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.


Commenting area

  1. I read that article a while back and I’m glad to see it still being talked about. It’s entirely true with me. I’m introverted, but I love parties & social gatherings … or rather, the idea of them. I find I can get tired out quickly, depending on a lot of factors. Liquor helps.

    Sometimes it’s just the effort of “keeping my party face on.”

    Anyway, I agree it would be nice if extroverts and “normal people” would learn to appreciate us introverts. What you described, Minx, sounds like my absolute conversational fantasy – having the space and time to open up and relate to the person.

    But somehow I doubt the probability of this behavior becoming widespread. More likely that Rauch’s advice to introverts is the better track for introverts to take.

    Kinda fits more with the poly philosophy, too, being honest and open even when it might hurt, rather than being quiet and hoping the other person will eventually “get it.”

  2. Interesting. So I have to ask this because it has come up in the past and because you mentioned “liquor helps.” Do you think it’s OK to have a drink to “loosen up” for a big event? Are you offended if someone comments that you’re more open or friendly after a drink or two?

  3. Hmm, you would ask a difficult but insightful question. In general I prefer not to drink in advance, makes me feel bad about myself. I guess I feel there’s a fine line between enjoying booze and alcoholism, the latter involving reliance on the booze just to cope.

    Which is why I think it’s particularly ill-advised if the event itself won’t have liquor. Kinda seems wrong to be soused at any level just to cope with other humans, when the other humans aren’t soused as well.

    I meant it helps in the sense that, over the course of an event with drinking, I find I have more social stamina.

    That could just be because it lowers my inhibitions, making me more socially aggressive, putting me on more equal footing with those around me and removing the introvert/extrovert schism.

    As for your second question, yes, I instinctively feel a little offended. Such comments are true, but they imply I need assistance to function “normally,” when really I can relate to and enjoy the company of others just fine without the sauce, if I’m not assumed to be an aloof hermit.

    OK, I’m one of those fools who has trouble being concise. Let me finish with: Why drink to loosen up when there are so many real reasons to drink?! 🙂

  4. I find most of this true of me. I’ve identified almost as far over on the introvert scale on the Myers-Brigg as you can get. Personally, I can’t give a “dynamite presentation to a big audience” either, but that may just be lack of public speaking skills.

    At parties I tend to drift toward conversation I find interesting and listen, or find one-on-one conversation.

    Thanks for brining this up. I may have to point some of my partners to this.

  5. Late last year here in Austin, there was a Poly 101 discussion on Poly for the Introvert. Ironically, over 20 people showed up, making it the biggest Poly 101 ever; half were introverts and the other half were partners of introverts. Here are the notes from that discussion are at:

  6. I feel sometimes that when I’m at a social thing with lots of people, it being a conventional party or whatever, people seem to think I’m bored or not having a good time, because I quite often just sit there and listen, observe. Normally, I feel fine about that. Except when people start commenting on it.. Then it becomes difficult and I feel I need to be more active or extroverted or whatever. Sometimes, though, I’m all there being crazy and talking and loose that “introvert” label I too often get. I think I’m a little bit of both, but it takes some time before I get “there”, and I don’t drink alcohol at all, so for me it’s about getting into the vibe and just letting go…

  7. And then, sometimes we extroverts just want to help. The question is, how do we know when someone would welcome friendly attempts to participate and when we should just leave alone?

    Perhaps there should be a remark akin to “No, thanks; I’m not interested” for introverts.

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