No matter if you’re an extrovert or an ambivert (which is someone who is a mix of an extrovert and an introvert), there are probably certain introverts in your life who you feel like have their guard up when they are with you–which could be for a variety of reasons. To better communicate and connect with introverts, consider the following:
1. Become more comfortable with silence. Some extroverts like talking so much that they actually feel uncomfortable with the silence that introverts relish. And when extroverts feel uncomfortable, they either keep talking on and on or they start grilling the introvert with questions to try to get them to talk. Both of these actions can be mentally exhausting for the introvert. It can be overstimulating to be in the presence of someone who won’t quit talking, and it can be equally uncomfortable to be put on the spot with question after question. Especially when it feels like the purpose of the chatter and questions is only to fill any gaps of silence. As you get better with silence when around introverts, make that silence feel comfortable and not awkward. Meaning you are averting your eyes, doing something else such as checking your phone, working on your computer or putting in your earbuds to listen to a podcast. You are giving the introvert a break from having to feel “on” the entire time. It may be surprising, but it’s possible for an introvert to feel more connected with you when no one is talking.
2. Give introverts space. Introverts reenergize when alone. Therefore, when you initiate a “break” from them, they are likely to not only enjoy their interactions with you, but also feel a sense of relief that you are the one who initiated the very action they desire but may not feel comfortable communicating. On the other hand, if you are constantly in their presence, it can feel overwhelming and exhausting. I have experienced a number of friends whose interactions I dreaded, because I knew that they would mentally and socially exhaust me. If you are a house guest, excuse yourself to your room, take a walk or leave the house for a bit. If you work closely with an introvert, give them an “out” if they need one. For instance, if you’ve been working or visiting with someone and it’s time to break for lunch, rather than saying, “Let’s go have lunch!”, give them an “out” by saying, “Would you like to have lunch with me, or do you have other work to do or errands to run?” I teach a full day class for introverts at the University of Texas, and when it is the lunch break, everyone goes their separate ways, including me. I need that time alone to recharge before I regroup with them in the afternoon. And then at the end of the day I’m drained. In her well-known book, “Quiet”, author Susan Cain states, “It can be hard for extroverts to understand how badly introverts need to recharge at the end of a busy day. We all empathize with a sleep-deprived mate who comes home from work too tired to talk. But it’s harder to grasp that social overstimulation can be just as exhausting”.
3. Give introverts time to respond. Extroverts like to talk to think–meaning ask them a question, and they have no problems immediately telling you their thoughts or opinions. However, If you put an introvert on the spot, you’re likely to be met with silence or a brief, non-committal answer. Because introverts are inward processors, meaning they like to think to speak, they prefer time to respond to questions rather than think out loud by giving you an answer. If you think about it, email and text are an introvert’s communication dream! This means they don’t have to immediately answer you as they would in person or in a phone call. So by all means, utilize text and email with initiating communication with them. If at all possible, give them a heads up if you’re going to call on them or ask them for their thoughts on something. Introverts will feel more connected with you if they know you will never put them on the spot.