I have some dear friends with whom I often go out for a girls’ night. Even though I want to spend time with these smart, warm, generous ladies, more often than not, I’m feeling drowned out and stifled when they get into lively conversations with each other. I wind up eating in silence while they chatter around me. I come away from these girls’ nights feeling guilty for being such a failure at conversation and unsatisfied with my own lack of participation.
For me, conversations are like a group of musicians performing together. In European classical music, allegro is a joyful lively tempo, and adagio is an easy-going slower tempo. Think of the difference between a piece of music where all the violins are scratching away at a high speed and one where flutes exhale a leisurely melody. Both are valid. Both are beautiful. Yet, it’s nearly impossible to play a piece of music in both tempos at the same time without it sounding like chaos.
Extroverts tend to speak in a rapid allegro, expecting a particular style of feedback, debate, and commentary as well as invigorating follow-up questions. They feel appreciated and loved when there is an equal level of engagement and exchange. I understand that. I would like to accommodate my extrovert friends’ needs and express how important they are to me. But as an introvert, I find it very difficult to simultaneously absorb what a person is saying, consider my own responses, and verbalize those responses. I listen for rest beats as signals that the speaker is giving me an opening to respond. Often, I misread the cues, so I am unsure of when or how to speak up.
Feeling pressured to increase my level of engagement, I make clumsy efforts to jump in. My adagio timing is off. I don’t purposely withhold my engagement with the intent of causing the speaker’s enthusiasm to wither, to make their narrative die in its tracks, so I can seize the opportunity to rise up and dominate the conversation. I don’t feel victory when all eyes turn to me. I am uncomfortable in the spotlight; the last thing I want is to hog all the attention. But there are occasions when I’d simply like to be heard—a moment for the adagio to unfold at its own pace.
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