3. Avoid drama
Most introverts will not open up until they have a pretty good idea that saying anything will not create conflict or drama. Things like “laying it all out on the table”, “tackling the problem head on” or “resolving issues as soon as possible” pose a threat to an introvert because there is potential for conflict or drama. Unfortunately, most of the time they are right.
Because such “conversations’ are one-sided most of the time, it creates frustration for both parties. The person who wants to “tackle the problem head on, and as soon as possible” feels ignored, dismissed and even spited. Some people think the other person just doesn’t want to work on the problem/issue at hand, is hiding something or has emotionally checked out of the relationship.
The person who wants time to “think about it” feels pressured to have a conversation he/she either isn’t ready for or doesn’t want to have because it’ll only end up in conflict or drama.
Couples who recognize and accept that they are different, and that doesn’t mean one person is better than the other have managed to make it work through compromise.
The person who needs to talk lays it all out on the table without the pressure for a conversation. The person who needs time to process things then picks up the conversation when he/she feels ready/safe to talk.
For this to work however, the extrovert needs to be able to listen more, ask good questions and wait for answers instead of trying to rush everything to a conclusion (as soon as possible). The introvert on the other hand, needs to understand the extrovert’s need to be heard even if they are just thinking out aloud (sometimes too loud).
4. Listen and listen some more
Some of my clients are surprised when I ask at the beginning of the session, “Are you okay with me interrupting you?”. It’s an East African thing, so I understand the surprise.
Most people are like, ‘Sure” or “please go ahead”. But once in while there is that client who thinks it’s ridiculous to ask someone if you can interrupt them.
“You are the coach” one client said (I could hear the sarcasm in her voice).
“Well, I had to ask because some people may feel inconvenienced or get upset”.
“That’s ridiculous. Who gets upset because of that? This is a free country, interrupt me all you want.” (I didn’t remind her that we don’t live in the same country, but that’s neither here nor there).
I am sure you can guess what the rest of the session was like. I couldn’t get a word through. As soon as I started asking a question, she was already answering what she thought I was going to ask. Half way into the session, being the introvert that I am, I retreated and just let her do her thing. I couldn’t compete.
Finally I said as loudly as I could, “We have only seven minutes left”. She shot right back, “I paid money to get your advice, I don’t feel I have been helped”.
“I tried” I said, “but you wouldn’t let me talk.”
“So can I pay for another one hour? I really need your advice”.
“Only if you promise to allow me to talk”.
“Okay. But I haven’t finished telling you my story.” She said.
“I’ll let you finish your story. It’s important for me to hear what happened. Let me ask again, are you okay with me interrupting you?”.
“Fair enough”. She said laughing. “I know I have a problem. My ex used to complain that I talk too much.”
The one hour was a very different story. I was very pleasantly surprised that she’s a very good listener, and a really nice person to talk to. But she was even more surprised at herself. “That’s the longest I have listened to anyone, without interrupting”.
There are people who are able to have a conversation while talking over each other (sometimes I wonder how much they really understand each other), but most introverts don’t roll like that. They will start to open up but if you keep interrupting, they feel the conversation isn’t going anywhere and will stop talking. They see no point in talking for talking’s sake.
To keep an introvert talking, listen as much as possible. If you have a “good” question you want to ask or you think will open up the conversation even more, wait until they pause or finish talking, then ask your question.
5. Don’t take it personally
Sometimes (in fact, most times) an introvert’s need for “less human interaction” has little to do with you and more to do with their need for more ‘alone’ time than most extroverts are comfortable with.
They are not trying to avoid you or intentionally hurt you by shutting you out, and they are not losing interest or angry. Just as an extrovert needs social interaction to fuel-up, an introvert needs ‘time out’ to be able to re-engage and participate in a relationship.
Caution here. It’s not up to you to determine when, how and much time an introvert needs. An introvert’s ‘alone’ time is internally driven, and only they know when they need to recharge. Trying to force or control how he/she recharges, re-engages and participates (a.k.a. “giving him/her space”) will get you mixed signals.
You might think they need ‘space’ but that may be the time they are more open and want to engage, and when you think you’ve given them enough ‘space’ and it’s time to re-engage them, that’s when they need ‘time out’.
My advice to my clients is: reach out, try to engage and if they are not forthcoming, let it be. Don’t feel threatened by their need to be alone and be like “I’ll leave you alone” or “I’ll give you your space” if they haven’t asked you for ‘space’. You are not doing him/her a favour. The only person you are “protecting” is you.
It’s like serving someone food and when they don’t show excitement or don’t eat much, saying “You don’t want my food. That’s okay” or “I’ll take that away”. You think you are doing them a favour, but the only person you are trying to save face is you. They didn’t say they don’t like the food or want you to put it away, they simply didn’t respond the way you hoped or wanted, and you over reacted to what you felt/thought was rejection.
Over-reactions make introverts feel it’s not safe to open up to you, or even be in a relationship with you.
(More in: WARNING: Read Before ‘Giving Your Ex Space‘).
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