How Introverts and Extroverts Should Really Be Treated

Well, this is interesting, I’ve noticed an influx lately in books and podcasts and TED Talks geared toward enabling introverts to feel their self-worth and helping them maneuver in an “extrovert world.” Out of curiosity, I clicked over to Amazon and did a search in books for the word “introvert,” and dozens of titles came up. I then searched for “extrovert,” and the only titles that appeared were those encouraging shy people to “extrovert” themselves or those talking about introverts managing relationships with extroverts, etc.

Apparently, we extroverts don’t warrant any self-help advice. The implication being we’ve got it all figured out. Or maybe since it’s “our” world, we’re deemed to be in a privileged position and therefore not worthy of advice.

Now I’m technically more an omnivert, straddling the line between introvert and extrovert, but I tip slightly toward extrovert on the tests. And I, for one, do think there are challenges with being extroverted. I probably notice it more because I work in fields (writing and the arts) that are populated mostly by introverts, and because many of my family members fall into that category. I’m surrounded, so to speak.

But I feel like being an extrovert causes certain challenges for me. For example, extroverts are uncomfortable with long (or even short) pauses in conversation. While you introverts are thinking about what you want to say and how you want to say it, I’m rushing to fill that silence (which I deem as intimidating and unnerving) with chatter.

Along those lines, as an extrovert with lots to say, I’m far more likely to put my foot in my mouth than my introverted friends. Think about it, if a conversation turns challenging or personal, a quiet introvert is less likely to say the wrong thing than someone who is rushing to fill the silence.

I see those looks, too, and those shakes of the head my introverted friends or family throw at me when I start a conversation with the person in front of me in line. It has sometimes been suggested that I’m “bothering people,” or “forcing myself” on people, or “trying to get attention.” Most of the time, it’s nothing like that at all. It’s just me looking for a little human connection and a shared experience. Talking to strangers is fun for me, and enlightening, and educational. It’s part of how I learn.

There’s an assumption that extroverts are better at marketing and publicity. People will tell me it’s “easy” for me because I’m an extrovert. Yet some of my most successful friends in the arts are introverts. People who believe it’s easier for extroverts to market have actually said to me, “I’m a humble person. I don’t like talking about myself like you do.” The implication being that I’m not humble.

When I was growing up, I was typically referred to as shy. I never thought of myself as shy, but felt forced to accept the label because so many people saw me that way. The other day, a new friend said to me, “Well, you’re a shy person, like me, so it must be hard for you to speak in public.” I was shocked. It had been a long time since someone had called me shy. And yet, in certain circumstances, I very much am (although not with speaking).

My point is, even my introvert friends can lead conversations at a dinner party when they want to. And my extrovert friends can be good listeners too. Most of us don’t always fit our labels, even if we sometimes do.

So, let’s stop labeling people and expecting certain reactions from certain people in certain situations. Let’s allow people to feel whatever they’re feeling that day and to rise to whatever level of energy they’re experiencing without judgment.

That said, I’m going to move out of my solitary basement now and go hang out with some friends.

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