If you’re like me, you hear the words “social event” and the first thing you do is make a mental list of why you can’t attend. The words alone have the power to send you into panic mode. In all honesty, I’m notorious for using my kids as an excuse for these things. I’m like a deer in the headlights as I scan my brain for any possibility of coming up with a plausible excuse on the spot. And it’s not that I hate social events. Or always try to avoid them. They’re just exhausting.
Now, I can’t speak for all introverts here. Like with extroverts, introverts work on spectrum. Some are more introverted than others. For example, I’m a Meyers-Briggs INFJ personality, and many times we’re confused with being extroverts. We’re not, obviously, but when we’re comfortable, we can socialize with the best of extroverts. It’s just that afterward we’re going to need some major down-time. On the other end of the spectrum you have the introverts who at any mention of socializing break out in hives.
Regardless of if you identify yourself as introverted or as extroverted, it’s important to understand how introverts operate, and I’m going to borrow this analogy from a friend. Think of introverts and extroverts as having inner bank accounts, with deposits and withdrawals. For an extrovert, social interaction makes deposits into their account. It invigorates them, builds equity, and even accrues interest. For an introvert, social interaction is like taking money out of their account. It drains them, exhausts them, and sometimes leaves them with a deficit. Therefore, introverts have to plan to be social, which includes making and building relationships.
First off, I’m going to address the introverts. Guys, you’re not alone. I’m totally with you, so as a favor to all of us, I’ll give it to us straight: we need people; we need relationships; we need to build careers and network with others in and outside our professions.
I realize that if we had the option of going out among strangers or watching paint dry in our living room, we’d pick the latter. Watching paint dry is nice and relaxing and gives us ample time to process the world around us. Except life doesn’t happen while we’re alone in our living rooms.
I have some tips to help us up our game and put our best foot forward.
Practice being social. Something with only a few people versus a hundred, like hosting a gathering at your own home so you feel more comfortable with the venue, though try not to hide behind hosting duties instead of mingling. Typically, the fewer people, the smaller the withdrawals made to your account.
Give yourself adequate alone-time before social interaction. For introverts, alone-time puts deposits into our account. How much alone-time varies from individual to individual, so it might take a few tries to figure out what works best for you. Whatever it is, aim at a full inner bank account before any social activity.
Mentally plan to step out of your comfort zone. If you do, when the time comes it won’t be as much of a shock during the event, and therefore won’t make a disastrous withdrawal from your account, leaving you empty with hours left of said event.
Become a professional actor. I don’t mean pretend to be someone you’re not; that’s not helpful. I mean smile even though you feel like hiding. Talk even though you want to melt into the hardwood floor from mental exhaustion. Make eye contact when someone is talking to you even though it’s taking every ounce of your energy to do it. Stay in the moment.
Don’t depend on credit. When you know you’ve hit rock bottom, when your account is at zero, don’t force yourself into debt. This could create resentment, a set-back in going to social events in general, and you’re in for buyers’ remorse the next day or two, while your account is stuck at zero. If your account is dwindling and you need a re-charge, take one. Politely excuse yourself and find a nice, quiet place where you can make a few energy deposits. What you do will vary from person to person, but try taking a short walk, sitting in your car and listening to music, reading a chapter on your e-reader, or simply stand outside and look at the stars.
Don’t overload yourself. I’ve never met an introvert who could take social activities seven days a week. Those people are called extroverts. Keep a calendar and write down your commitments. Yeah, some are unavoidable, like Monday’s marketing meeting at work, but don’t be afraid to say no when you can’t give your all to an avoidable event. You only have so many withdrawals before you crash and burn.
Okay, extroverts, it’s your turn for a little heart-to-heart, because socializing and building relationships with introverts are different than with other extroverts. Sitting alone in a room, for instance, creates withdrawals for you whereas it creates deposits for introverts. Social situations are where you thrive, where your deposits are made. You feed off the energy of others.
Which, as you’ve seen, is exhausting for introverts.
Here are some tips for interacting with introverts.
One-on-one is best. If you really want to get to know an introvert, ask them to meet you for coffee. Introverts are much more likely to open up about themselves and their ideas when it’s one-on-one.
Give them time. At least a 24-hour notice. Don’t drop a social event bomb in their lap an hour before it starts because they need time to build up their bank accounts first.
Be inclusive. When introverts don’t say anything, it’s not because they don’t have anything to contribute, but because they don’t want to call attention to themselves by speaking up. Make sure they feel included in conversations by asking them questions and follow-up questions. Doing this will help ease them in and make them feel less like benchwarmer. It may also create an atmosphere where they are comfortable with opening up.
Don’t be trivial. Introverts do better with deeper, meaningful relationships than ones where the conversation is basically small talk. As a matter of fact, small talk could very easily kill a building relationship with an introvert.
Give them space. We love our personal space, and we feel invaded when someone steps inside it. It’s probably not time for a Tic-Tack and it doesn’t mean they’re bored or that they don’t like you. Chances are they like you and want to continue the conversation, but they need to feel comfortable.
Give them a break. A break between social interactions, that is. When building a relationship with an introvert, don’t be insulted when we don’t want to meet up or talk on the phone every day. We are filling up our bank account so we can enjoy your company later.
Introverts: next time your company has a Christmas party, don’t tell them you can’t make it due to your fifth 8pm dentist appointment of the year. Just go. Once you’re there, interact.
Extroverts: building a relationship with an introvert may take some time, but I promise you it’s worth the investment. Introverts have a wealth of ideas, interests, and thoughts just waiting to be tapped into. You might be amazed at how well you connect.
More about d. Nichole
A native of Iowa, d. Nichole King writes YA/NA fiction novels. Her books have hit bestseller lists in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada. When not writing, she enjoys spending time with her four children and her husband. Being a Meyers-Briggs tested INFJ, she still cringes at the phrase “social event”, but loves chatting with people one on one. For more information, you can contact d. at www.dnicholeking.com