This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Quiet: The Power of Introverts" by Susan Cain. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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Are you an extrovert in a relationship with an introvert? Do you know how to communicate with an introvert?
Opposites often attract, including introverts and extroverts. But it is important to know how to communicate with an introvert because it’s different than with an extrovert.
Keep reading for some tips on how to communicate with an introvert.
How to Communicate With an Introvert (and What Not to Do)
Introverts and extroverts are often drawn to each other in the way that opposites seem to attract. The two personality types can be complementary: one talks and the other listens; one is always ready for action, while the other wants to consider all the options; one schedules activities, while the other pays the bills.
But problems can occur when a couple’s different personality types pull them in opposite directions. The key to a lasting relationship is understanding and accepting the different ways that each communicates, resolves differences, and socialized. So, you need to know how to communicate with an introvert if you’re an extrovert (and vice versa)
Greg, an extrovert, and Emily, an introvert, are an example. They have a generally compatible relationship, but they reached an impasse over Friday night dinners, which Greg, a music promoter, has been hosting for years. Emily, a staff attorney for an art museum and a very private person, dreads them. When she gets home, she wants to unwind alone, not entertain a crowd. She volunteered to visit her sister on Friday nights as a compromise, but he doesn’t want to host the dinners by himself. Greg feels as though Emily is backing out of a key part of their marriage contract and he feels alone. He believes she’s anti-social; Emily feels defensive and wonders whether he’s right. Greg needs to know how to communicate with an introvert and Emily needs to know how to communicate with an extrovert.
A Key Difference
People often wrongly believe that introverts are anti-social and extroverts are highly sociable. In fact, the two personality types both have a need for connection but they’re differently social.
Introverts prefer to socialize with a few close friends and have meaningful, in-depth conversations. Extroverts need to be surrounded by a lot of people to feel as though they’re having a social impact. Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert determines how many friends you have, but not whether you’re a good friend. Researchers have found that introverts and extroverts are equally likely to be agreeable and friendly to other people—in other words, introverts aren’t anti-social.
Being “differently social” leads to conflict when it means each person’s needs aren’t being met by the other. Typically, the introvert wants downtime and understanding at the same time as the extrovert wants his partner’s attention and company. Part of knowing how to communicate with an introvert is understanding the differences.
Extroverts need to understand how desperately introverts need time to recover from a hectic day, and introverts need to understand that their silence can come across as rejection of their partners.
Introverts and extroverts also have different ways of handling conflict or differences. Introverts are uncomfortable with emotions, so they become quiet and dispassionate when dealing with a conflict. Extroverts raise their voices and become emotional, especially as their partners seem to withdraw. To put it another way, introverts try to avoid conflict while extroverts are comfortable with a confrontational style of disagreement.
In the Emily-Greg example, the more she backs away, the angrier he gets. The way they disagree gets in the way of resolving the matter they disagree on—Greg’s Friday night dinner parties. Emily needs to learn that it’s OK to let Greg know she’s angry, so Greg doesn’t think she’s withdrawing. Meanwhile, Greg has to learn that venting his anger in an argument makes the situation worse. He needs to understand what needs are driving his anger and express them in a way that’s not a personal attack on Emily. These are tips for how to communicate with an introvert if you’re an extrovert.
Emily needs to stop reacting to Greg’s anger defensively, as though she did something wrong. She also must acknowledge when Greg makes legitimate points and be more comfortable disagreeing forcefully.
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- How society overvalues extroverts
- Why introverts' overlooked strengths are the key to greater success in work, school, and society
- How extroversion caused the fall of Enron