Picture this. You’re sitting on your porch, enjoying a novel and a cup of coffee, basking in the sunlight. Robins are singing, and there’s a pleasant chill lingering in the air. It’s the perfect morning.
Suddenly, unannounced and uninvited, your rowdy neighbor rolls up in his Mustang. Windows down and “Stones” blaring, he yells from the street up to your porch, startling you and ruining the moment. For no good reason, he tries to start a conversation from 50 feet away, eliminating all but the memory of your peace and quiet. This is your plight, an introvert in an extroverted world.
While you may never have experienced the above scenario, I’ll bet you’ve been…
- Interrupted when trying to concentrate
- Talked over while getting your thoughts together
- Put down for needing more alone time
Your struggle is real, so you wonder: Why are extroverts so draining?
Let’s take a look at a possible explanation, specific circumstances where extroverts frustrate you, and some potential solutions.
In The Introvert Advantage, Martin Olsen Lani, Psy.D. explains that extroverts and introverts prefer different amounts of stimulation and cites biology as the cause. According to Lani, extroverts’ body chemistry and brain wiring require more stimulation than do the bodies and brains of introverts. Consequently, extroverts enjoy interacting with other people and participating in high-energy activities more frequently than introverts do. The stimulation helps extroverts stay alert. When exposed to lower amounts of stimulation – the amounts introverts need – extroverts grow lethargic and feel bored.
The introverts and extroverts in my classroom request different amounts of stimulation. When the room’s quiet, the introverts scrawl happily on their papers, while the extroverts wilt and complain, “I’m bored.” When I allow students to talk and work with partners, however, the quieter students struggle to focus and have trouble concentrating. They beg me to keep the other kids quiet.
Wherever introverts and extroverts gather together, there’ll always be disagreement over…
- How loud the music is
- How many people there are
- The decor and location
- The kinds of activities
More often than not, introverts and extroverts butt heads over three things:
- Conversational styles
- Work space setup
- Ways to spend leisure time
1. Conversational Styles
Introverts and extroverts get on one another’s nerves when talking to each other. Part of the problem is a difference in brain wiring. The pathway from an extrovert’s mind to her mouth is shorter than the same path in an introvert. As a result, extroverts desire more back-and-forth in conversations and generally talk at a faster clip. As I mentioned before, they also need more stimulation to be on their “A games”. Introverts, however, prefer to share fully formed thoughts and get annoyed when interrupted. Accommodating both introverts’ and extroverts’ styles is difficult.
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1. Prioritize. One practice that you may find helpful is to get clear on what matters to you and decide to listen until your pet subject comes up in conversation.
Most of the time, I’m okay letting extroverts do most of the talking: I don’t mind waiting to share my opinions until I’m spending time with close friends and family. When someone starts to rail against introverts, however, I decide to interject. I talk because if I don’t say anything, I’ll end up perturbed and drained with no outlet.
2. Follow up. Another good practice is to follow up your conversation with a text message or an email. This is most helpful when you think of something you want to say after the conversation ends.
If you’re anything like me, your best thoughts come to you after a conversation ends. Believe me when I say this isn’t a coincidence. Our introvert brains work most effectively when we have space and time to process, so rather than beating yourself up for how you’re wired, share your post-conversation thoughts via text or email.
3. Request quiet. You can also ask for think time. If a coworker, friend, or family member wants to know your opinion or is seeking your feedback on an important matter, let her know you need a moment of quiet to ponder. Because you want to provide the most helpful input possible, you’d appreciate it if she could wait for a minute so you can get your thoughts together.
Tell her, “I want to offer you helpful feedback. I need a moment to think, please.”
4. Stretch yourself. Finally, be willing to share incomplete thoughts from time to time. Your extroverted friends, family, and coworkers will appreciate it, and you’ll get faster in time.
This is an especially important skill to practice if you’re an introvert who’s married to or working closely with an extrovert. Hopefully, the more you flex your conversational style, the more willing the extrovert in your life will be to bend his.
2. Work Space Setup
Susan Cain’s book Quiet has a lot to say about open office plans and their negative effect on productivity. From an introvert’s point of view, open office plans are a nightmare. Coworkers are constantly chattering and interrupting you, and as a result, it’s nearly impossible to focus on your work.
There’s no question that introverts work best when they have a quiet space in which to concentrate. The right setting enables them to enter a state of flow in which they’re able to think more deeply and generate creative ideas more easily.
But extroverts in the same settings would be less productive. They need to talk to coworkers in order to flesh out their ideas.
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1. Designate quiet hours. Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work, suggests workers ask their bosses for two hours of quiet work, in both the morning and afternoon, during which no one can disturb them.
Just two hours at the beginning of the day and two more after lunch will increase your productivity and happiness. It will also leave some time for coworkers to talk to you.
2. Telecommute. We live in an exciting day and age where we can complete our work almost anywhere. In this extraordinary time, you should consider working from home.
Ask your boss or supervisor if you can telecommute a day, few days, or all week. If you can demonstrate increased productivity while working in your quiet space, you’ll likely be given an opportunity to work outside the office on a regular basis.
3. Get away. Finally, if you have to work in an open-office environment, you can always get away, even without telecommuting. One way to do this is to move to an empty conference room or office for part of the day. If you don’t have this option, your next best move may be to slip on a pair of noise-canceling headphones.
3. Ways to Spend Leisure Time
Introverts and extroverts also prefer to spend their downtime differently. When Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night roll around, most extroverts want to “hit the town”, while your introvert nature probably convinces you to stay home – or at least go somewhere quiet. This wouldn’t be a problem, except for the fact some of your family and friends are extroverts.
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1. Alternate days. When you and the extroverts in your life are trying to come up with a win-win leisure activity, your calendar is often the best tool in your toolbox. A sure way to satisfy both your needs and those of your extrovert companions is to schedule a day for going out and another for staying home. For example, make Fridays a down day. They mark the end of a busy work week, after all. Then, set aside Saturdays for outings and get-togethers.
2. Limit your time out. Another solution is to compromise by limiting how much time you spend outside the house. If your extroverted friends must throw a party and are desperate for you to join them, go by all means but leave after an hour or two, when you’ve had enough. They’ll survive without you.
3. Go out when you don’t feel like it. There’ll be times when you just don’t feel like going anywhere but you should anyway. When I’m on my way to a party or gathering of some kind, I often feel like staying home. I dread the event the whole way there. Yet by the end, somehow I’m glad I came and end up having a good time.
4. Cancel your plans. Canceling plans is always an option too. Pay attention to your body. If you’ve had an insane week, it’s okay to back out of a party last minute, assuming you’ve checked with the host. And if you make it to most events, the organizers will understand when you need to back out every once in a while.
Getting along with the extroverts in your life will always be a challenge. But hopefully, with a little creativity and imagination, you’ll find ways to enjoy more uninterrupted, quiet moments – novel and coffee in hand.