Introverts don’t hate talking or interacting with people, but we have to do it in our own way.
Like many introverts, I am used to being called quiet. I’ve embraced the fact that I prefer calm situations to chaotic ones, and I’ve found that acceptance has made me both happier and healthier. But a quiet lifestyle isn’t always so quickly accepted by society. After all, even the dictionary definition of introversion harms introverts, listing words like: “loner,” “wallflower,” and “brooder” as synonyms for “introvert.” So it’s clear that we “quiet ones” are still painfully misunderstood.
One of the biggest of these misunderstandings can be found in the stereotype that introverts hate communicating, talking, and interacting with people. But is that really true? Not necessarily. Sure, we can struggle with small talk, networking, icebreakers, and other superficial forms of communication (especially with strangers) because each of these is so draining. It takes an immense amount of energy and concentration for us to navigate these interactions, and if we get caught in them too often, it can lead to the dreaded introvert hangover. Due to all the (over)stimulation, we’ll have to withdraw for a while, maybe even a long while.
But the thing is, communication isn’t just small talk and icebreakers. Communication is expressing ourselves, learning about others, making a difference, and exploring the world we live in. And once we view it in that light, we can see that, despite what many believe, introverts deeply value true communication — maybe even more than extroverts.
Why Introverts Value Communication More Than People Think
1. We crave meaningful connections… with those in our inner circle.
It’s no secret that introverts would rather have a few close relationships than hundreds of acquaintances. Since social interactions drain our energy, we are (rightfully) cautious about those we want to spend our time with. Most introverts are perfectly content with our inner circle: a small group of close friends and family.
And there’s a sense of freedom that comes with maintaining that close circle. Conversations are easier, even small talk, because everyone already “gets” each other. The pressure that typically accompanies socializing dissipates and we can open up and be ourselves, no holds barred.
Within these tight social groups, many introverts play the role of confidant. Thanks to our preference to listen rather than speak, as well as our highly empathetic nature, this is a natural fit. We embrace the emotional, vulnerable conversations that others may avoid, and when we find someone else who is also willing to, that’s when a true friendship can blossom.
While I personally love conversations centered around human nature and the unknowns of our world, not all meaningful discussions have to be super philosophical to be deep and meaningful. Some favorites of mine are conversations about life goals or dreams and interesting or unusual hobbies. Really, anything where both parties can leave with a better understanding of each other is enough to soothe an introvert’s soul.
Once we have found our inner circle, the most quiet among us can become animated and talkative — for a little while, at least. We still need to retreat to our introvert sanctuary and spend a day (or few) building our energy back up, but we’ll look forward to the next time.
2. We can be fierce advocates for what we believe in, like our passion projects.
Relationships aren’t the only place introverts search for meaning. Whether it’s work, volunteering, or a hobby, finding and pursuing a deeper meaning in our lives is one thing that introverts absolutely need to lead a happy and healthy life. And once we find that purpose, we will become its fiercest advocate — sometimes even if it means public speaking.
When introverts are passionate about something, we can come across as gregarious — and sometimes even extroverted. Although we still prefer low-stimulus environments, get energy from within, and need alone time — in situations where our topic of choice is in the spotlight, our extensive knowledge steps up to the plate.
In fact, that’s one reason so many people we consider experts come across as extroverts but, when asked directly, identify as introverts. One of the most well-known of these experts is Bill Gates. He’s skilled at public speaking, especially about things he cares about, but he’s spoken many times about being an introvert.
And once introverts find a purpose, subject, or cause that we believe in, we tend to explore it with unusual tenacity and energy, which can set us on that path to becoming an expert. This can help introverts find meaningful work. According to Professor Brian Little’s Free Trait Theory, this could also hold the secret to catering to society’s expectations while staying true to ourselves. Susan Cain’s Quiet dedicates an entire chapter exploring this theory and what it can mean for us “quiet ones.” She says, “According to Free Trait Theory, we are born and culturally endowed with certain personality traits — introversion, for example — but we can and do act out of character in the service of ‘core personal projects.’”
I’ve seen this play out in my life, too. If someone asks me about any of my core personal projects — animal rights, education, and, of course, writing and connecting with others about being an introvert — my energy skyrockets and I’ll become way more talkative than normal (although I’d still prefer a chance to jot down some notes in advance).
Once we find these core personal projects, this can help us tackle things like networking or public speaking with renewed energy and confidence. After all, it is much easier to leave our comfort zones if it’s for something we truly believe in!
3. We prioritize clarity — our minds are always working overtime to find answers to uncertainty.
One thing many introverts are familiar with is overthinking. Our brains can be loud (and downright rude!) sometimes with the amount of thoughts vying for our attention. And if there’s anything that has the potential to supercharge our overactive minds, it’s vague or unclear interactions.
From the uncertainty of meeting new people and learning their communication styles to the stress of asking hundreds of questions at work (my personal speciality), there are endless situations where our minds are working overtime to find answers to uncertainty. For me, these questions tend to surround vague or incomplete instructions. I’ll often start a project only to find that the instructions I thought were black and white are actually gray, and I end up asking for clarification on everything, especially details no one else had considered yet. Emphasizing clear and consistent communication is one way introverts can bring peace to our overactive minds and calm those racing thoughts.
As an extra incentive to prioritize clarity, us “quiet ones” have a tendency to avoid conflict at any cost. One of the best ways we can do that is to avoid as much miscommunication as possible. To do that, we strive for clear expectations, instructions, and language. I can’t tell you how many times my husband and I have gotten frustrated with each other only to find out we were trying to say the exact same thing, just in two very different ways. Thankfully, we can usually laugh about this after the fact, but it doesn’t minimize the frustration in the moment! This is just one of the many reasons why introverts prefer writing to speaking — it allows us time to organize our thoughts and edit our words until they are just right.
Although asking for clarity can be stressful, we should trust our intuition and overactive minds — they know more than we realize — and that extra question or comment can make all the difference.
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4. Communication doesn’t just mean talking.
Our “extroverted” society often associates communication with talking. But according to Merriam-Webster.com, the definition of communication is “a process by which information is exchanged by individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior.”
This means communication includes writing, art, music, body language, social cues, and so much more. Thanks to our natural creativity, introverts excel at these artistic avenues. Whether we open our rich inner world to the real world with painstakingly placed colors on a canvas or create alternate realities for ourselves and others to escape to with nothing more than words, we are constantly striving to both understand and be understood.
Observing body language and taking in social cues are also forms of communication that are natural strengths for introverts. In fact, according to research by Yale psychologists, introverts may be better at both observing and understanding social behavior than extroverts — an invaluable quality in any situation.
Because these nonverbal skills come so naturally to us, it can be difficult to see them as the strengths they truly are (especially when everyone around us is talking so loudly we can’t think straight). But they are strengths — powerful ones.
The truth is, when the world accepts the fact that communication is more than just speaking, it will be clear that introverts are uniquely gifted, not “weird” or “loners.” And it starts with us. While accepting the possibilities available to express ourselves, connect with others, and make a difference, we can continue to embrace our strengths and stay true to our quiet nature.
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