Seeing I to I

This week marks the launch of Susan Cain’s lifestyle site for introverts and those who appreciate them, Quiet Revolution. In honor of their arrival, I’m electing to write about a topic close to my heart: inter-introverted communication.

I have written at length about introversion for a few years now: how it works in relationships, friendships, at the office, and much much more. But after years of writing on the topic, and a lifetime of living in it, I realized something really important that I had neglected to address.

Most of my writing about introversion, and most writing on the topic in general, shares counsel or an inside look at introversion in comparison to extroversion. While this was a useful enterprise for those extroverts that did need to learn how their introverted counterparts learned, thought, and worked, it may have perpetuated a dangerous assumption that must be dispelled: not all introverts are created equal.

Framing the dialogue as one type versus another implies that there are two monoliths pitted against each other, with unilateral commonalities on each side. But in recognizing that there are differences amongst introverts within their own camps, we must also necessarily recognize that some within the same group may need help interacting with those around them. Further, many introverts have mastered the skills required to thrive amongst extroverts, but have not had similar license to cultivate the skills to authentically interact with introverts in a manner that comes as naturally. Should you fall into the latter camp, I have a few tips that may help you ease into (what I hope is) a more welcoming landscape for our kind:

  • Don’t assume! Just as I often encourage extroverts to make assumptions of how introverts will act; or, conversely, assume certain behaviors imply introversion; I would encourage introverts to not assume that everyone “introverts” the same way they do. Many factors could affect how the common trait of recharging looks from one person to the next: some will choose to replenish their energy in complete silence, while other can do it with a small group of like-minded people, engaged in deep conversation. Both methods can be effective, there isn’t a wrong way to do it!
  • Remain prepared to assert yourself. A common frustration for introverts is that things they broadcast frequently in their own minds, has to be articulated to people that may not think like them. Once in common company, it is easy to assume that those around you will just get it, no explanation required. But remember your own experiences: sometimes it’s easy to miss things when you’re in your own head. And this shared company can be a double-edged sword, for they too will be in their own heads. What does that mean? You may still have to explain yourself. Listening to a fellow introvert’s story may wear you out after a while, but you will still have to tell that person that you need a break or have someone else to be. Even at a lower-key gathering, at some point you still may need to extricate yourself. Shared introversion doesn’t equal mindreading- you’ll still have to voice those needs.
  • Remember these lessons when creating environments for others. Cases are commonly being made for placing introverts in positions of leadership, and we see many wonderful examples of introverted leaders in the forefront today. But a caution must be voiced here: your own leadership abilities will need to work for both the introverted and extroverted people that may be under your employ, supervision, or influence. Think about the things you wished you had when in challenging work situations: quiet workspaces, time to recharge, meetings that allowed for multiple forms of input. Now, seek to naturally include these things as you design and advocate for a work experience that benefits all.

What other lessons do you have for introverts interacting with one another?

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