When I was much younger, I was what you would call an extreme extrovert. Myers Briggs showed my “E” was almost as high as you could go. If I went into a small restaurant, I almost felt uncomfortable unless I introduced myself to everyone else in the room. I wanted to know everyone. All of my energy came from other people—listening to their stories, learning what made them who they were.
I married someone who was the complete opposite. My wife was an introvert. We would go to a social event, and I would come home exhilarated while she would be exhausted. It’s not that she didn’t love people. It was just that she tired out around too many people. She needed alone time. She preferred one-on-one versus huge gatherings.
I’ve heard many successful relationships are built on differing qualities. “Opposites attract” is the old saying. If that’s true, the couples I’ve studied who have been together for many years generally start to inherit qualities from each other.
And that seems to be the case with my wife and me. I may still be an extrovert, but nowhere near as extreme. I’m now comfortable alone. In fact, I crave time alone. Meanwhile, my wife seems to be more extroverted and involved in activities with others. We’ve merged somewhere closer to the middle.
It’s not just marriages involved in the extrovert versus introvert discussion. What about your boss? What about your team? I remember when I started managing a more introverted team. Someone thoughtfully approached me to say that it would help if I told the group about the topic in advance or give them time to think about it. I wasn’t used to that. The team I managed right before was extroverted and wanted to brainstorm immediately as topics came up. Have your co-workers take the quiz, and then talk about how you can respect the different approaches.
If you’re in an extrovert-introvert relationship, what do you do? Here are five tips for you to consider:
1. Understand the differences. Appreciate them. Don’t put labels on the other person before you understand how his or her mind operates. There are many common misconceptions. For instance, introverts are not shy. They are very in tune with their own inner world. Extroverts are not obnoxious. They just tend to be talkative and social.
2. Negotiate events. Extroverts see an invitation in the mail and immediately want to RSVP “yes!” Introverts want to be selective. They want time to be spent together. Best to seek agreement before the event. And the decision isn’t over if you decide to go. What time will you leave?
3. Discuss how to handle intrusions. An extrovert sees a ringing phone as a connection to a friend. The introvert sees it as an intrusion. Out at a local restaurant? Some friends are walking by and stop by your table. The extrovert says, “Why don’t you join us?” and immediately calls for the server to bring some extra chairs. The introvert feels you just ruined the entire evening.
4. Understand how you respond to stress. Under stress, extroverts can be emotional, impulsive and aggressive. Introverts under stress can retreat into a silent world. They can be anxious and put up walls. Talk about your stress response and have a plan in place when it happens.
5. Respect your different decision-making needs. Extroverts think out loud. To develop ideas, they need interaction. Introverts don’t rush into the conversation. They want to reflect first. When an introvert speaks, he or she often has a thoughtful insight. I still make my share of mistakes, but I’ve learned. At breakfast, I may say, “Let me talk about this out loud for a few minutes. I’d really appreciate you thinking through it. At dinner, I’d love to listen to your thoughts about it.”
No matter how different you are on the extroversion – introversion scale, you can build a successful relationship. You may find it to be a great asset. I know I do.