How to Approach, Befriend and Talk to an Introvert
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!