How to Truly Understand and Appreciate the Introverts in Your Life

An extrovert talks to an introvert

It’s time we start appreciating — and not just tolerating — introverts.

The terms “extrovert” and “introvert” are buzzing around more than ever. Since Susan Cain began the quiet revolution with her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, introversion has been getting more attention (but oh no — we don’t want that!).

All jokes aside, I think we still have quite a way to go regarding the general public truly understanding introversion and learning to appreciate it — and not just tolerate it.

Extroverts, how many of you are truly curious about the introverts in your life? Whether they be in your home, work, or school environments, how often do you really consider what it’s like to be them? To be in a world that maximizes their weakness and ignores or marginalizes their strengths?

Let’s clear up a few common misconceptions extroverts may have about introverts, in hopes of us being able to respect each other’s preferences and appreciate — not tolerate — each other in the process.

Common Misconceptions About Introverts 

I think extroverts often think introverts are loners who do not like people. But the truth is, we introverts long for connection in the same way extroverts do, albeit in different forms. 

Introverts need you to understand that there is more than one way (your way) to socialize, more than one way (your way) to connect with others, and more than one way (your way) to care about, and empathize with, others. We need you to stop looking for “you” in us, and acknowledge and appreciate the ways we do these things (that you often overlook, and therefore, think we are lacking).

Another misconception that gets to me is that some people think introversion is a disorder, yet extroversion and introversion lie along the same spectrum of human temperament. We are all a little of both, although we tend to have stronger preferences for one or the other. Introversion is not a disorder; introverts are not broken extroverts. Some misconceptions about introversion lead people to think that introversion is the result of mental illness, child abuse, personality disorders, and/or low-self esteem — which are all false. People of any temperament can be affected by any of these things.

Please know that these misconceptions, or any other erroneous assumptions, will show up in your behavior toward introverts, whether you’re aware of it or not. It is this aspect that may keep introverts from opening up to you — not necessarily because they’re rude, arrogant, or dislike you, but simply because they don’t feel they can be themselves around you. They do not feel appreciated or “seen” by you. Consider this: Would you want to be in the presence of someone who forced you to be someone you’re not in order to be around them?

So what can extroverts do in order to understand us introverts better? Here are some ideas.

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How Extroverts Can Understand Introverts Better

1. Stop underestimating introverts and look at all the strengths they bring to the table.

Introverts bring a wealth of knowledge to the table and often are much more emotionally intelligent and in tune with others than extroverts, despite popular belief. Leaders within schools and workplaces may misjudge and label introverts as unintelligent based on their quiet nature. Therefore, they may have low expectations (if any at all) for these students and employees, leading to a lack of opportunity, rejection, and neglect of the introvert.

This might manifest itself in the form of poor performance, lack of interest, or other negative behaviors in the introverted individual. The extrovert’s observance of these responses fuel the usual stereotypes and, unfortunately, the cycle then repeats itself.

2. Be the first to defend introverts in order to stop negative perceptions of them.

Try something for me: Be just as enthusiastic about your introverted students and employees as you are about your extroverted ones — and watch how the dynamics shift. After all, would you want to put your best foot forward for someone who thought less of you without even getting to know you? 

Introverts (and extroverts, too) connect best when we feel seen and understood. So, be willing to jump into our shell as much as you’re asking us to come out. That way, we will happily repay you with equal effort. 

3. Stop assuming introverts don’t have “social skills.”

I touched on this idea in my first point — introverts want to socialize just like extroverts do… but in our own way. Just because we go about it differently does not mean it’s wrong; societal acceptance of a behavior or belief does not make it right or wrong.

Personality and expression are very much an individual thing and should not be generalized as we see in our schools and in corporate America. One size does not fit all.

Do you ever struggle to know what to say?

As an introvert, you actually have the ability to be an amazing conversationalist — even if you’re quiet and hate small talk. To learn how, we recommend this online course from our partner Michaela Chung. Click here to check out the Introvert Conversation Genius course.

4. Stop marginalizing and patronizing introverts, which will only push them away more.

One thing I’ve noticed is that some extroverts do not seem to be aware of how their behavior affects others. If you are behaving in a marginalizing manner, or only keeping up appearances of inclusivity, an introvert will easily pick up on these things. For introverts who are less social (not all introverts like being alone, all the time, by the way) these behaviors will actually push them further away from you. 

So, as an extrovert, if you are using tactics of rejection, exclusion, gossip, or other negative attempts to get more attention from an introvert — or to “punish” them for being who they are — expect for them to recede even further. When this happens, be open to examining your own behavior and how it may have contributed to potentially damaging a relationship (or hopes thereof) with the introvert in question. 

Introverts, to be fair, if the extroverts in your life do come to you to gain understanding, be open and honest with them, and resist the urge to treat them as they have treated you.

5. Make sure everyone’s voice is heard, even if they are not as loud as you prefer.

Being soft-spoken, one thing I experience to this day (even being in my late 30s) is how extroverts often talk over me, not allowing me to finish a thought. Or, they automatically assume that what I have to say is irrelevant or invalid because I didn’t speak loud enough for them. 

But remember — we are all created differently, and some of us have louder voices than others. In no way is my soft voice related to my level of confidence or intelligence; it is what it is. In no way should anyone (introvert or extrovert) judge the content of someone’s character and thoughts based on the volume of their voice. 

Speaking of which, teachers, make sure those quiet students get uninterrupted time to speak. If you are having trouble getting a student to open up, I will bet money that this is one of the reasons. If you don’t pay attention to how outgoing students marginalize others in the classroom (not that they are doing it purposefully, they are just being who they are), those quiet kids will fade into the background… unless you set the example for other kids to be encouraging, loving, and respectful to all students, regardless of if they are different or speak quietly (or less often) than others.

6. Be respectful of introverts’ preferences, like their need for alone time.

In schools, if introverts need time alone, please know that they are probably not plotting a threat against the school or being weird. Instead, give them the time they need to be alone and/or to think through their responses.

Introverts perform at their best when they can learn in an environment that respects their needs. This means not forcing them to speak when they don’t want to. If you have a need to hear from them, approach them after class or privately to ask if they’re okay or if they need anything. They’ll appreciate you for it, and you’ll probably see them begin to open up more once they feel like class is a safe space for them to be themselves. 

The closed-off nature of some introverts as children is due to not feeling safe in their own skin. They may be ridiculed or otherwise made to feel like being themselves is wrong. Therefore, they may struggle with self-expression, as they fear their feelings will be seen as wrong also.

From This Moment On, Approach the Introverts in Your Life Differently

So, extroverts, I hope this article has been a learning experience for you. I think we often just skim the surface of these issues and never have really taken time to look a little deeper into things, which is where true understanding lies.

I challenge the extroverts out there to approach the introverts in your lives differently from this point on. But please — be yourselves! We actually do love your energy and expression, and the world needs this, too! 

Please understand that introverts do not have to be loud and outgoing to be valuable. Their different nature is not a negative reflection of you. Just because someone has other values and ways of thinking and feeling does not mean they dislike you. Let’s learn to appreciate each other for who we are, authentically. This will lead to much more fulfilling relationships for us all.

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