The struggle between introverts and extraverts

ActorI’m an introvert with a strong preference for thinking, which, in short, means I’m a fan of action and not a great deal of talking.

This sometimes irritates people in my life who desire unceasing conversation and can’t understand my need for silence and reflecting.

My attention span for people who talk incessantly is as short as a gnat’s life; unless I’m enthralled in the conversation.

I recently read an article called The Extroverted Introvert (note I’ll spell it “extravert”) in which the author talks about the introvert’s need to adapt to our society’s preference for extraverts. In other words we become actors to satisfy people who prefer conversation over action.

“Many of us don’t like social mingling.  It’s a labor to us, a chore, and frequently a curse.  We look at it with dread and we feel drained already by the looming prospect.  But in order to do what we want and get places in life, we must form connections with others.  This is where the extroverted introvert contradiction comes into play,” the author writes.

For introverts enduring incessant talking or being “forced” into conversing, this can be a demand on their patience. Someone like me in this situation will try to find the exit (figuratively and literally) as quickly as possible. There’s no disputing that introverts are different than extraverts when it comes to communicating.

Solitude is golden to an introvert

Introverts value their solitude and will go out of their way to get it. I think of the times I leave work to get a coffee and traverse the sidewalk that leads to my favorite coffee house, blinders on and walking at a cheetah’s pace. Eddie, my favorite server, is always ready to engage in conversation; I’m not. My answers are short. I don’t stand around to talk. I’m alone in my privates space, even though I’m among other consumers. There are times when I feel like talking, but usually I’ve determined that before I enter the building.

Whereas extraverts prefer to communicate through talking, introverts would rather communicate through writing. Writing allows introverts the freedom to gather their thoughts before sharing them with the world. I often tell my MBTI workshop attendees that I think I’m a better writer than speaker because of the aforementioned reason.

The ideal conversation for introverts

Introverts totally dig discussions with people with whom they want to talk. Doesn’t everyone, you might think? Yes, even extraverts prefer to talk with people of interest, but they tend to be more inclined to talk to more people than introverts would. They like talking and enjoy being with people. When introverts are presented with a situation where talking for the sake of talking is in order, it’s annoying and they’re looking for that exit.

Introverts sometimes feel trapped

I suppose everyone feels trapped at times, but introverts feel this sensation more often, especially when they have work to do and are being intruded upon by someone who won’t stop talking. If there’s a diplomatic way to say, “Leave my space immediately,” introverts would use it quite often. I haven’t mastered the exit phrases that don’t offend intrusive people, which might be due to my fear of seeming rude.

One of my extraverted colleagues often stands in the entrance of my cube when I am working intently on assignments. He shows no intentions of leaving my space as he talks about topics that are interesting only to him. He doesn’t take the hints I clearly give, such as turning my attention to my computer screen, or responding with “um,” “right,” “sure”–he continued to talk.

Introverts sometimes come across as aloof

What’s mistaken for aloofness is introverts taking advantage of their alone time or, what’s known as recharging their batteries. Introverts’ method of recharging their battery might confuse, or even offend, extraverts who recharge their battery by being with people.  My colleague, Dorothy Tannahill-Moran, wrote an article, The Introvert’s Guide to Networking and Relationships, in which she aptly puts the importance of introvert’s relating to extraverts this way:

“Even though you may get impatient with conversations that don’t seem to have a purpose, you need to understand that for others, talking out loud is part of the process of thinking, validating and relating. You do this mostly internally. You need to develop patience and consider participating, because to the extrovert this is relating and developing relationships.” 

Introverts often feel like they’re on stage

Unfortunately, the extraverted world is not yet willing to value introverted differences; rather extraverts expect introverts to fall in line and communicate like them. Introverts just don’t know how to make the extraverts see communication the way they prefer it. People who are proficient at listening and intuition, introverts and extraverts alike, are those who feel no need to make others conform to their way of dialog.

It seems unfair that introverts are made to feel different, if not odd. But this goes to show us how powerful the spoken word is. When I was in college, my roommate asked me what I thought was more important for success, written or verbal communication. I quickly answered the former, and he argued the latter. I should have taken this as a warning that I was in for a lifetime of being on stage.


19 thoughts on “The struggle between introverts and extraverts

  1. Jim Grenier (@jimgrenier)

    Hi Bob, nice piece. Insightful.

    I have a question for you. If an introvert also has a high preference for feeling, then would they not sometimes feel even more trapped at times? They might want social interaction more than someone with the thinking preference, but still feel uncomfortable with a lot of interaction (perhaps from introverts and extraverts alike).

    Thanks for helping us realize that our differences are not always about the things we can see, such as ethnicity and gender, and that these differences can really be utilized as a strength, if only we’ll take the time to try to understand one another.



    1. Things Career Related Post author

      Thanks, Jim. I can speak for myself as an ISTP, high preference for thinking, that my tolerance for people who speak endlessly, or to the point of exhaustion, is very low. If I were extraverted with a preference for feeling, I’d be more accepting of loquaciousness. When you and I met at Starbucks, the conversation was of interest and there was an exit for both of us, e.g., after two hours I could say, “Well, have to get home.” (Actually, I should have left sooner.)

      All of this is from my point of view. Other ISTP’s might be different based on other factors, e.g., upbringing and life’s circumstances.



      1. Jim Grenier (@jimgrenier)

        That makes sense. Glad the conversation was also of interest to you. I wonder if the ISFPs, or INFPs ever get into the kind of dilemma I mentioned. Maybe some will weigh in.

        We were there longer than I expected too. Maybe that happens no matter what your type (or maybe we needed some J’s around to say “Yes, ok, great. We’re done”). While I’s may need the “escape route”, perhaps it’s only the I’s with the J preference that know how to actually escape through it!


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  3. Things Career Related Post author

    The ISTP’s are a quirky bunch. With a preference for sensing, we tend to see things as black and white, the way we process information, and thinking, the way we make decisions; there’s a tendency for quick decision making. Speaking for myself, I’m comfortable with smaller crowds and direct, intimate conversation. I’m happiest when I can leave when I want to, stay when I want to. I feel trapped when there’s no exit; that’s why I like to take two cars to a party.


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  6. Dr. Heidi Maston

    “Leave my space immediately” and “One of my extraverted colleagues often stands in the entrance of my cube when I am working intently on assignments. He shows no intentions of leaving my space as he talks about topics that are interesting only to him. He doesn’t take the hints I clearly give, such as turning my attention to my computer screen, or responding with “um,” “right,” “sure”–he continued to talk.”

    Oh, Bob… you read my INTJ mind!

    Dr. Heidi Maston


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  11. Jeff Locke

    Another excellent post, Bob! Thanks for sharing (again). My first thought after reading this article and seeing Heidi’s response was: Don’t confuse an extravert with a narcissist who really seeks to force compliance with a subconscious need for your admiration. Often, the primary weapon in their arsenal is their slick talk, which they are always eager to bring to bear, to “give” generously.

    Also, I have noticed that my tolerance for that kind of behavior (talkie, talkie, no listen, no listen) is inversely proportional to the number of words or seconds between “breaks” in their talkiness that are actually long enough to invite a moderately thoughtful response. That number (of words or seconds) is much smaller for introverts than extraverts and varies considerably according to coffee flavor satisfaction.



  12. Things Career Related Post author

    Thanks for your insightful comment, Jeff. When you talk about the people who just talk and don’t listen, I think of how I feel physical symptoms when I’m in the presence of such folks. I don’t know if they realize they’re sucking the air out of the room, or if they even care. I know plenty of extraverts who are considerate of others’ opinions, so my generalization of extraverts is unwarranted. There’s actually a diagnosis for people who are over talkative, and I’ve heard from people that their talkative nature is something they can’t control, like a pathology. Ah, man, now you got me started.


  13. Calvin

    cool post. have you read “land of the loud” on Time magazine? computer geeks (e.g., bill gates) tend to be introverted and shy. in america, the shy don’t get much attention, whereas the loud ones do.


    1. Things Career Related Post author

      I think you’re right, Calvin. Those who are loudest are the ones who get the most attention; but are they always the most successful. Bill Gates and Zuckerberg have done pretty well for themselves–both introverts.


  14. joegergen

    I love it. I’m usually pretty reserved but some times I like to fight back. there’s being quiet and there’s being stepped on. I don’t like to be stepped on. Like today when I wrote about Introversion. You might find it intriguing. Post called Militant Introvert: My Struggle is not Your Struggle.




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