Thanks, Sweetainsley, for the link.
Jonathan Rauch wrote this article on “Caring for Your Introvert: The Habits and Needs of a Little-Understood Group.”
I found this article fascinating for a number of reasons. First, his means of identifying an introvert was by this series of questions:
Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk? Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate? Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice?
If so, do you tell this person he is “too serious,” or ask if he is okay? Regard him as aloof, arrogant, rude? Redouble your efforts to draw him out?
In particular, the “aloof, arrogant, rude” tags seemed right on. Unfortunately, many of the folks I know who are introverts get tagged this way as a first impression. If they’re not the life of the party right off the bat, they are labeled “snobby” or even “what a bitch.” And I know whereof I speak, as a former introvert myself. I had to learn to appreciate what people call “small talk,” and I still need time to recuperate from parties, as much as I love them. My instructor at the Sorbonne called me la petite serieuse, for gods’ sake, and that was from a Frenchwoman! (If the French are saying that an American is too serious, you know she’s in need of some lighthearted fun!)
Next, Mr. Rauch clarifies that introverts are in fact not any of these labels. They also don’t hate other people; rather, they don’t gather energy from being around others like extroverts do:
Introverts are also not misanthropic, though some of us do go along with Sartre as far as to say “Hell is other people at breakfast.” Rather, introverts are people who find other people tiring.
This is a fine clarification to make. Personally, I love group settings, large and small, as well as one-on-one time with most people. However, when I dated someone far more extroverted than myself who simply couldn’t spend any time alone without getting distressed or depressed, I noticed that I’d have to draw a personal limit–after 36 hours or so at, say, a conference full of parties, I’d have to take an afternoon to nap or veg alone in front of the TV in the hotel room. I’d describe the feeling as “overloaded,” kind of like too much sensory input. This is, I think, what Mr. Rauch is describing. So I suspect I’ve still got a little introvert left in me, huh?
So how do we mostly-extroverts approach and get to know these introverts? How do we appreciate them for who they are without steamrolling over them in every conversation?
Rauch suggests that introverts learn to say, “I’m an introvert. You are a wonderful person and I like you. But now please shush.” Personally, I suggest the STFU approach (Shut the Fuck Up), also known sometimes as the SUL approach (Shut Up and Listen). Introverts will talk to you if you just shut up and listen to them. Appreciate the awkward silences and let them be. No, they won’t go on all night, but they will share if you don’t grab the reins and start steering the conversation yourself.
So the next time you find yourself thinking, “Geez, what a snob,” give him/her another chance–maybe one-on-one or in a smaller group.
Introverts, what do you think? How do you like to be approached in uncomfortable settings?
Cross-posted to my blog.