As an introvert and former seating hostess who worked in the busy lobby of a humble IHOP, I was bombarded by people for hours without a break. Maybe you know the feeling.
We live in a world that values extroversion to an unbearably high degree. Introverts like me can hardly walk out our doors without being met with the overwhelming noise and chaos of the world. It’s loud enough inside our heads, you know.
So what’s the best way to respectfully interact with introverts in this noisy world?
1. Don’t touch me without asking.
Think of touching as something that leaves a massive impact. You touch someone, you’ve left your mark. Your atoms have collided with theirs. This collision is how extroverts thrive, but for introverts, touch can be an explosion. More often than not, it leaves us burnt.
2. Don’t assume that if we’re friendly, we’re friends.
Most of the time, if we’re friendly, we do it out of kindness. We’re prone to be careful about how we speak, because we think through everything that’s said to us, and we know the intensity of words and what they leave behind. We navigate language like one might navigate a highway. We know that one wrong move could cause a wreck. This might lead a compassionate sort of introvert to act friendly, even if she is not really seeking your friendship. We are, in the end, very picky about who we have as friends, and even though you might be a really great person, we might not be willing to go through that metaphorical explosion for you by having you become a big part of our lives. For introverts, real friendship has to be earned.
3. Don’t presume to know us.
You’ll never understand us completely. The human mind is a complex maze, and the introverted mind is too deep a world for anyone to really, truly, grasp in its entirety. Take something that many have achieved a doctorate to understand, and add to that the hidden places of a solitary soul, and it’s practically impossible for anyone to become an expert on an introverted individual – unless we let you. So it’s best to never try to guess what we’re thinking or feeling. While you’ve been busy contemplating where our heads go when we’re quiet, we’ve likely thought and felt several dozen things that you may never know anything about.
4. Don’t mistake our silence for weakness.
Strength tends to be associated with sound. If you’re loud and outspoken enough, if you take no nonsense, and you exude loads of confidence, you become a pillar of unbreakable might. If you’re quiet and unassuming, you’re deemed fragile and easily shattered, and as such, you need protecting. I can tell you right now this isn’t true. We introverts fight battles in which nothing is uttered. We find our courage and strength in ways that no one sees. We are warriors in our own right, and we don’t need loquacity to be so.
5. Don’t ask us to talk more.
We know you mean well, but when you ask us how we are and we respond with “good, thanks,” that’s where we want to leave it. We may not want to go into detail with you, and we don’t want you to insist we elaborate. We talk when we’re ready, and we share our inner world when we feel like it will be welcomed and admired. We don’t take speaking lightly.
6. Nevertheless, do casually ask us how we are.
We might not say much, and we might be hiding the fact that our day has been horrendous, but just the knowledge that you thought to ask will mean more than you might think.
7. Do invite us to whatever you’re doing, even if we say no.
We don’t always hide in our caves, and we have no aversion to sunlight. Every now and then, in small, strategic doses, we welcome the chance to do things with other people.
8. Do find common ground in conversation.
Introverts think very intensely about their likes and dislikes. Find something introverts like that you like too, and you’ve found something to talk about. This is a way to bond without asking them to spill their very being to you. In a way, they are sharing something personal with you, because this thing they like is part of who they are.
9. Do be mindful of what you say and do.
Introverts are watching and thinking and feeling, and everything will replay in their heads when they’re alone. Everything you told them or told someone else in their presence, everything you did while they were there to witness it, and everything you made them feel, will come back in full force once they’ve left you. This shouldn’t scare you, but this could mean the difference between an introvert’s complete respect or total distrust.
10. Do let us leave.
Even if we’ve been at the party for a mere 15 minutes, even if we haven’t hardly said a thing, allow us to leave. We can only take so much before we go into survival mode, which perhaps includes attempting eloquent discussion, failing at our performance based on our idea of the perfect person, trying to keep our heads from imploding then and there, and wishing we could just be by ourselves instead. Let us go, and don’t ask why we’re running off.
If you want to communicate with an introvert, you have to do it right. In fact, if you want to communicate with anyone at all, you have to do it right. It’s important to respect people’s boundaries and let them keep their inner world inner, if that’s what they want. Even an extrovert needs moments of solitude.
There are two worlds people live in: their Earth and their Self. It’s important to remember we impact both.
Image credit: Rona Keller