While introversion is really nothing new as far as people’s’ personalities are concerned, it is only now becoming normalized. Previous generations really preferred extroversion (and even stigmatized introversion!), to the extent that there was very little room for introverts to comfortably express their needs. While extroversion and introversion may technically be opposites, few people solely exhibit one or the other.
Many of us are a mix of both — sometimes finding peace in solitude, and other times craving human interaction. Being an introvert doesn’t necessarily mean that you are super different from the extroverts in your life, but there are still some situations that can be more overwhelming for introverts than extroverts and some steps you can take to make yourself more comfortable.
If you’re an introvert about to find yourself in a conversation with people who you don’t know well or aren’t necessarily comfortable with, there are plenty of ways to make the conversation more comfortable and avoid the dreaded awkward silence. First, make like a boy scout (or take Scar’s advice from “The Lion King”) and…
I like to have a few questions in my back pocket just so that I can keep the conversation going. Make sure that the answers are more in-depth than yes or no questions so that the conversation doesn’t stop short. Most people love to talk about themselves, so once you get them on a roll, it’s almost guaranteed that they will talk ad nauseam leaving you to just nod, smile, and not talk.
Bonus points if you can remember what they talked about so that you can ask them about it again later! They will definitely appreciate it.
Make sure that you have answers prepared to your questions as well, though, that way you can keep the conversation going if need be. Preparing in advance will keep you from getting nervous scrounging your brain for conversation topics, creating an awkward silence. Because you know that once there’s an awkward silence, you’re just going to feel anxious and that’s going to lead to longer awkward pauses. It’s a vicious cycle.
Some topic ideas I like to keep on hand are:
- How did you get into your field?
- What are your passions/hobbies?
- Do you have any pets?
- What is something that you’re looking forward to?
- What type of potato are you most like? (It’s ok to ask a quirky one now and again!)
Don’t be afraid to bring up your interests either! In this day-and-age, with media being more accessible than ever, it has become much easier to find common ground when talking with people. Sure, your interlocutor may like going out more than you do, but odds are that they do spend some time watching TV and/or reading. Maybe not as much as you do, but they still have probably seen some of the same shows you have and have formed opinions that can be fun and interesting to debate.
New Netflix buddy, anyone?
On the same vein, don’t dive too deep with people you are only meeting for the first time. Introverts are known for enjoying more deep, meaningful connections as opposed to superficial ones. This is great, and some deep, probing questions can really foster intimacy, but not everyone wants to talk to you about their deep-rooted fears and childhood traumas, especially people you’re meeting for the first time, or your coworker Glen at the budget meeting. While your inclination might be to dive in and get to the nitty-gritty, most daily conversations don’t necessitate discussing heavier topics.
Be open about what you need. There may come a time where you just really can’t imagine having the energy to talk to anyone, but you have a loved one desperately trying to communicate with you. The best thing that you can do for your relationship is to let them know clearly what you need at that moment.
Even a quick text explaining that you need some alone time will not only help the other person to know what is going on in your head, but also, show them that you are trusting enough to be vulnerable with them, hopefully opening up the door for them to be more vulnerable with you, too!
When it comes to being an extrovert, conversing with introverts can be challenging, mostly because our society definitely favors extroversion, and since we see extroversion as “what’s right,” it can be natural to push it on someone else. Talking to people is so much fun, how can they not enjoy it, right?!
The best thing that an extrovert can do when conversing with an introvert is to show empathy. Understanding that one person may not feel exactly the same as you do at any given time is the key to most relationships.
Do not treat them like they are different or weird for not enjoying partying until 2 am or feeling anxious on a crowded subway. Use conversations with introverts as a way to learn about them and understand why they enjoy what they enjoy, not as a way to “help them” or “draw them out of their shells.”
Another important piece of the introvert-extrovert communication is listening. Some extroverts have the tendency to talk way too much. As we all know, very little listening is happening if you’re talking a mile a minute about your amazing vacation in Aruba. We get it, it was fun, but no, we don’t want to see your slideshow for the 100th time.
If you take the time and attention to listen to the introverts in your life, you allow them the opportunity to expressly tell you what they need. How can they communicate that they need some time alone if you are blindly rambling about yourself? While you shouldn’t continually bombard them with questions to answer, allowing introverts to have a platform to talk about their needs is pivotal in creating a welcoming space.
At the end of the day, the most helpful way to foster meaningful relationships is through communication. Communication allows for clear expectations and deeper connections. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, the most effective communicators explain what they need and listen when others tell them what they need. While introverts and extroverts have different tendencies, they both have their own strengths, and when able to effectively communicate, can have meaningful relationships.