How to relate to an introvert.
by Dennis Hinkamp
Due to a couple recent popular books, being an introvert it is becoming almost as trendy as, though less painful than, barefoot running. There are only a few things I can write about authoritatively; one of those is being an introvert, shy, quiet or all the other things that I have been called since kindergarten by extraverts.
Introverts are now described in positive terms such as thoughtful, creative and measured. As a result, nobody really wants to identify themselves as an extrovert or, as I like to describe them, loud, impulsive and obnoxious.
Seriously, I don’t know how many times people have come up to me at events and think it is perfectly proper to say something like “you sure are quiet.” I have seldom approached an extrovert and said “you really are loud, I could hear you in here as soon as I pulled in the driveway; I don’t see how your larynx is going to hold out at this pace.” Of course, that is the trouble with being an introvert; it’s easier to write it than say it.
Let me give you the inside scoop; this is how to interact with an introvert:
1. Stop using the “painfully shy” description. It’s not painful, it is just different. Calling someone painfully shy is sort of victim blaming. You’re assuming the norm is to be gregarious and that being the life of the party is a goal in itself.
2. Don’t ask open ended questions. I think I’ve only known one person who asked “how are you” who really meant it and I was paying that person $80 an hour to ask it. It really is a weak question to ask anyone. If you just want to acknowledge that you see each other in the hallway just smile or say “hi.” If you want to start a however brief conversation, come up with a real question. This will take some effort since most of you extroverts are lazy by nature. Try something that is tied to a news or climatic event; this proves that you both read and are aware of your surroundings. Many introverts will talk your ear off if you ask them for their opinion.
3. Collaborative work spaces just make introverts shrivel up. I know it is cool in some MBA text books out there but those text books are written by people who have nice offices with doors. Some of the worst, least productive months of my life were spent working in a cube farm.
4. I don’t know if still waters really do run deep but often introverts are full of ideas—you just have to figure out more efficient ways to extract them. I can come up with about 10 brainstorm ideas for anything but not if I have to do it while you write them down on a white board or if I’m in a focus group. Focus groups are an extrovert’s playground where they can verbally romp around and gesticulate the whole group into submission. Most introverts need to go back to their nooks, check their email, remove unused icons from their desktop, trim their finger nails, and eat an orange; but then they will just whip off 10 great ideas in about five minutes of frantic keyboarding. u
Dennis Hinkamp encourages all introverts to keep sitting down for their rights.