Most discussions of the introvert/extrovert trait explore how people on both ends of this continuum experience social situations. For example, extroverts generally feel energized by being with other people, whereas introverts usually feel drained and need solitude to recharge after a group experience.
Often overlooked is how introverts and extroverts process information differently. Extroverts enjoy talking through their ideas or brainstorming out loud. People who “throw spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks” are extroverts. In contrast, introverts do most of their processing internally, preferring to share only after they’ve taken the time to consider the issues deeply. Introverts bake their ideas fully before offering them to anyone else.
This difference in information processing can lead to misunderstanding and conflict. For example, an extroverted spouse might experience their introverted partner as withholding, evasive or secretive. Because extroverts tend to talk things through, for them, being quiet signals a problem. But once the extrovert learns more about how their introverted partner’s mind works, they can recognize their spouse is just mulling over feelings, experiences or ideas before sharing.
Because extroverts outnumber introverts, our culture leans toward extroverted styles when it comes to team meetings, brainstorming sessions, and public sharing. Both approaches have benefits and drawbacks. An introvert’s private thoughtfulness can result in profound input once they are ready to share, while the extrovert’s social approach incorporates multiple perspectives for richer conclusions. To get the best of both worlds, give all participants time to gather their thoughts before embarking on a communal creative process.
This approach can be applied in our families and friendships, too. Rather than expecting an introverted person to respond immediately when a tough subject is broached, it’s more effective to say: “Here is a question for you: . . . Would you be up for talking about this tonight?” Or for introverts, when you feel put on the spot, advocate for the time you need by saying: “Good question. I need to think about that. Let’s come back to this conversation tomorrow morning.”
Bridging the neurological differences between introverts and extroverts is like exploring cross-cultural relationships. While differences can lead to misunderstanding, learning about each other and how to work together most effectively can lead to deeper understanding and connection.
For more on this subject, check out The Introvert Advantage: How Quiet People Can Thrive in an Extroverted World.
Photo credit: Hannah Olinger