Don’t disrupt my alone time, and 3 facts about introverts’ alone time

coffee shop 2Although the music is noticeable and people at the table in front of me are chatting and laughing, I’m happily engaged in one of my favorite activities, writing. I’m unfazed by the noise from the music and people as I sit in a plush chair in my favorite coffee shop.

The people and music are more like white noise than a disruption. It’s as though I’m alone. You could say I’m in the zone. The introverts’ ability to be alone, even in a loud setting, speaks to their ability to concentrate on the task at hand.

We introverts simply block out those around us. Some may see this as aloofness or even snobbishness. But it’s none of these; we just refuse to be distracted. Extraverts, who are drawn to people, may not demonstrate the same discipline; they thrive on stimuli and are more aware of their surrounding. Not me. I’m alone.

My alone time is about to be disrupted.

A man sits down next to me and after a few minutes wants to talk about the Red Sox’ World Series win; and I would gladly discuss the momentous event with him, but not now. I’m friendly, so I respond to his greeting and comments but quickly return to my writing.

It becomes obvious that he wants to talk more about the World Series, despite my obvious hint—I think it’s a clear hint. Maybe two minutes of conversation will be enough to satisfy this interloper, I reason.

Two minutes pass and soon it approaches five minutes. Then I start to feel annoyed with this man who wants nothing more than to talk baseball. He launches into Big Papi’s MVP award, followed by the duck boat parade he wanted to attend but had to watch on TV with his wife, who kept asking about the various players. The conversation seems more like an obligation than a mutual discussion.

My feeling of annoyance soon turns into the uneasy feeling of being trapped; after all, I didn’t ask for this conversation. A simple “hi” and a comment or two about the World Series would be fine, but to launch into a full-fledged conversation is ruining my focus, unlike the music and chatter that seem like they’re in the distance.

Prior to his arrival, I was pounding out sentence after sentence. Things were making sense. I had this eternal happiness that some mistake for simply being within oneself, which to an introvert is true happiness. And this man, although pleasant and gregarious, should know the following about introverts:

  1. When you see someone so focused that his eyes drift not from his computer screen, leave well enough alone. He’s probably taking advantage of what small amount of alone time he has.
  2. We like human contact, but at times we want to be alone, even if it’s in a crowded coffee house. It’s one of our pleasures which you, as stimuli-driven individuals may not understand.
  3. Conversation is not about you. If the other person is not engaged, it’s a sign that the person is not interested in the conversation. On the other hand, a welcome response signals a two-way conversation.

It’s obvious that I won’t get anything done with this person to the left of me talking incessantly, so I turn to the person who is sitting to my right, my adorable daughter, and ask, “Honey, are you ready to go?” Together my daughter and I leave the coffee shop, and on the way home she asks me who that annoying guy was. Just someone with bad timing I tell her.

Photo courtesy of lamill coffee, los angeles by oceanerin on Flickr

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12 thoughts on “Don’t disrupt my alone time, and 3 facts about introverts’ alone time

  1. David Machowski

    Bob, I disagree…. Good post but in no way are extraverts more aware of their surroundings! If anything, they are less so. Case in point is the man who sat next to you and prattled on about the World Series. He, obviously, had no ‘read’ on you, or probably anyone else in the room? Extraverts tend to be so needy for engagement that they have no sense as to their surroundings whereas someone who gravitates to the introverted side of the spectrum, ‘sees, listens, observes,’ takes in ALL of their surroundings deciding when, where and how much they want to engage? Local coffee houses are my Citadel, my sanctuary, my annexed office where I can get lost in the anonymity of the crowd pounding out word after word, sentence after sentence. At the same time, I’m aware of who comes and goes, what the conversations are, what music is playing! Full, but selective, engagement! 🙂

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  2. Things Career Related Post author

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment, David. The point I’m trying to make is that introverts have the skill of concentration and are able to block out extraneous stimuli. They are attuned to their inner thoughts, whereas extraverts are attuned to what goes on around them. Extraverts are drawn to extraneous stimuli. When an introvert chooses to focus on a certain topic, such as writing, they can block out those around them, save for a person that demands their attention. When this happens, I feel invaded and resentful. “How dare he take up my alone time?”

    I love the statement that coffeehouses are your “Citadel, my sanctuary, my annexed office where I can get lost in the anonymity of the crowd pounding out word after word, sentence after sentence.”

    Thanks again for responding, and I don’t mind when people disagree.

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    1. davidmachowski

      Bob, hardly do I disagree as I think it’s spot on actually! I’m just of the opinion that the extraverts are being given credit for a tasks they do not typically excel at; while indeed drawn to external stimuli, tend not to be so good at parsing it or intuitively reading it? Again, as the guy sitting next you, ‘assaulting’ you with his incessant prattling on seemed to prove! In moments like that, which are common, the questions, the internal dialogue; “do I leave? do I simply tell them to leave me alone as I’m obviously engaged?” abound! It’s interesting in that, if in front of a computer screen, or Heaven forbid, reading a book, people seem to assume you ‘must have nothing better to do!?’ I think the post is very good and gives much to think about………

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    2. vlbrown

      Not all introverts have that skill, unfortunately. Approximately 15% of the population is HSP (Highly Sensitive Person), but 75% of HSP people are Introverts! One “feature” of HSP is that many of us hear… everything.

      A friend commented that I don’t have a good incoming filter. The conversation of the couple behind us is as easy for me to understand (and difficult to block out) as your conversation with me or the barista’s call or the sound of the cappuccino machine. I find coffee shops to be jangling dens of “How can anyone work here!” noise. (Cubicle farms are as bad or worse.)

      I agree with you on the Red Sox fan. But I can’t imagine trying to write in a coffee shop!

      Have you tried wearing earbuds? Or: http://www.portlandbuttonworks.com/the-laptop-means-i-dont-want-to-talk-sticker

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      1. Things Career Related Post author

        Thanks for the input, Vicki. For some reason, I have no problem writing with white noise in the background; but when it comes to reading, I have a problem. I am an HSP myself. You should do more writing, my friend.

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  3. Robert Nolan

    Bob et al: so one goes to a public place and sits within easy access to conversations with others, but really doesn’t want to talk to anyone? Why all the bother and fuss about being disturbed when all you have to say is – I’m sorry but I need to finish this work and perhaps when I ‘m finished we could discuss the Rex Sox – or whatever.
    Yet the setting is casual and your little girl is sitting next to you so why would someone bring their child to a place when their intention is to work? I’m glad that when my sons were younger there was no laptop, no cell phones, and no Starbucks. We used to spend time playing outdoors together, talking and laughing, not sitting next to each other without conversation.
    I’m not saying anyone who brings their child with them to a coffee shop etc is not a loving parent but it’s sad to see the disconnect with families in a setting like a restaurant where everyone is on the phone texting or talking to someone else.
    Just my two cents and sorry for if I offend anyone.

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    1. Things Career Related Post author

      Robert, I’m not offended at all. My inability to end a conversation is something I struggle with, but I can’t say the same for all introverts.

      Your second point is one I don’t bother explaining in detail–maybe I should–but my daughter and I are as close as any father and daughter can be. When she has homework and I need to concentrate, I ask her if she’d like to accompany me. Sometimes she does. One think about introverts for sure is they occasionally like to just be in the company of others, without talking. Extraverts feel the need for conversation–it makes me uncomfortable when there is silence.

      To your third point, I agree there is too much disconnect in families due to electronics, especially the Internet.

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  4. laurencerumming

    Bob, I certainly relate to your post. I can quite easily be alone in a crowd and have spent many hours in coffee shops writing. Whenever I am struggling with whatever I am working on, the ability to engage and people watch works well to clear my mind so that I can re-focus on the task. In most cases I can usually disengage quickly from anyone who wants to chat but occasionally it doesn’t work. It is interesting that I can block out global noise but get really annoyed with things like a ringing telephone if I am working intently in a quiet office.

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    1. Things Career Related Post author

      Laurence,

      I think we’re on the same page when it comes to valuing our alone time. At the moment I’m taking a break from writing the last chapter of a book I’m writing, while my wife is distracting me by picking up the living room, including articles of clothing under my feet.

      But it’s the individuals who invade my space like a foreign nation invades another’s air space. 😉

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    2. vlbrown

      There have been studies done that indicate that unexpected or inconsistent noise is more distracting than expected and/or consistent noise. The ringing phone is unexpected and inconsistent.

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  5. Pingback: 4 lessons extraverts could learn from introverts | Things Career Related

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