I used to have a terrible time vocalizing my introverted needs to family and friends. Telling them that I needed time alone — or that I couldn’t come to their last-minute party because I didn’t feel like socializing — felt insanely selfish. As a result, I’d either over-socialize and feel miserable or take time for myself and feel like a terrible person. Like the Kobayashi Maru, it was a no-win scenario.
Fortunately, things have changed. In the last year, I’ve become an advocate for introverts. In the course of my advocacy, I’ve learned to speak up for my own needs as well as the needs of others. My family, friends, colleagues, and boss are well aware that solitude is necessary to my happiness and productivity — and because I’ve given them a detailed explanation as to why, they’re all extremely mindful of it (something I appreciate to no end).
It can be hard to put into words what it means to be an introvert, especially when you’re revealing these things to people who are extroverts, but the better you communicate your needs, the stronger your relationships will be in the end. Let’s look at a few ways to set expectations with the people in your life — to keep them from taking over.
Friends and Family
Somewhere along the way, society got “close relationships” confused with “spending every waking second with someone.” Of course, many introverts (and extroverts) are well aware that this is absolutely not the case. You can be extremely close to someone without having to live in their pocket.
That said, a very important part of healthy relationships is open and honest communication. That’s why it’s vital you set clear expectations with your family and friends — and even your roommates — as to what you need as an introvert.
Here are four things you might want to explain to them:
1. The phone
Many introverts loathe talking on the phone. We’re predisposed to thinking and responding slowly — and dead air on the telephone is terribly awkward. Because of this, we may not call or text our loved ones very often. We still think about our friends and family regularly, and care about them very much, so we urge them to not take it personally. It’s really not them — it’s the phone. If lengthy phone calls to catch up are necessary (say, in the case of long distance relationships), we prefer to either schedule those calls or initiate them so we can properly prepare.
Introverts need time to mentally prepare for socializing — even with those we’re close to. Spontaneity is not our strong suit, so we ask that our loved ones not spring plans on us. What’s more, we need a lot of time to recover after spending time with people. So, even though we may have enjoyed spending time together yesterday, we probably won’t be ready to hang out again today. Our brains are wired differently from extroverts, and we need solitude to recharge. However, that doesn’t mean we won’t want to see family and friends again soon.
If we do make plans, we request those close to us not invite other people to join in. At the very least, we would rather you ask. Introverts generally prefer one-on-ones to group get-togethers. We love the intimacy of a cozy visit between close friends and are distressed when what we anticipated turns into a rowdy group activity.
Large social gatherings are incredibly tiring for introverts. Like general socializing, we need time to prepare — although for such a large affair, we may need a few weeks notice. If a party invite is delivered last minute, not only will we not be mentally prepared, we’ll be forced to make the decision between declining to attend something important to a loved one or going and being uncomfortable the entire time. When we do come to parties, we often leave early in order to give ourselves time to recharge.
In the instances when we do decline invitations (which we try not to do too often), we really aren’t lying when we say we want to stay home. We’re not being passive aggressive, we’re not angry at our friends, and we’re not tired of their company — we really do just want to stay home. For introverts, time alone isn’t a preference. It’s a necessity.
The introvert’s home is a cherished place. It’s a safe space where we can be ourselves and enjoy peaceful solitude. That’s why we request our family and friends not show up at our house without asking. Again, we absolutely must have time to mentally prepare ourselves to see people — especially when we’re hosting. Planning ahead and knowing what to expect is incredibly important to us. However, this can all be ignored in the case of an emergency — in these situations, we’ll drop everything in order to help.
Coworkers and Bosses
Setting social boundaries in the workplace is tricky business. Relationships with coworkers are important, so the last thing you want is to be perceived as standoffish, snobby, or rude. That said, we require certain needs are met in order to be productive — and those needs can often appear to be remarkably antisocial.
Even if the majority of your colleagues are extroverts, your needs as an introvert are valid. They are directly tied to your ability to be an efficient and valuable employee. That’s why it’s important to talk with your coworkers about your work style and what you need in order to be able to do your job well. Let them know you’re an introvert and that you tend to keep to yourself to get your work done. Explain that you may wear headphones in order to focus and that they’re a sign you’re not in the right state of mind to socialize.
Of course, for introverts, not all offices are conducive to quality work. If you happen to be one of the unfortunate people stuck in an open office, you might consider asking your boss to allow you to work from home part of the week.
Your boss also needs to know what you require as an introvert in order to do your job well. Discuss your working style, the best environment for you to work in, and how they can help you shine. You should also let your boss know how you communicate — as well as how you may struggle to communicate. Many introverts fail to speak up in meetings, but our ideas are just as valuable. We’re often just uncomfortable vocalizing them unsolicited.
Introverts may be quiet, but we’re amazing employees. As long as you keep the lines of communication open, your boss can help you meet your full potential.
Depending on how you manage your relationships, being introverted can be a gift or a curse. As it is with so many things in life, the more people know about introversion, the better they can understand it. So, be open with your loved ones about what you need to be happy and healthy. Give them the benefit of the doubt — you may be surprised at just how supportive they ultimately are.
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