How does one introvert talk to another introverted acquaintance? (Although the exact words may not have been spoken, the below conversation did actually take place)
Neel: How has work been?
Adrian: It’s been fine; it’s taught me a lot about power and politics. I was naïve in college and am now learning to play the ropes.
Neel: Seems like it’s not such a great culture. How do you like NYC?
Adrian: I love it..not so much my junior summer cause I was working a lot, but I really like it now. This city never fails to delight.
(Adrian thinking in her head: I’m talking too much; I want to listen to what he has to say. *Feels self-conscious doing most of the talking*)
Neel: Are you still working a lot?
Adrian: Hmm, not quite. My first 6 months to one year I was, but not anymore. (*Now feeling highly uncomfortable taking up all the spotlight*) she quickly adds: I want to hear updates on your startup!
Neel: Yeah, you know, it’s been great in the last 6-9 months. We are now serving to 2 dozen clients and have expanded a lot. The team is currently 5 people and we are looking to make 6 additional hires. So it’s been going well.
Adrian: Wow, that’s so exciting! What does the team of 5 look like?
Neel: All engineers and now looking for more sales people.
Adrian: And what level are you looking to hire at?
Neel: Umm 2-8 years out of school…so are you still in touch with your college friends?
Adrian: Yeah, it’s gone down a bit, and there are some that I meet mostly only at big parties, but for sure. Hbu?
Neel: It’s funny — MBA’s went from being extremely social in school to very work focused…so what have you been doing for fun?
Adrian: Mostly reading, gym, hanging out with friends and exploring the city. Nothing out of the ordinary! Do you get time off given that you are working on your own Company?
Neel: It’s been busy, but my schedule is more flexible which I love.
Adrian: Yeah, I bet! (*responds with a tint of envy given the trappings of her corporate life*)
Neel: Are you in touch with anyone from our Public speaking class?
Adrian: Hmm, not really. You?
Neel: I met someone last year, but that’s a distant memory.
Adrian: Right, such a good class, not just to learn public speaking but also the deep stories we shared. How did you initially hear about the class?
And so the conversation goes. What may seem striking to an extrovert is how there are so many questions asked and it almost seems like an interrogation as opposed to rambles and stories that extroverts like to jump into. Introverts have very deep conversations with their close friends, but when 2 introverted acquaintances meet up, it could almost feel like the 2 are interviewing each other (of course I’m generalizing!). The answers are short with few or likely no tangential stories since no one likes to grab the limelight. Each person ends up asking tons of questions to give the other time to speak.
An extrovert would probably fall asleep while listening to this seemingly mundane conversation, but to an introvert, this type of slow diving into someone else’s life is more comfortable. In an attempt to form deeper connections, the questions slowly progress to family life, decision making, ideas, and the crux of the matter. For example, Adrian asked Neel about his marriage, his decision making around hiring etc. Although Neel may have had fleshed out answers in his head, he kept them terse in order to not hoard all the speaking time.
Moreover, a lot of times it is harder for introverts to articulate their thought processes into words. Given the age of entertainment and branding we live in, introverts can appear to be uncharismatic as they fail to charm the audience with mesmerizing tales. I wonder if introverted startup founders get less venture capital money given that storytelling may not come naturally to them. (In reference to this last sentence, I’m merely postulating and have no real data.)
Time for some myth busting: While introverts are often conflated with being shy, this presumption is based on false ground. The most important characteristic distinguishing introverts and extroverts is the degree to which they can take in external stimulation. For more on this, I strongly recommend Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.
If you are an extrovert who cannot fathom the idea of reading quietly by himself / herself (merely a lighthearted jab with no intention to offend), you can watch Susan Cain’s TED Talk!
What can the 2 personality types learn from each other when approaching a casual conversation?
Extroverts should understand that introverts prefer to listen which is why they ask questions; it’s not meant to be an interview. But they should also learn to ask questions to the introverted acquaintance, otherwise no introvert will speak about themselves. Instead of surface-level conversation, trying digging deeper into their lives.
Introverts should try to not make the conversation like an interview or jump right into more personal matters because that could be uninviting to the extroverts. If the extrovert does not ask them questions, they should learn to talk about themselves too in an effort to mutually share information and form a stable relationship. To begin with, keep the conversation casual and perhaps even prepare a few stories to recount.
That’s all the serious talk I have for you, folks. Now let’s get back to talking about the weather!
P.S. Full disclosure that I consider myself an introvert and may be biased with regard to some of my thinking on this subject. I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter; please drop me a note or comment if you have stories to share. Introverts – make your stories entertaining, ok? 🙂
Recommended Book: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
Recommended Video: The Power of Introverts
Recommended Article: The Real Reason Introverts Dread Small Talk