On the Care and Feeding of Introverts

I didn’t see it coming.

Maybe I should have, but social networking has always seemed like an introvert’s dream to me.  You know, superficial communication conducted more or less on my terms and mostly from a distance—my personal, private parsec of cyberspace.

Now here I am, marketing one book and getting ready to release another and market that.  Translation:  I’m up to my ears in Tweets, Facebook messages, e-mails, random postings on any page that will take them … and I’m a wreck.  WHAT HAPPENED TO MY ALONE TIME?

Now, I don’t know if all authors are introverts, but a lot of us are.  Trouble is, 75% of the world’s population are extroverts, who tend to socialize every livelong chance they get.

They’ve got us surrounded, people.  So in the interests of peaceful coexistence, I offer the following checklist extroverts can use to recognize us.

But first, repeat after me:  Introversion ≠ shy.  (I’m constantly explaining that to folks who know me as an inveterate cut-up/class clown.)  A look at this list of famous introverts will help make my point:

  • Albert Einstein (who had enough chutzpah to turn the world of physics on its head)
  • Mahatma Gandhi (who had enough chutzpah to turn the British empire on its head)
  • Dwight Eisenhower (who had enough chutzpah to turn the Third Reich on its head)
  • Stephen Spielberg (who produces groundbreaking movies like ET, Letters from Iwo Jima and Schindler’s List)
  • Michael Jordan (fearless on the basketball court
  • , and a terrific salesman, although the less said about underwear here, the better)
  • Steve Martin (a wild and crazy guy)
  • Clint Eastwood (Dirty Harry, Gunny Hightower and the mayor of Carmel, mind you)
  • Johnny Carson (yes, the Great Carnac himself)
  • Mother Theresa (who touched the lives of millions in India and around the world)

Shy?  I don’t think so.

Now that we’ve cleared up that misconception, here are a few ways you can separate genuine introverts from everybody else.  You might be dealing with introverts, if …

  • their favorite spots at any given party are cozy corners where they can happily, albeit safely, observe extroverts in action.
  • their first reaction to stress is a desire for space and plenty of it.
  • their last reaction to stress is a desire to talk about what’s bugging them.
  • they think a good weekend is one when nobody calls, visits, or emails.
  • they hold life’s most important bits close to the vest.
  • they like people but prefer them in small doses and need time alone to recharge after contact.
  • their mental calendars are full, their social calendars, not so much … and that’s fine and dandy with them.
  • their worst nightmares are well-meaning friends or relatives who have decided introverts are shy or lonely or depressed and just need to be “drawn out.”
  • they visit a new church and hesitate to fill out the visitor’s card, because they know it will unleash a kindly, completely overwhelming torrent of invitations to a) join small groups, b) come to dinner or c) “get together and chat.”

I hope all the extroverts out there are paying attention.  If you are, and you’ve suddenly realized your BFF is an INFP, don’t panic.  Check out the following tips, take them to heart, and you’ll earn our undying gratitude.  Trust me on this.

  1. Don’t take it personally, when we go hedgehog.  It’s not you, it’s us.  We’re not mad, we still love you, we just need some time alone to recharge.  Depending on the circumstances, recharging can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 5 months.
  2. Don’t ask, “Are you all right?” or “Is anything wrong?” or “Do you want to talk?”  The answers are:  “Yes,” and, “Only the fact that I’m not alone right now,” and, “Absolutely not, but I’ll call you, if that changes.”
  3. If you’re getting grunts, hmmms, other monosyllabic answers, or that I’m-in-an-alternative-universe stare, we probably need some space.
  4. We do occasionally explode into nonstop chatter.  This usually happens after a prolonged period of “working things out in our heads.”  Pretend you’re listening, smile and nod, remind yourself that this, too, shall pass.  (And count yourself lucky; these eruptions tend to be infrequent.)
  5. In times of extreme stress, we find invitations, phone calls, shooting the breeze and email forwards that have to be returned under threat of gaining 10 pounds extremely taxing.  Like Greta Garbo, we want to be alone.  We want peace and quiet.  We need to think, to process.  (As opposed to extroverts, who seem to process everything out loud.  I can’t tell you how many times an extrovert has told me—in excruciating detail—about his/her current problem, then concluded cheerfully, “Thanks for helping me with that!”  How that works, I have no idea.)
  6. Finally, when we really start to get on your nerves, remember:  While we’re doing our withdrawn-uncommunicative-introversion thing, we may be formulating the Theory of Everything or composing the Great American Novel or inventing the solution that will permanently straighten your naturally curly hair.  Don’t interrupt the flow, anticipate the results.

(In the interest of transparency, this post is modified from one I wrote for another blog.)

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One thought on “On the Care and Feeding of Introverts

  1. Pingback: Being an Introvert and a Leader - Solutions at Work Blog

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