She sits quietly at the table with this weird wrinkle in the middle of her forehead between her eyebrows. She doesn’t say much, but she gazes intensely and seems to always be thinking. About what? Who knows! Conversations take place around her, and yet she says very little. Occasionally, she stands next to her spouse or a close friend and participates in a conversation they are having, but she rarely starts one of her own. She smiles and makes eye contact, yet refrains from holding that glance long enough to invite a conversation. Does she even want to talk to anyone?
Perhaps you’ve seen a person like the one just described maybe at a church function or even a business seminar. Maybe you wonder if she’s happy or just thinking or maybe you wonder why she’s just sitting there. Sometimes, maybe you see her reading. Really? Reading in a crowd of people? Yet, she seems content to be left alone. You’ve heard she is smart and knows a lot about a lot of topics, yet you aren’t sure if she really wants to talk to anyone. You wonder why she doesn’t talk much. I mean, who doesn’t like to talk, right? You wonder if you should approach her. Would she just ignore you or perhaps find an excuse to escape? Then you realize that she is an introvert, and you are not.
If you’ve ever come across an introvert in your various social and business situations, these thoughts may sound familiar. Many of my extroverted friends have expressed wondering many of these things, and they have come to accept that I simply am not as social as them.
Below, I attempt to demystify interactions with an introvert. These 5 tips on how to interact with an introvert can not only help extroverts feel more comfortable approaching an introvert but they can also help in understanding what’s happening behind that intense gaze.
- Approach them. Introverts generally want to be approached. The more you do this, the more likely they will reciprocate because they are comfortable and feel safe doing so. Feeling safe means they need less energy to approach you in the future.
- Let them listen. They are good at it. They have less of a need to talk. Plus, if you’re an extrovert, this should be easy for you because you get to do most of the talking. But, be sure to pause occasionally because after thinking for a while, the introvert will most likely have something valuable worth hearing.
- Let them think. They typically take longer to form their responses. Silence really is okay.
- Revisit conversations. Chances are an introvert has done some thinking since the last time you talked and has more to say. The introvert may be uncomfortable bringing something up, but will be thrilled (not that you’ll notice) when someone else does.
- Remember that it’s all about energy. Introverts get their energy from time alone. Extroverts get their energy from interacting with others. Neither is wrong but both impact an individual’s approach to social situations.
In Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture, Adam McHugh looks in detail at the life of an introvert and his/her place in the Christian church. What McHugh says applies really to introverts in any organization. The book provides advice and insight into how introverts view the world and how they can find their place in an extroverted culture. (Note: The above 5 tips were not directly taken from McHugh’s book but from this author’s life as an introvert. However, these points are found within the book too.)
McHugh talks at one point about how introverts feel constantly pushed to be more outgoing and to change who they are at the core in order to properly serve Christ. With good intentions, extroverts sometimes encourage introverts to be more like them not realizing that this is like asking a cat to be a dog. In support of this idea, McHugh notes that, “It cannot be overemphasized that the biblical description of leadership does do not include references to personality type. Instead, they consistently describe leaders as people of admirable and consistent character.”
At their core, introverts want desperately to not just be who God created them to be but for others to embrace and support them in that endeavor. They want to be authentic, and as McHugh says, “the central component of character is authenticity. Someone with character acts in unison with his or her God-given nature.”
These 5 tips on how to interact with an introvert will hopefully serve as a starting point for extroverts to begin understanding their cat-like counterparts.
DISCUSSION: What tips, thoughts, ideas do you have for introvert/extrovert interaction?
Note: Comments will be approved and replied to when I return from vacation. Until then, I will eagerly anticipate reading and responding to what you have to say!