How do you know if you’ve alienated an introvert? You probably won’t. It’s not always easy to tell if an introvert is feeling put out, offended or disregarded; we’re generally pretty good at keeping our feelings to ourselves, especially in the workplace. This skill comes in handy when we’re negotiating, but it’s not always great on the relationship front.
Thanks to a resurgence of interest and information on the mysterious introvert, more people than ever understand what it means to be on the quieter end of the personality spectrum. That awareness has made life much more pleasant for many an introvert and extrovert. However, there are still a few areas that have room for improvement.
Since you can’t read our minds, here are 12 ways you might be unintentionally but expeditiously alienating the introverts in your life.
1. Talk without breathing
It’s like the unibrow of communication: there should be space, but there isn’t. You talk at us in onelongrunonsentencewithnobreaks. Consider bringing more “white space” to your conversation style. Give the end of a sentence a full stop. Take a breath. Practice being comfortable with little pockets of silence. This gives us introverts an opportunity to reflect as well as share our thoughts before they are left behind by anotherlongandwindingroadofinformation.
2. Assume that because we are quiet, we are indifferent/in agreement/bored/sad/depressed/lonely/plotting
Rather, we’re usually listening, observing, thinking, waiting, and yes, maybe even plotting. Our natural preference is to sit back a bit and take things in without a lot of vocalizing or outward activity. This even can be mistaken for complacency or arrogance. If you don’t know what we’re feeling, or why we’re quiet, ask us. We’re not trying to be cryptic (unless we are); we’re most likely thinking and will only speak when we have something worth saying.
3. Force us to work in groups
This is what “Quiet” author Susan Cain refers to as “Groupthink.” There’s an assumption that creativity and breakthroughs are mostly the product of group work. However, introverts are at our best when given space and solitude to think ideas through. This doesn’t mean we can’t work in groups. It’s simply not how we’ll be our most productive and creative. We’d rather have a combination of small group work with ample solitude.
4. Say “no way! You’re not an introvert” when you tell them you’re an introvert
What if someone said to you, a man, “no way! You’re not a man!” Not so good, right? We introverts have the same reaction if you deny us who we were. Being an introvert is not something to be ashamed of. We are a result of nature — there are neurological differences between introverts and extroverts, particularly how we respond to stimuli and where we get our energy — and nurture. Given the still-remaining stigma that surrounds being an introvert, if your colleague is bold enough to say, “I’m an introvert,” believe her.
5. Tell us we need to “speak up more”
This is a common piece of feedback to the introvert, whether it’s in the office or at home. Consider this funny graphic floating around Pinterest that says, “It might look like I’m doing nothing, but on the cellular level I’m really quite busy.” While you might see us as quiet, the wheels are always turning. We’ll speak up when the wheels are all moving in the same direction. Sometimes we don’t speak up because no one has created space for us to do so (see item #1 in this list). Consider if that’s contributing to us giving you the silent treatment.
6. Pass us over for leadership roles
There’s a perception that introverts shun the spotlight and would rather stay behind the scenes. For some, that may be true. But don’t assume. Introverts often thrive when given leadership responsibilities. Looking only to the outwardly and obviously charismatic types can create a cult of personality. Stretch your definition of leadership to include reflective, deliberate thinkers and doers. And here’s a tip: studies have shown that introverts tend to be highly effective leaders of teams of extroverts.
7. Insist on making us go out, saying “it’ll be good for you”
It’s hard to believe, but the average introvert would prefer a quiet night at home alone or with a few people over a night out clubbing or dancing. We like to have fun and hang out with friends, but in order to do that, we need a steady diet of quiet time. So while you might go out every weekend, we may only go out twice a month. Respect our need for downtime. Don’t cajole or guilt us into going out when we say we’d be happy staying in. Being a homebody doesn’t mean we’re depressed, either; it probably just means we enjoy being home!
8. Assess our performance solely on one standard of “participation”
People who are outwardly expressive and enjoy group activities might find us introverts cryptic and passive. If our level of engagement is judged by how much we talk, we’re at a disadvantage. This leads to the dreaded “you’re not a team player” feedback. Introverts think before they speak; we often choose to speak only when we have something meaningful to contribute. Our participation may vary, and it might take place one-on-one instead of in large groups.
9. Ask us if we can fix your computer
Many introverts wish they had a sign above their desk: “Yes, I’m an introvert. No, I can’t fix your computer.” It is true that Information Technology is an introvert-heavy industry, but that doesn’t correlate to every introvert being a techie. We may love social media, but our desire to spend time on a computer might start and stop with email. Call tech support, rather than relying on your friendly neighborhood introvert when your hard drive crashes.
10. Invade our quiet space
Introverts gain energy from low-stimulation, quiet environments. We need alone time as much as extroverts need social time. If we say we need solitude, honor our request. It’s the only way we’ll have enough energy to be social when we want and need to be. And if you see us starting to fade, become grumpy or otherwise show signs of imploding, ask us if we’ve had any downtime recently. Chances are high that we need to step off the moving train for a little while.
11. Give us advice on how to overcome shyness
Just as discouraging as hearing “no way, you’re not an introvert!” is having someone say, “Oh, you’re an introvert? I used to be shy. Here’s what I did to get over it.” Introversion and shyness are two different states of being. An introvert gains energy from solitude; has an internal orientation; and processes information internally. A shy person experiences social anxiety when interacting with other people. One can be both introvert and shy, but extroverts can be shy, as well. The truth is, you don’t “get over” or recover from being an introvert. You can, however, choose to directly address your social anxiety and transform yourself from shy to not shy. In any case, it’s best not to give someone unsolicited advice, shy, introverted, or otherwise.
12. Expect us to become extroverts
We live in an extroverted society, at least in the United States. This is not because there are more extroverts than introverts; the ratio is about 50/50. It’s because, as a society, we seek out and reward what we consider to be extrovert traits: highly social, outgoing, like to work in groups, and enjoy a boisterous party. Introverts can be all of those things, if, and only if, we are given plenty of time to introvert. To spend time in silence, stillness, aloneness. And when we do show up at the party or meeting, we’re not going to be like extroverts. Our presence probably is going to be more reserved, more observant.
The bottom line? Respect and appreciate what makes us different. In the words of Carl Jung, originator of the terms introvert and extrovert, “The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases.”
What’s been your experience? How do people unintentionally alienate you (introvert or extrovert!)?
Featured image courtesy of JD Hancock licensed via Creative Commons.