them). My wife, does not need this time (well not at much, nor as often) so has not always understood. (Though we have learned through experiences (not all pleasant) that allowing me the time is best for all concerned).

    My wife has expressed a desire to apply the techniques you mentioned for her to better relate. Thank you. I let you know how we fair. Be blessed.

    • Alison
      October 25, 2014

      Steven, I think that this battery-charge thing you’re talking about is the single most misunderstood thing about introverts and extroverts.

      I love hearing that you and your wife are learning to work with the native batteries!

    May 26, 2014

    I really like this post. What I love about this the most is the fact that your topic is about extroverts making an effort to relate to introverts. I am an introvert and I feel like we are usually the ones being encourage to relate to extroverts so I’m glad that someone made an article like this. I really like the advice you have here as an introvert I would love it if the extroverts that I know would do them.

    Tavia Cruz

    May 9, 2014

    I love this ..very informative. Keep up the great job

  • Tess Marshall
    February 9, 2014

    Very observant post, Alison, and some good comments here. I like the way you acknowledge that introversion is not about shyness. I’ve known extroverts and introverts who are socially shy.
    Something that can be helpful for introverts to recognise is that extroverts often understand what they’re thinking by the process of articulating it out loud to others. Hence the appearance of talking too much. If you extroverts give me time to think I’m happy to repay the favour by listening to you talk!
    It’s certainly possible - and beneficial for us introverts - to adopt a more extrovert style when necessary, just as you set out here the reverse. For example I work with a mostly extrovert team, and if I didn’t make the effort to speak up, insert myself into the rough and tumble of debate, I’d never be heard. As it is, I’m sometimes underestimated by my team-mates. But when I “do extrovert” it does feel as if I’m putting on a show and not being true to myself. Perhaps the reverse is true for you.
    I agree wholeheartedly though that relationships are crucial to our happiness and that a little discomfort in stretching our personal communication styles is well worth it.
    By the way, one other thing: I’m not sure if this is only true of me, or is an introvert trait, but one of the worst things anyone could do to me would be to drop round to my house unannounced!

    • Alison
      February 9, 2014

      Tess, lots of good insights. Thanks for adding so much to the discussion, especially naming that both introverts and extroverts can stretch themselves and adopt the others’ style, when they choose, for the cause of good connection and good relationships.

      I was intrigued to read on Facebook that you have happily succeeded in selling your house, with no particular intention of buying another. From what you wrote, I can see that you feel much more free and relaxed this way. Interesting to me how for some people, owning their own home is exactly what they need to do, and it might be the dream of their lifetime. And for others, getting RID of the ownership role is what they need in order to be rich in what matters. Lots of different paths . . . all of them authentic.

      Finally, I promise to never drop in on you unannounced. And I would keep that promise even if I lived on the same side of the Atlantic as you. :)

  • Linda Berkemeier
    February 8, 2014

    Hmmm…. There are times, Alison, when you may be tuning it back a bit on purpose which leaves me wondering if…or presuming that…something is bothering you. This may sound like an amusing obbservation, but it is true.

    • Alison
      February 8, 2014

      Thanks for the feedback, Linda! In general, I tend to speak up if something is bothering me (if speaking up would be halfway appropriate :))

  • craftygreenpoet
    February 4, 2014

    Excellent post. I’m definitely an introvert. I find a couple of specifics in conversation that I struggle with as an introvert - small talk and banal over-generalised questions. I certainly feel I share the first of those with many if not most introverts. As to the second, questions such as ‘done anything exciting recently?’ really annoy me, whereas something more specific can lead to me being quite talkative.

    • Alison
      February 4, 2014

      Ms. Poet, I feel the same way you do about banal, general questions — they’re a turn-off. Really, sometimes people just need better social skills, in general. Most social skills are valuable and work well, no matter what type of person you’re interacting with.

      For my part, people often assume that I’m an introvert simply because I’m a writer and because I’m “deep”. It can be so hard for them to understand that an extrovert can be a writer, and think some deep thoughts. It doesn’t fit the common stereotype, the same way that it doesn’t fit the stereotype that many excellent performers are introverts.

      Thanks for sharing, Juliet.

  • Jeri
    February 3, 2014

    I’m definitely an introvert, but it took me awhile to recognize how that is different than being shy. That being said, I love friends who are really loud and crazy. It fulfills that part of me that wants to be that way, but just isn’t.

    • Alison
      February 4, 2014

      Jeri, introversion is definitely different than being shy. And yes, I think lots of people enjoy having friends who live out an unexpressed part of themselves.

  • Dana Whitson
    February 3, 2014

    Most folks, including myself, are neither. It’s really situational for me, depending on role and knowledge. I feel many extroverts lack self-awareness, that if they actually listened to themselves…
    There is nothing wrong w silence especially if the alternative is just noise.

    • Alison
      February 4, 2014

      Dana, I agree that silence can be lovely. I don’t agree, though, that extroversion/introversion depends just on role and knowledge. I think that being outgoing and taking leadership depends on role and knowledge. If you and I were hanging out together in a rural area or small town of Southwest Oregon, I would be outgoing and take the leadership role, ’cause that’s my territory. But if I then started having sharp pains in my left groin, you would be very much in charge, ’cause you’re an ICU nurse.

      I think that some people are in the middle of the spectrum, i.e. neither introverted nor extroverted. But my experience is that most people do either get their batteries recharged from solitude (introverts), or from sociability (extroverts).

      • Dana Whitson
        February 4, 2014

        Like I said, it’s really situational for me. In my work life as a nurse, I behave quite like the extrovert. I find it both a comfortable and an effective means of communication. Buts it’s not who I am, it’s a behavior that works well in certain situations. I guess, really, I’m put off by the either/or quality of your argument here.
        The point of our behaviors shouldn’t be to charge our batteries by being outspoken. It’s what we are speaking about that should be charging our batteries.
        I’m outgoing and passionate about things I feel strongly about. I’m quiet and reflective if I recognize I’ve much more to gain by simply listening. …at least that’s what I strive for anyway! 😉

        • Alison
          February 5, 2014

          It sounds like the concept of introversion/extroversion just doesn’t ring true to your experience, Dana. Fair enough. It’s interesting how some folks resonate to a given concept, i.e. it helps them understand themselves and others better, while for others, the same concept seems to get in the way. When it’s the latter case, best to just let go and move on. Nothing’s a fit for everyone. Thanks for weighing in.

        • Ella
          June 12, 2014

          Hello, just want to say. It totally understand what you are saying, because I can switch just like you can. I hear many people say.. well it depends on the situation if they are introverted or extraverted. Actually it doesn’t, because if it did, than we would suffer from multiple personality disorders.Wait…(lol) It depends on the situation of one is outgoing or reserved! which is different from intro/ extroversion. Behaviour is different from personality, i am sure you knew that. When I feel I need to listen more, I do. When I need to speak up, I do, just like you. Still nothing changes the fact that I am an introvert. It has nothing to do with what people see on the outside; inside I am still an innie. I can behave as an extrovert if and when i want. This is one of the reasons why many introverts are considered extroverts. And sometimes extroverts are seen as shy, but they remain extroverts. I hope I was clear, cause I’m not American.

          • Alison
            June 12, 2014

            Actually that was very well said, Ella. Thanks for visiting and sharing.

  • Alison
    February 3, 2014

    Mike, good to hear this. I relate to your third paragraph so much, I feel as if I could have written it, myself. I, too, now move on if a person’s conversation is all ‘me, me, me’. I think it’s even better, though, to do what Amy did, i.e. politely rebel by asking for the situation to improve. Sometimes I’ve gotten good responses when I’ve asked the other person to do more listening. Sometimes I haven’t, but I’ve never regretted that I asked. I do notice that the skillfulness with which I ask for someone to change what they’re doing makes a big difference. Six-year-old Amy was a good teacher for me, so simple and straightforward.

    Thanks for your positive remarks, Mike. You’ve confirmed once again that many of my favorite people are introverts.

  • Mike
    February 2, 2014

    I loved this part the best, Alison, “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.”

    If I was to do a self-diagnosis it would be introvert. Though my writing would not always convey that.

    I’m a great listener and have always prided myself in that. But, one thing, now with years of life experience is that I can not stand folks who are “me, me, me” in conversation. I’ve become acutely aware of those that fall into that category and those who do not. For those that do and find no interest or inquiry as to me I move on.

    Absolutely fantastic post, our friend! Loved it and probably one of my favs of your’s to date :)