Social interaction, whether in professional or personal situations, can be uncomfortable for introverts who sometimes feel overwhelmed when they must engage a few, or many, people. However, the premise that introverts uniformly dislike being around other people is untrue. As an introvert, I enjoy and seek out the company of others – even more so when I have the opportunity to pace myself during an event with more time spent in quality conversations than a flurry of less sincere ones.
While I sometimes feel drained following extended or intense face-to-face social interaction, my extroverted friends and colleagues are energized by others. I often find the small talk portion of a conversation deadening and relax only when a topic comes up to which I can fully relate and feel passionate about. I need the opportunity to briefly recharge after an exchange with another person. Sometimes, the opportunity to recharge doesn't exist at a large social event, unless I temporarily retreat to a quiet place in the room or leave for a time. Extroverts are fueled by conversation and often gain energy, versus lose it, with each conversation.
For those who cherish their privacy and prefer more "alone" than "social" time, cyberspace can give them their social time without actually having to talk to anybody. Social media can help many introverts interact from a safe place free of noise, eye contact, or the feeling of being cornered in a conversation.
Here are some tips I find helpful as an introvert when it comes to using social media to help – or hinder – my ability to authentically connect with others.
Use online interactions as practice for face-to-face
When dating or cultivating business relationships online, the day may come when you will finally meet. You'll enjoy that day more if you show authentic "face-to-face" skills at the same level as your "online" skills. Social media can provide insights into how people interact and think, assuming you are connecting with people who are authentic. A prospect (who is highly knowledgeable in a specific area) and I had been talking in cyberspace. This let me test choice topics for our face-to-face conversation. Some of these topics "clicked" with the prospect and I felt more confident tabling them when we met. When I am going to meet a prospect, this use of social media works well.
Online interactions shouldn't replace face-to-face relationship-building completely
Social media can help very shy people create deep relationships that bring comfort and a sense of security without having to face people. However, social media may become a substitute for real-time relationships and create expectations. What if the friend whom you thought was supportive suddenly stops responding to your Tweets, posts or messages? You don't know why – or if you'll hear from them again. When someone doesn't respond to my LinkedIn invitation or message right away, I would like to think it is probably because they had not yet met me. Your chances of building strong relationships online increase when recipients can put a face and voice to a name.
You may have hundreds of friends on Facebook but still feel alone due to the lack of personal intimacy you share with many of them.
Watch out for inauthentic relationships online
I have received invitations on LinkedIn from a variety of professionals. Once I connect with some of them, they quickly move into sales mode and try to pitch something I don't want or need.
Introverts and extroverts are equally capable of determining who is right for them in both personal or business relationships. Since many introverts choose social media to develop these relationships, they may not fully "know" the person or people with whom they are bonding. The possibility of the other person misrepresenting themselves to an introvert can lead to unpleasant outcomes, personally and financially through trickery, or worse. If you are going to invest in a relationship, heed all warning signs, however small, that pop up along the way.
Don't share more than you are comfortable with, but don't close yourself off
Introverts who use social media to communicate effectively with others may not like to share too much. They can maintain their privacy and avoid revealing things, which can cause embarrassment and a feeling of betrayal of trust when a comment made in confidence to a "friend" is spread across cyberspace. I adopt the view that anything I share in an email or social media message could go viral. I want to make my point, but not offend the wrong person in the process.
I am sometimes tempted to share too much online, which leaves little to talk about when face-to-face with people. It's like having the same phone conversation twice with a person in one day.
Find online communities that mimic face-to-face social groups
Joining a Facebook group can be a great way to have conversations with others while maintaining a safe distance and avoiding personal contact. However, if you really don't feel like interacting with anyone, you should never feel pressured. That group chat will still be there when you are ready to participate. I liken long, back-and-forth texting to a tennis rally. I may not want to be the one to stop the rally by abruptly hitting the ball into the net, but my arm might get tired and it's inevitable. An easy way to end a digital conversation is to say something like, "Looking forward to our next conversation! Stay well."
By taking some time to understand how social media works and become familiar with a few of the many applications available, you can go at your own speed and find the right combination of real-time and cyberspace conversations. I never feel like I have to join in on social media, but rather see it as a bridge to help me get the most from a variety of face-to-face conversations.