Despite how easy it is to share our thoughts on social media, nothing will ever beat face-to-face conversation. And when we have the opportunity to directly engage with friends, family, colleagues or neighbors -- whether it’s over a cup of coffee or at the dinner table -- we could all use a little help in learning how to connect better.
For those of us who are introverts, we could use some tips for engaging with extroverts. And for the extroverts among us, we could use some guidance for better understanding introverts. Because being understood is a human need, no matter your temperament. In partnership with Dixie, we sought out experts and read up on the current literature to learn how we can all better understand the friends, loved ones and colleagues who represent the yins to our temperamental yangs.
What introverts should know about extroverts:
1) Extroverts don’t just talk. It’s a myth that they don’t know how to listen. “Extroverts are really easy to talk to and can be great at listening,” Jennifer Kahnweiler, professional speaker and author of the new book The Genius Of Opposites, told us. “It’s a part of their DNA to be so people-oriented. It makes it very comfortable to be in conversation with them. They are also very curious and ask questions. They can be very good at bringing out the introvert.”
2) Introverts aren’t the only ones who don’t like “small talk.” Almost anything written about introverts mentions that those with this temperament “hate to make small talk.” But the truth is most extroverts don’t love making small talk, either. We think this blogger explained it well: “Do introverts think extroverts LIKE small talk? No one likes small talk, but there’s a certain level of small talk (greetings, etc.) that is necessary to graduate to the big talk. It’s not that extroverts get excited [about having] meaningless conversations with people they don’t care about.” Close to 50,000 people have liked that post, suggesting the author isn’t alone in thinking of small talk as the warmup act.
3) Extroverts view “interruptions” differently. Extroverts are said to interrupt others often. But what if we viewed those interruptions another way? Deborah Tannen, a bestselling author and linguistics professor, wrote about “interruptions” in a New York Times op-ed after the 2012 presidential debates, and her insights relate to extrovert-introvert dynamics, as well. “How much can a listener talk and still be a listener rather than a wannabe speaker?” she asks. “For some the limit is a word or a phrase like ‘Exactly,’ ‘Yeah, right,’ or maybe even ‘I know what you mean.’ But for others it can be much more — ‘I know, the same thing happened to me’ — or even a short story that expands a topic another speaker raised… You might think it’s obvious that an interruption is when a second person starts talking before another has stopped. But how long a pause means ‘I’m done’ rather than ‘I’m catching my breath’?”
4) Extroverts can have close friends and relationships. When reading about extroverts, you’ll often see something along these lines: “Extroverts seem to have more superficial or passing friendships” than introverts. Science-based syndicated columnist and author Amy Alkon (Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck) debunks this myth. “Here’s what is true: extroverts’ brains are less sensitive to stimuli so they need more of it,” Alkon told us. “They get a buzz from socializing that introverts do not. I see this with my boyfriend who is more introverted. His favorite kind of party is one that’s cancelled,” she joked. “But we [humans] are a cooperative species. This notion that extroverts are always moving on to the next person isn’t true. Extroverts are not a bunch of jerks who are constantly kicking friends to the curb to go on to the new one. We are just more affected by boredom. We like people who are interesting and funny and surprising -
- like my boyfriend.”
And now, it’s time to talk about introverts, who -- mythbuster #1! -- do not hate to talk:
5) It’s a misconception that introverts hate to talk. “Temperaments don’t influence how much people like to talk. [Introverts] can talk your arm and leg off in the right circumstances,” wrote Marti Olsen Laney and Michael Laney in The Introvert and Extrovert in Love. “Try not to pressure your partner for words or decisions or subtly imply that he or she should pick up the pace.” And what would the right circumstances be? As bestselling author and co-founder of the Quiet Revolution, Susan Cain, explained in a now-legendary TED Talk, “Introverts feel at their most alive and their most switched on and their most capable when they are in quieter, more low-key environments. Not all the time -- these things aren't absolute -- but a lot of the time."
6) Introverts don’t want to be alone all the time. “A lot of public discussion of introversion is about how WE WANT TO BE ALONE … ” wrote author Sophia Dembling on her blog, The Introvert’s Corner, for Psychology Today. “Yes, introverts like and need quiet and solitude, but that's not the whole story. Introverts are people, and people need people. That's human nature. That's mental health. That's being part of the world. ... Perhaps we don't want to be the life of the party, or see a different friend every night, or join a happy-go-lucky gang. That doesn't mean that there is no place in our hearts for other people.”
7) But when an introvert does want to be alone, don’t take it personally. In a wildly popular 2003 Atlantic essay, “Caring for Your Introvert,” writer Jonathan Rauch explained that his frequent need to be alone has nothing to do with rejecting the company of someone else: “We introverts need to turn off and recharge. My own formula is roughly two hours alone for every hour of socializing. This isn't antisocial. It isn't a sign of depression. It does not call for medication. For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating. Our motto: ‘I'm okay, you're okay—in small doses.’"
8) Introverts aren’t socially awkward by nature. “Being an introvert does not mean that you’re antisocial, asocial, or socially inept. It does mean that you are oriented to ideas -- whether those ideas involve you with people or not. It means that you prefer spacious interactions with fewer people,” said Laurie Helgoe, a psychologist who specializes in personality development, in her book, Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength. “A good conversation leaves an introvert feeling more connected, but also personally richer.”
And, finally, here’s what we should know about our temperamental opposites -- and also -- ourselves:
9) With introversion and extroversion, there’s black, there’s white, and there’s lots and lots of gray. “When it comes to temperaments, there is a spectrum,” Kahnweiler, the speaker and author, told us. “Most people are somewhere in the middle ... Even more, the older we get, the more we get to explore other sides of ourselves. Carl Jung talked about this as the ‘second half of life’ where we dip more into that other half of our being.” And the subtitle of The Genius of Opposites, Kahnweiler’s new book, due out August 17th, says a lot about her optimism when it comes to what innie-outie pairings can achieve together: it’s How Introverts and Extroverts Achieve Extraordinary Results.
Whether you're an introvert or an extrovert, Dixie helps you focus on each other, not the dishes.