“Living with integrity means: Not settling for less than what you know you deserve in your relationships. Asking for what you want and need from others. Speaking your truth, even though it might create conflict or tension. Behaving in ways that are in harmony with your personal values. Making choices based on what you believe, and not what others believe.”
– Barbara De Angelis
One of the common characteristics of introverts (at least anecdotally) is that we hold onto our thoughts until we can put them in writing, we’re one-on-one, or can share them “fully baked.” This isn’t true for all; some introverts are quite outspoken and are easily able to share what they think and need in the moment. But there are many of us who either don’t have the opportunity, don’t have the “right” words, or don’t feel it’s safe to make our feelings and needs known.
The result is that we don’t always speak our truth. We think it, but we don’t say it.
In the interest of world peace and mutual understanding, I offer the following six things the introverts in your life want to share with you. (There are probably more than six, but I had to keep the post a reasonable length.)
If you’re an introvert, pass this post along to your friends, family, and co-workers, with a “This is interesting!” note. Perhaps they’ll get the hint. 😉
If you’re not an introvert, take these points into consideration and use them as a conversation starter with the introverts in your life. There’s a chance you’ll both come away with a deeper appreciation for the relationship.
Please note: This list is not about giving special treatment; it is about acknowledging and honoring differences in work and communication styles.
1. Give me quiet
I’m pretty sure it was an introvert who gave us the adage, “Silence is Golden.” I do my highest quality work and thinking when I have limited distractions, and that includes noise. If I work in a cubicle and you ask me to be creative, provide alternative space that I can go to, one that’s quiet and apart from the crowd. If I have my own office, understand that I sometimes need to shut the door in order to focus. And if there’s an opportunity to take the kids to the park, the dog for a walk, or turn off the TV so I can immerse myself in my hobby, I’d be forever appreciative.
2. Give me space
When you share information with me, I require time and space to process it. That’s because I process internally by spending time thinking things through and synthesizing. I could give you a quick answer to something, but it won’t be my best answer. This doesn’t mean I’m not a quick thinker; you just don’t hear me thinking out loud, like extroverts tend to do. So, if you ask me something and I don’t answer right away, or my first response is “I don’t know,” I’m not resisting or stonewalling, and I’m not clueless… I’m simply thinking.
3. Ask me what I think
It’s sometimes challenging to interject or be fully heard in conversations with lots of people, or in situations that don’t feel completely safe. I’m likely to listen and reflect, and then share my opinions, ideas, and questions with you after the group has disbanded. My silence doesn’t mean I agree, am uninterested, or indifferent. If you sense that I want to speak (by noticing my body language, or that I’m trying to chime in but getting talked over), make a point to ask me what I think. The best way to do that is to ask, “Sue, is there anything you want to add right now?” No need to say “you’ve been awfully quiet over there”… that only contributes to me feeling self-conscious.
4. Shut Up!
Because I generally like to listen more than I like to talk, I do a lot of listening. A lot. And what happens is that conversations can easily become very one-sided, because the other person – especially an extrovert who’s a heavy verbal processor – doesn’t pause. Doesn’t ask questions. Doesn’t seem to breathe (at least, that’s how it can appear to me).
I’ll feel safe to share my thoughts and ideas if I’m part of a two-way conversation, one that’s comfortable with allowing for some silence. If there’s not a relatively even exchange, I become exhausted, trying to hold my thoughts in my head and not being able to speak up (it’s not comfortable to interrupt). Then I lose track, experience information overload, and have nothing to say when an opportunity finally comes to speak. Spacious conversations feel GOOD. And I don’t really want you to “shut up”; I simply want to be able to take what you have to offer in pieces, rather than “drinking from the fire hose.”
Two monologues do not make a dialogue. ~Jeff Daly
5. Give me options
As you can tell from the other things I’ve shared, I think and process differently (and in reality, every person is different, even if they’re the same energetic type). I like to put things in writing. I like to have time to research. I do best if there’s some chance to prepare, to schedule things, or if I have a “heads up.” I even have different motivation and ways of measuring my success. Give me a choice whenever possible about how I go about my work, so that it is aligned with my strengths. Ask me to define my role. For instance, traditional brainstorming sessions will not produce my strongest ideas. However, if I have the option of considering the problem in advance, spending some time writing down a few ideas before speaking, or even facilitating or scribing the session, my contribution will improve tremendously.
6. Don’t assume
Above all, don’t assume that because I’m an introvert that I’m shy, not good with people, or prefer to always stay behind the scenes. We live in society that has an extrovert expectation, a fact that’s reflected in everything from our social lives to what we look for in leaders. We are competitive. We expect people to be highly social. We value quick, decisive thinking and obvious charisma. Being an introvert is about where I gain and drain energy, not about my social or leadership skills. I can be a strong leader, salesperson, or presenter. I can be an excellent friend, partner, colleague, or spouse. Notice and appreciate the gifts I bring to the table. Ask me about my ambitions and goals. Encourage an environment that supports both the talkative, outspoken types and the thoughtful, observant types.
My fellow introverts – and your relationships – will thank you.
What would you add to this list? Please share in the comments!