I am an extreme extrovert. In fact, on multiple occasions, when I was left alone for too long and someone finally found me, I was curled up in a fetal position, rocking back and forth, sobbing. (Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but it’s nice depiction of how I feel on the inside.)
I recently came across this TEDtalk on “The Power of Introverts” and I grew smitten with the speaker, Susan Cain. In the past, I’ve often clashed with introverts, forcing my extroversion on them, finding their introversion offensive, asserting too much social stimuli on them, etc. Or, as often happens when I’m around a lot of people, my extroversion would overwhelm them and drive them away. I’m so sorry, introverts. I can be annoying.
Over time, I had to really discipline myself to respect and love introverts. I started intentionally befriending and spending one-on-one time with introverts, learning to give them space to talk (or to not talk), learning to be comfortable with silence (damn the silence; when it’s quiet, all the voices in my head come back! Har har har), and learning to ask questions and talk less about myself. The interesting thing is: I didn’t just learn more about introverts; I started learning a lot more about extroverts.
As I compared my interactions with my introverted friends to my extroverted friends, I started noticing a trend. Conversations with my extroverted friends felt like battles to see who could talk louder and talk more about themselves. If Extrovert Friend A shared a story about her recent shopping excursion and the brightly colored sale item, somehow it prompted Extrovert Friend B to share a similar story about her own experience with brightly colored sale items, which led to me sharing a similar story about my favorite brightly colored sale items.
The conversations mimicked monologues, just mashed into one conversations. I think we’re listening to each other.
But conversations with my introverted friends were less about myself, less about themselves and much more slower paced. Not that introverts are “slow” in conversation and introverts are definitely not always shy, but there was much less stimuli to make me ramble. I was more thoughtful in my word choices, more focused in my conversation and noticed I had to spend more time asking questions and not just talking about myself. In fact, if I wasn’t careful, I’d turn it into an Extrovert’s Monologue. These conversations forced me to actually listen.
In the end, I’ve learned to really appreciate the moments of silence where my Introvert Friend internally processes and really enjoy not having to fight for conversation (or attention). Granted, these are all generalities — I’m sure there are introverts who talk a mile a minute and extroverts who share very little about themselves. Regardless, there’s a lot to value about people who don’t need stimuli-times-infinity.
Anyway, check out the video and to my introvert friends, thank you for being you.