Communication Tips for Introverts and Extroverts, from Two of Your Favorite Authors!

This is an excerpt from No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions At Work, by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy

“I’ll go if I don’t have to talk,” says Elaine when Jerry asks her to join him for coffee on Seinfeld. Some of us need more quiet time than others. If you prefer one-on-one conversation to group discussion, want to think things through before acting, and feel drained after office happy hours, you’re probably an introvert. If none of that makes sense to you, you’re an extrovert.

Introverts and extroverts have different needs. Extroverts tend to react to social interactions more quickly. Introverts have a higher base rate of arousal: put an introvert in a crowded, noisy room and he’ll quickly become overwhelmed. This might explain why introverts perform best in quiet environments while extroverts do better when it’s noisy.

It’s not immediately obvious whether someone is an introvert or an extrovert, especially when you’re just getting to know each other. In the workplace, introverts often try to mask their introverted qualities to fit in. But without talking openly about differences, extroverts and introverts drive each other nuts. Introverts are more sensitive to external stimuli (an introvert will salivate more at the taste of lemon juice than an extrovert, as Susan Cain explained in Quiet) and need quiet time to recharge. When introverts turn down lunch invitations or start to shut down after back-to-back meetings, it can be hard for extroverts to swallow.

How to better communicate:

Tips for introverts:

  • Let people know when you need space. Start by saying something like, “I enjoy working and talking with you.” Then explain you work best when you have quiet time by yourself. Expect to make some concessions; you do still have to work with others.
  • Avoid sending extroverts excessively long e-mails. Extroverts, who often prefer to discuss issues or ideas in person, might only skim through the first paragraphs.
  • Prepare for meetings in order to feel more comfortable speaking up and then try to chime in during the first ten minutes. Once you’ve broken the ice it will be easier to jump in again. And remember, a good question can contribute just as much as an opinion or statistic.

Tips for extroverts:

  • Send out agendas before meetings to give introverts a chance to prepare their thoughts. Giving everyone a chance to review the agenda will help facilitate equitable discussion. For example, email a prompt to the group ahead of a meeting and then start by going around the table and having each person share their thoughts one-by-one.
  • Don’t rush to fill in pauses, and let introverts finish speaking before you chime in.
  • Suggest breaking into duos or small groups to discuss ideas and then report back to the larger team.
  • And our biggest pieces of advice: give an time introvert time to come out of his shell and don’t stop extending invitations!