Tag Archives: Conversation

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.

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“Hey, listen up” revisited. 4 thoughts on listening

I wrote this blog more than a year ago, but I continue to encounter people who haven’t mastered the art of listening. These people would prefer to talk over actively listening. The short anecdote below illustrates what I mean.

I recall a time when my father was shopping for a car. In his mind he had a series of questions for the eager salesperson—who had been trained to go over all the bells and whistles with the potential buyer—and wanted clear, concise answers.

The salesperson proceeded to introduce himself and launch into a monologue on all the interior features of the car, before my father even had a chance to ask about the performance of the car—the engine’s power and mileage. My father could have cared less for the seat warmer, radio controls on the steering wheel, and climate control.

Needless to say the sales person didn’t have a chance to get my father to take a test drive and certainly didn’t get good ole’ Dad into the buyer’s chair. The sale was lost before it began, and it’s too bad because my father was a willing buyer at that moment. The sales person had failed at the art of listening.

The art of listening is never as imperative as it is when you’re at a networking event. Those who attend these meetings know that one of the main goals is to show your willingness to listen and share advice and information. Here you must not only acknowledge the person with whom you’re speaking by maintaining eye contact, smiling, holding a firm posture, etc.; you must also process the information for follow-up conversations, if appropriate. Thus, active listening is an essential component of networking.

The appearance of listening is not only important; actually hearing what the person is saying is paramount. One of the tricks to help you remember what someone says is to jot down notes on the back of the person’s business card, much like taking handwritten notes at an interview. But mainly you must enter a conversation with complete willingness to listen, resisting the urge to speak until it’s your turn. Many people are formulating what they’re going to say and, therefore, are not actively listening to the person with whom they’re speaking.

The art of listening is just as important when you’re engaged in superficial networking. Let me give you an example of a recent interaction I had with a basketball dad who will be out of work in a week’s time. He will be looking for a new position in engineering in the defense industry. Even though I was there to watch my son play ball, I was listening to the man’s current situation, what type of company he’d like to work for next, what his skills and strengths are, etc. I now have my antennae up and will certainly keep my ears to the pavement for him. Some believe that more jobs are gained through superficial networking than organized networking.

Who make better listeners, introverts or extraverts? Extraverts are better verbal communicators and feel more comfortable “working a room,” whereas introverts prefer the intense one-on-one conversations with a few people. Hence, introverts will give you that undivided attention and process more of what you say. This is the theory, at least.

I’m an introvert and wouldn’t necessarily say I’m a great listener unless what the other person has to say is of great interest to me. I work with extraverts who are great listeners, though they tend to talk a lot. So this theory is a generalization at best, in my mind.

Listen and follow up. Master networker Joe Sweeney, Networking is a Contact Sport; harps on the importance of follow-up. To keep people in your network, whether in business or in the job hunt, you must follow up with the people you meet. Without listening intently to what they say and jotting down notes on the back of their business cards, this can be difficult when it comes to recalling a conversation you had four days ago. How uncomfortable would it be to call someone you met at an event and say, “Hi, Bob, I’m just calling to follow up on our brief chat the other night, but I can’t remember what we spoke about”? It would be very uncomfortable.

Sweeney writes, “Be a great listener and ask open-ended questions. Remember, God gave you two ears and one mouth, so use them in proportion.” I think this sums up the importance of listening when it comes to networking.

I’ll reveal my little secret. I sold cars as a young adult. I was terrible at it for various reasons, but one thing I knew how to do was wait for the customer to tell me what he was looking for in a car. I resisted the urge to launch into the benefits of the Subarus I sold. For this reason, I never had someone walk away before a test drive. It was during the test drive that I lost many of my sales. We all have to realize that listening is key in effective communications, whether we’re selling cars or networking.

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The introvert extra and extravert ham

One thing I hate about a party is a loudmouth who demands the attention of the whole room. That’s why when my wife said we were invited to a good friend’s party last week, my jaw clenched and I told her I’m not staying past 10:00 pm, and oh yeah, we’re traveling in two cars.

I really dig our friends and the majority of cast of characters who comprise the group, but there’s one woman who exhibits one trait of an extravert–the propensity to speak. Except, in her case she dominates a group with her incessant talking.

On the flip side is a male member of the group who is as quiet as a mouse, but when the time is right, he’ll tell a story that will make you laugh until it hurts. Like the story about going camping with a bunch of his buddies. How they had one match between them to light a fire and how they relied on their  Boy Scout experience to light that fire.

Other than a story like this, he rarely says much, preferring to stand among the men in the group and stare into the glow of the fire. I attempt to prompt him with talk of sports and our children, but there’s little in return.

After my friend and the rest of the fathers have it with warming our hands by the fire that night it’s time to go inside where the wives and children are gathered around the woman who is talking about nothing in particular and, it seems to me, literally sucking the air out of the room.

A reader commented on one of my blog posts saying that an extravert who exerts herself excessively can be a ham, whereas an introvert who stays in the background too much runs the risk of being an extra. I see the woman of whom I speak the ham and the man who delivers the hilarious story, albeit infrequently, the extra. I also ponder the question of how introverts and extraverts can better communicate with each other.

  1. First, each type needs to be cognizant of the need for the other to be heard.
  2. Second, active listening must be involved, not merely the appearance of listening.
  3. Lastly, each type must be willing to contribute to the conversation. As I think about the times my male companion and I stand by the fire in silence, I wonder if both of us are doing our part in building a conversation.

My good friend and champion of introverts, Pat Weber, adds about the need for extraverts to be considerate of introverts, “Often times as introverts we aren’t going to share much personal information in a conversation. Extroverts who are aware of this will fare better by giving us some space, with silence, to let us have a moment or so to think! Silent space is one of the most appreciated gifts of better communications with us. Then we can keep our end of things up.”

Introverts have an obligation to contribute to the conversation and not be content with listening to a one-way dialog. Although it may require more energy and adaptability, the introvert doesn’t have to sustain the effort forever. A lack of effort indicates to others aloofness and disinterest–it’s insulting. When all the words are distinguished like the fire in London’s short story, it’s perfectly fine to leave the party…in the second car.