There is no question that our society is that of extroverts. In all avenues of our lives -- both personal and professional -- communication with others is a key to success. The explosive growth of social media websites, the immense importance of networking for getting ahead in your career, the expectations of pleasant small-talk in nearly any kind of a social situation are all indicators that our norms and expectations are heavily extrovert-oriented. Yet introverts, according to various estimates, constitute 25 to 50 percent of the population -- at least one of every four people is an introvert. By learning to relate to introverts, you will make lots of connections with some amazing people whom you otherwise may have brushed aside, judging them to be dumb or conceited, or perhaps overlooking them entirely.
How Not to Approach an Introvert
If you are hoping to create and maintain a friendship with someone who seems reserved and introspective, some of the common ways for befriending someone would not work. Here are a few DON'Ts for approaching an introvert:
DON'T try to engage the introvert in light friendly chit-chat. What is "light and friendly chit-chat" to you is "indescribably boring waste of time" to most introverts. Pestering them with talk about the weather or the latest NBA game will only turn them away (unless they happen to be passionate about meteorology or slam dunks). And they will probably be neither particularly excited about telling a near-stranger what the details of their personal lives (what they do for a living, how their weekend was), nor especially interested in hearing that near-stranger's life story.
DON'T invite an introvert to a large party. At least not as a first step for connecting with her. Chances are she will decline your invitation, which might make you feel rejected and less willing to try again. And the person you are inviting may very well write you off as another "partying type": someone she has nothing against but does not connect very well with.
DON'T use the phone as your primary way of communicating with introverts. Most of us have a rather distinct disdain for phones (I let out a groan every time I hear my damn ringtone!) We don't like the annoying ringing rudely interrupting our lives; we find the obligatory exchange of pleasantries wearing and time-wasting; we have an even harder time keeping up our end of the conversation on the phone, especially if we consider the conversation to be virtually content-free (see the part about "friendly chit-chat"). We like to think for a bit before we speak, but silences on the phone are even more awkward than in person, which puts a pressure on us to keep the conversation flowing even if we have not yet decided what we want to say. This makes us tense and cranky, and makes it seem we are bored and annoyed by you -- but it's not you, it's the phone!
DON'T try to be friends with every introvert just because you like to meet new people. Most extroverts develop a vast network of social connections with casual acquaintances, and often try to include introverted folks in their network. However, most introverts are not terribly interested in maintaining such an extensive web of fairly superficial associations -- they actually find that it exhausts them and distracts them from connecting with their close friends. So by all means go ahead and befriend an introvert because you find him a truly interesting person with whom you can talk in depth about interesting things -- not because you want to add another face to your "buddy collection".
However, DON'T assume that the introvert does not care about you and does not want to be friends with you. That may, of course, be the case, but don't think someone is disinterested in you just because you can't chat him up. A lot of introverts are starving for companionship of a kind they find difficult to get in our extroverted society, and if you can connect to an introvert in a way that's meaningful to him, you might just make yourself a terrific, loyal, and fascinating friend.
Making Friends with an Introvert
DO show a genuine interest in the person you are trying to befriend. If you want to form a friendship with her, chances are she intrigued you with something -- so ask questions about that! Introverts are interested in talking about topics they are passionate about, often offering exciting and elaborate perspectives.
DO use e-mail and other means of online communication. Most introverts -- save for the technically challenged folks -- love love love the web! This is where they shine because they can craft well thought out, well-articulated responses at their own pace and at the time of their own choosing. Don't assume that your introvert friend is into FaceBook or other social networking sites -- many introverts find those sites to be not their style at all. Communicating in short snippets, managing large networks of friends -- ugh, that sounds like most introverts' nightmare! Not all introverts are into instant messaging either, though I suspect most prefer it to their number one nemesis (THE DREADED TELEPHONE!!!)
DO invite an introvert for a coffee, a lunch, a walk outside -- or any other activity that involves interacting in small groups or (preferably) one-on-one. Bonus point for selecting an activity the introvert is actually interested in (bird watching for a naturalist, bike ride for a fitness fan, film festival screening for a movie buff). An introvert who is given an opportunity to connect to you without distractions and interruptions may surprise you with her chattiness and your genuine interest in you (remember, introverts are selective about whom they socialize with, so if they did choose to talk to you, they are probably fascinated by some aspect of your personality).
DO be comfortable with silences. There is nothing wrong with having a silence in your conversation -- though that's generally considered awkward, there is no reason it should be! Why must every second of your interaction with someone be filled with noise? Think of the silences as a time to reflect on what you've been talking about and to consider what might be a good thing to say next.
DO give introverts space. Even if they like someone a lot, they do need frequent alone time to recharge their batteries. So go slow and don't overwhelm them with the intensity of communication, especially at the beginning of your friendship (though chances are, if you are an extrovert, you're too busy maintaining your extensive social network to devote too much time to communicating with just one person anyway).
If you do invite an introvert to a party, ensure that it's not huge and that the introvert knows at least some people there. DO provide some alternatives to mingling and socializing with other guests, otherwise the introvert will get quickly bored or burnt out. These may include:
- board games, card games, video games, party games or any other fun activity that does not require non-stop talking
- an opportunity to help out the host! Many introverts will be relieved at having something meaningful to do and will gladly help you set up, clean up, flip the burgers or hide car keys from inebriated guests :-)
- a chance to be an observer of something for a while without appearing rude or bored. The something might be a movie, a TV sports game, or a fun contest. The introvert does not even have to be interested in it -- so long as she can appear to be engaged and thus not bugged every thirty second by well-meaning but annoying (to an introvert) folks.
If you are an extroverted person, you may find relating to an introvert quite challenging. However, it can also be a highly enriching experience, and you might learn a thing or two about yourself and others in process. There are some brilliant, creative, unique personalities hidden behind cool and subdued introverted interiors. Have fun expanding your horizons and making yourself some new friends!
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Gadfly from Olde London Towne on April 16, 2019:
Women have now taken control of their life styles. At least incertain cultures that is.
Gadfly from Olde London Towne on April 09, 2019:
I actually enjoy interaction with the Ladies but am terrified of rejection !
Bfree on August 01, 2018:
The don't list makes introverts sound very selfish, ignorant, inconsiderate, and judgmental individuals which I do not believe is true. This article is based on stereotypical beliefs and not solid evidence, statistics, or facts.
Rhea Hernandez on April 23, 2018:
to zart11: everyone is different so maybe that's your perspective on how introverts are. not every introvert is rude or a coward. A lot of introverts follow the traits up above but of course not ALL introverts are like this. it's hard to remember not to group people together like this but it's something that has to be kept in mind. and to say they have to be confronted so they'd learn how to "behave" properly is just rude and for most introverts or people in general, confronting like that will just discourage them more.
Zart11 on April 09, 2018:
No. That is not true. Introverts are just people who we are other were socialized improperly or who do act very rude to the others since it is very convenient to say: I am an introvert therefor I can not talk to you when I desire.
The whole communication is a part of interaction. You do t want to interact you stay at home and don’t bother people with you awkwardness. That is a cowards traits- make up their mind behind your back. Thank you.
Introverts should be alerted and confronted in order for them to learn how to behave properly. Had two introverted bosses. Can’t read their minds, sorry.
Augi on November 30, 2017:
I was surprised that this perspective rarely gets airtime. Ever since my injury in 2010 , I have embraced my introverted self. Until then, I just thought my introverted needs should get fixed by trying to be more extroverted! It took being incapable of moving without severe pain for well over 9 months (at the age of 38), for me to realize, that some time spent without the incessant business of extroverted peoples activities hogging all the social space could be a benefit for a lot of us. Thanks for the article. I found it really insightful not only for myself but in ways to be more considerate of friends who are even more introverted then I am.
Barb Addis on January 15, 2017:
Oh my goodness. I've always considered my self a extrovert. But many times I speak or engage in conversation is forced. I'd rather not talk most of the time. I HATE the phone. I really love being alone. I don't enjoy large gatherings unless I know the people (like family) I do not enjoy board games. I think that's probably just a personality trait not introvert/extrovert. I enjoy one on one better than group discussion. I do not talk long during any conversation unless what's being discussed is truly a passion of mine. I'd probably seldom leave my house if it were my choice. But I must communicate comfortable or not. I'm a nurse. I do love one on one. It is my passion to get to know my patients and what's truly concerning to them and give my absolute all to gain their trust by sincere actions/words. I do not trust easy. It actually takes several interactions with a person as to rather I consider them a close friend. I have one close friend...my husband of 39 years. I enjoy my 5 sisters. And am close with each of them on a different level. I've learned so much about myself today and so many things make sense now.
Ian Stuart Robertson from London England on December 04, 2015:
I awake every morning and sigh 'Oh! Still no girlfriend." When i travel into the city by bus i sense that female passengers do take the time to groom themselves, dress well and in the main act lady-like. As for male passengers, indifferant or reserved at best and unkempt at worst. Chances are a woman will be far more polite. So the dilemma for me is having when withdrawn into myself since if i am spoken to in a gruff manner i won't listen but if i yearn a woman's company the chances are she is already spoken for or there will be complications arising from a relationship.
Ian Stuart Robertson from London England on April 15, 2014:
this could become my home base if we get some constructive diologue going. some several years ago whilst travelling on a train a party of school girls from a posh college got into my carriage at a station after which quite some chit chat ensured. when i was noticed as being alone one of the girls exclaimed "There's O.M.O!" Now i happen to know it stands for 'on my own' and when some of them repeated the phrase i realised it was a point scoring session for them
i first 'withdrew into myself' at the age of 15 after being rejected by a potential girlfriend
PennyCarey from Felton on June 09, 2013:
Well, this sounds familiar lol. I myself am an introvert, and seek deep meaningful friendships, something that will last... As you explained in your article, I am not one to be another face in someones social network.
Ebonny from UK on August 16, 2012:
I so agree with what you said about giving an introvert some space.
Too frequent contact, especially in the early stages of a friendship, can seem too intense for an introvert, making them want to back off. An extravert might, understandably but wrongfully, take this personally.
Charlotte B Plum on October 29, 2011:
I totally totally agree with everything that you wrote! I especially appreciate that you wrote about the party scenario - where the introvert will be so relieved to help the host of find something quiet to do. =)
Thank you for writing this!
Helen Murphy Howell from Fife, Scotland on October 20, 2011:
Another fabulous article on our introverted ways!
I think this hub will be very useful to both extroverts and introverts. Perhaps especially young introverts who are totally mystified about why they can't seem to interact as other people seem to want to do and are able to do. It will be a great relief for them to know that they are not weird, dumb or alien - but just part of human kind, of which there are many types!
Voted up + awesome!
MarloByDesign from United States on October 19, 2011:
jenn-zee, I will let you know!
jenn-zee (author) from Toronto, Ontario on October 18, 2011:
Thanks for the comment. Hope the tips will be of use. Let me know how they work!
MarloByDesign from United States on October 18, 2011:
Voted USEFUL, UP, and INTERESTING. Thanks for the GREAT tips and I especially like "Most introverts -- save for the technically challenged folks -- love love love the web!" - good advice and I will let you know how it goes with my introvert friend. Bookmarked this Hub too!