How to Deal with Introverts

GuideToUnderstandingTheIntroverted-87361

I found this comic on LOLSNAPS.com and thought it was funny. But when I re-read it, I realized that, while a bit blunt, it is quite accurate.

I will confess that I’m an introvert. Not only that, but my protagonists tend to be introverts:

  • Scott (from The Bloodsuckers) is an introvert.
  • Anselm (from Acceptance is so introverted, he’s gone down in Canichmeh history as the second-most introverted vampire ever known. (Canichmeh vampires have a natural desire to be around others of their own kind. But after Anselm’s father died, he traveled around Europe without any contact with other vampires for about 150 years. Only one other vampire is known to have gone longer without contact with other vampires.)
  • Kalyn is also an introvert, although not to the degree that Anselm is.
  • Jakub (from The Flames of Prague) is an introvert. He hates going to court (and the people who congregate there) with a passion and spends all his time with his small household/retinue and family.

That’s not to say that there are no extroverts or ambiverts (a person who can be either an introvert or extrovert depending on their own mood or the situation) in my writing; Joshua, Micah, and Ciaran are all extroverts, while I think I would peg Josie as an ambivert. But notice that they’re secondary characters; when it comes to writing predominately from one person’s point of view, I prefer that person to be an introvert.

In fact, I think I only have one extroverted protagonist: Aine from The Last Golden Dragon. And the entire story takes place between just her and one other person–hardly the sort of situation where an extrovert will shine through.

The Hamster Ball

Introverts have a stronger sense of personal space than ambiverts and, especially, extroverts. When I was in Amsterdam, people drove me crazy walking shoulder-to-shoulder with me, even when there was room on the sidewalk for them to scoot over. (Some of this is cultural; I’ve noticed Europeans in general tend to have less of a concept of personal space than Americans or even Brits.)

There are many times when I find myself taking a step back because someone is standing too close to me while talking. I’ve even been known to roll or scoot my chair back if I’m sitting down and someone’s too close. Ideally, I like people to stand at least an arm’s length from me. Closer than that, and you come off as aggressive, not friendly.

While extroverts can find sitting across the desk from someone and having a conversation annoying–even rude–an introvert almost never has a problem having a seat and keeping a large piece of furniture between them and the other person.

But, just because introverts don’t like to have close contact with most people doesn’t mean that they don’t want close contact with anyone. While introverts can be hard to get to know, once they let you in their hamster ball, you are there for the long-haul. Introverts tend to be very loyal friends and lovers because, once they become comfortable with someone, it takes less energy for them to maintain that relationship than to make another one. (Sometimes this means an introvert gets stuck in a negative relationship because they don’t want to go to the trouble of breaking up and finding someone new.) Also, introverts tend to have few friends and prefer to cultivate a very deep relationship with someone than have many superficial relationships.

It may seem contradictory, but introverts can actually be quite clingy with the friends and loved ones that they have. For one thing, having fewer friends means the ones they have get a lot more of their attention. Secondly, because introverts tend to make deep–even spiritual–connections with one or two people, they can sometimes derive energy from a relationship (more on that in a moment), which means hanging around that person actually makes them feel more energetic. So they can get clingy in an attempt to keep that energy coming in. Lastly, introverts, by their very nature, are not social creatures; the larger the social venue, the more they’re out of their element. If an introvert can find a familiar face in the crowd, they may latch on and not let go.

The Energy Bank

I think the comic is correct: introverts make their own energy. (I would not be at all surprised if someone found that introverts tend to sleep more hours and have fewer occurrences of insomnia than other personality types.)

Think of energy as dollars. Every morning, when an introvert wakes up, she has a limited number of dollars in her bank account. (Just how many depends on a number of factors: savings left over from previous days, the season/weather, whether she feels good or is sick, is under stress or not, etc.) The vast majority of interactions with people require a withdrawal from that bank account.

The less personal the interaction, the less energy it requires. For example, if someone comes to me in the morning and asks, “Hey, Keri, have you seen such-and-such file?”  it takes next to no energy for me to find the file for them–even if I have to go on a treasure hunt to find it. However, if someone comes to me in the morning and says, “Good morning, how was your weekend? Did you see such-and-such show on television last night?” the energy starts to flow out of me.

(That’s not to say that I hate to have personal conversations with people; I even initiate them. It’s just that when I get to the end of the day or end of the week, if I’ve had few personal interactions, I will have more energy in my bank to spend on parties, friends, or family get-togethers. The more personal contact I’ve had with people at work during the day, the less I want to go anywhere or be with anyone in the evenings or on the weekend.)

The more people involved, the more energy is withdrawn–exponentially so. Meetings and parties wear me down very quickly. That’s not to say that I never have a good time or accomplish something at a meeting or party, but group interaction at a meeting or committee needs to be an hour or less; more than that and I start spending all my mental resources looking for an escape route.

If I have good conversation, am entertained, or meet interesting people at a party, I can actually get an energy boost from the experience. But that boost is nullified if the party goes on too long. Three hours is about my limit; if I stay longer than that, then my energy starts to drain like water down a bathtub and instead of leaving on a high note, I leave exhausted and want to spend the next day (or three) home alone in order to replenish my bank account.

How to Interact with the Introvert

If you know or suspect your co-worker is an introvert, there are some things you should know to have good interactions with them.

1. Give them time to warm up.

You know how some people need coffee to feel human in the mornings?

This is the introvert. While a particular introvert may or may not need coffee to get going in the morning (I don’t), they do need time to get themselves sorted out. They’ve just spent 8 hours or so sleeping; they’re still in their cocoon. They may or may not “good morning” you when they first walk in the door at 8:00 AM. They may still be sleepy or, if they’re like me, they’ve just spent close to an hour in the car, commuting, and thinking deep thoughts or mentally preparing their to-do list. Don’t take a lack of greeting personally; when an introvert is particularly introverted (like in the mornings), all personal interaction–even just a “hello”–takes considerable effort. Give them a little while. Usually within an hour or two of getting to work, I’m ready to take a break from my tasks and “make the rounds.” I get some tea or hot chocolate, go to the bathroom, and see how other people are doing (both work-wise and personally). Once I’m good and awake, personal interaction takes a lot less energy.

2. Don’t take silence for anger.

Personally, I’m not the type to be angry for long or to hold grudges. I don’t know if that’s true for most other introverts, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that if an introvert is being quiet, it’s because they’re lost in their own little world of thoughts, not because they’re steaming and plotting how to get revenge on you for going out without them last week.

3. Invite them out, even if you’re pretty sure they’ll turn you down.

I tend to turn down most invitations, but I still like to receive them because it shows that people care. Introverts can maintain good friendships with people without seeing them for long periods of time, as long as they receive the occasional assurance that their friend cares. (Conversely, don’t take repeated rejections as a sign that they’re mad at you or don’t like you; if they otherwise act like they like you, then you can be sure they’re turning you down just because they don’t have the energy for the activity; it’s not you.)

And sometimes the introvert will surprise you by accepting. Sometimes you will catch them when their energy bank is running high or they’re in a particularly upbeat mood or the activity you offer is going to be short or intimate. (Introverts prefer to go out to eat with one or two people, rather than a group, and, for me, at least, I prefer activities that last less than 3 hours.)

4. Maintain non-personal contact.

Most introverts love things like e-mail, Facebook, and texting/instant messaging because it allows them to talk to people without actually engaging in social contact. (Phone calls are generally preferred over face-to-face contact, but don’t expect the introvert to actually make the call; they tend to avoid calling people like they tend to avoid meeting people.) Online interaction tends to be the introvert’s element, and he or she can happily interact online or via text and have that count as meaningful interaction (whereas, for an extrovert, that can never replace actually being around people).

5. Just be near.

Introverts are perfectly capable of entertaining themselves, and if they have to be engaged in long-term contact (e.g. staying with someone for a weekend), it’s a good idea to give them some time alone to recharge their batteries. Don’t feel you’re being a bad host if you leave them to watch TV or help themselves to your bookcase while you cook or go about your daily business. Introverts prefer not to be constantly engaged or entertained (because they feel like they have to entertain you as much as you have to entertain them!), and they’re never lonely as long as someone is nearby. I’m perfectly happy to have someone in the house with me, but spend most of our time in separate rooms.

6. Ask non-personal questions.

Introverts are not usually very gossipy and not very open about their personal lives–at least not with people who are not close friends. But introverts can actually talk at great length about topics which don’t involve other people. I’ve amazed many people with discourses on history, religion, anthropology, etc. And if you get me started on my books, I won’t ever shut up.

Introverts tend to read and study a lot, and you can learn a lot from them; just get them talking about what interests them. They love to have intellectual conversations and both teach and learn.

The Exceptions to the Rule

When an introvert clicks with another person in just the right way, he or she can actually reverse their energy situation so that they get energy from another person, not lose it. When this happens, you can–surprisingly–find the introvert happily engaged with their soul mate for hours at a time. (As I mentioned before, they can even become clingy in these situations.)

While the cartoon says that introverts tend to see extroverts as predators, I have to say that’s not always the case. Some extroverts are more aggressive than others. Aggressive extroverts are quick to see an introvert as someone who is broken and needs an immediate intervention, or is someone who is weird or hateful and needs to be attacked.

There are non-aggressive extroverts, however, who can interact quite well with introverts. Non-aggressive extroverts are friendly people who make conversation (and friends) easily; they have a way of putting everyone at ease. Introverts can actually engage quite well with these kinds of extroverts. Many times introverts are quiet in social situations because they don’t know how to approach someone, don’t want to interrupt or come off as an annoyance, etc. An extrovert who approaches them and is friendly, however, can quickly draw them out.

More on the habits of introverts

I also recommend Susan Cain’s book Quiet, the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking and her TED talk on The Power of Introverts.

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3 comments on “How to Deal with Introverts

  1. haleyms says:

    Reblogged this on Rattled and commented:
    As an introvert, yep. Somewhere in here is my post about introverts vs extraverts! But this is totally totally worth watching.

  2. This is so interesting! Like, truly insightful. I definitely consider myself an introvert, and this gives me a great look at myself and my actions from an outside/inside perspective, in a way that I never thought to define how I felt. Thanks for posting the comic, and then expounding! (Plus, it gives me a new way to look at my characters! Thanks!)

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