An Open Letter to Extroverts
We introverts really do like you, but it seems we have a bit of a disconnect. A lot of us feel misunderstood. We feel a pressure to fit into your environment instead of create a new one together. On the Introvert-Extrovert scale, I’m closer to the middle than either edge, but I’m definitely an introvert. I’m married to one of your people, though, which has given me ample opportunity to understand just where it is that we’re missing each other. I don’t want to blame it all on you, but there are a few myths that some of you seem to believe about us that I’d like to clear up. (And let me just say, I know not all extroverts are the same. I wouldn’t lump you all together. Just read with an open mind.)
1. Introverts are Boring
They’re so not. Some of the most fun, funny people I know are introverts. They’re often funnier because they are so unassuming, and extroverts can easily miss it. In a group of people, you extroverts will almost always naturally dominate the conversation or direct the activity. This isn’t because introverts are passive by nature. It’s because we’ve learned that we probably won’t be truly listened to and we don’t appreciate being verbally bowled over. You don’t mean to, but you often do. So instead, we choose not to engage. We don’t feel the need to share like you do. We’re happy to just observe and be silently amused by our unspoken jokes and ideas.
Introverts can be a blast if they’re with people they trust. Example: my mom is a total introvert, and she’s hilarious. But you won’t hear the funny stuff she’s thinking at a big party because she’s not about to trust a group of rowdy extroverts to stop talking over each other for two seconds and listen.
I’ll add the caveat that I do know some extroverts (not many, sorry) who are great listeners. The problem is that when you get around each other, you can tend to ignore everyone else.
2. Introverts are Shy or Anti-Social
Introversion does not equal shyness, just as extroversion does not equal confidence. This, I think, is the biggest myth about these two personality types. Let’s get the definitions cleared up.
Introvert: Someone who is energized by solitary time
Extrovert: Someone who is energized by social time
If I’m not already exhausted, I actually look forward to social gatherings. I really enjoy hanging out with people. I know who I am and I’m not afraid of big groups. The difference between me and you is that I arrive home from a party half dead with thoughts of yoga pants and a glass of wine and Tolkien for the next 6 hours and definitely no talking. After a party, you’re probably busy rounding up willing participants for FroYo or a midnight showing of American Hustle or a last minute road trip to Vegas.
3. Your Introvert is Mad because He/She is Not Talking
Your introvert is probably just thinking. Maybe about something important like health care reform or global warming or how Sherlock actually survived the jump. Or maybe not. But if they’re going to offer up their thoughts to you, chances are they won’t do it until those thoughts are fully formed. Ok yeah, sometimes we’re mad and silently flipping through a rolodex of sarcastic quips to throw your way. But usually we’re simply enjoying our head space.
My sister-in-law is high on the extrovert scale. It took her a few years to figure out that filling up the empty space in our conversation with more words was shutting me down. That empty space is an invitation for a slower-to-speak introvert to step in and share their ideas. (Likewise, it took me a few years to figure out how to insert myself into tiny breaks in discussion, and that my half-formed thoughts shared verbally would go a long, long way to making her feel connected.) She thought I didn’t like her and didn’t want to have a relationship with her. I thought she didn’t care about me and didn’t want to have a relationship with me. After 7 years of practice we now chat easily, but it took some learning for both of us.
4. Introversion is Inferior to Extroversion
Our culture is built for extroverts, and runs on the premise that extroversion is the superior personality type, and that, in fact, introversion isn’t a personality type so much as a character weakness. At some point during every team building exercise or social event, introverts are invited to “get out of their comfort zones” and “have a little fun.” First of all, I was already having fun until you coerced me into participating in an icebreaker. Second, this is a subtle but persistent assumption that my comfort zone is unhealthy, but yours is all good.
Just once, I’d like to hear the following announcement at a party: “Ok, all you social butterflies, it’s time to stretch yourself a bit and have some fun. I’d like you to pair off with one person you already know, find a quiet spot, and spend the remainder of the evening in meaningful, intimate conversation with that person.”
Here’s the thing: we all have a comfort zone, and it can be unhealthy if we stay there all the time. It’s a very good thing to stretch the limits of our ease from time to time. I’m just tired of being told that I’m the one that needs to push my boundaries in order to fit into your comfort zone.
You probably don’t realize that that’s the message we introverts are receiving. I don’t think it’s intentional. But it’s definitely there, in every arena of our lives. I’d like to ask you to give us a little space, a little time, and a little freedom. And maybe step into our comfort zones once in a while.
Introverts, what would you add?
Extroverts, what are we missing?