Ever since Carl Jung first started giving people their personality types, there has been a divide between the introvert and extrovert camps. It's possible to bridge that gap though. Here's how to coexist with different personality types.
The introverts of the world (like myself) often feel the weighty pressure of socialising with large numbers of people often, while the extroverts get restless when they're home alone for too long. Of course, this is a dramatic oversimplification of these two ideas. Let's get some definitions in order first.
What Do These Terms Really Mean?
Part of the trouble with talking about introverts and extroverts is defining just what these words mean. "Introvert" isn't just code for "I don't like people". Nor does "extrovert" mean that you can fly from one conversation to the next with the greatest of ease. Perhaps the way to best define the difference between introversion and extroversion (unless you're conducting scientific psychological studies) is by answering the question "How do you relax best?"
As one author puts it:
The key difference is how the person recharges. Which environment best juices your batteries? Some people charge their batteries by surrounding themselves with other people; those are the extroverts. Being alone in focused solitude is draining for extroverts. Others charge their batteries by finding alone time; those are introverts. Being in a social setting is draining for introverts.
Put another way: well-rested introverts can (theoretically) handle large, intense social situations just fine if they've had time to recharge. Similarly, if an extrovert has had plenty of time to be around people and find that stimulation they crave, staying home alone isn't going to feel as crippling as if you ask them to do so on Friday night after they've been cooped up in an office all week.
It's also helpful to think of introversion and extroversion as being somewhat similar to being right or left handed. Most of us will be one or the other, but writing with your right hand doesn't render your left hand inert. Similarly, an extroverted person can still do things that aren't typically associated with extroversion. Meanwhile, introverts can learn to adapt to more extroverted scenarios, even if it might not come as naturally.
The most important thing, when you're trying to find that common ground with people who think differently from yourself, is to personalise your experiences. The absolute worst thing you can do with either type is use a single word to define your approach. If someone says "I'm an introvert", don't interpret that as "Leave me alone all the time". Talk with them about what they need personally. By the same token, "I'm an extrovert" doesn't necessarily mean "Woo! Let's party all the dang time!"
So, with that out of the way, let's take a look at a few common problems that introverts and extroverts struggle over.
"It's Friday Night. Should We Stay In or Go Out?"
The problem: the work week is over and it's time to relax. You just hit the time clock and now you're ready to unplug and do what you want to do for the next 24 hours. Naturally this involves...
Introvert's perspective: ...curling up at home with a nice book. Or maybe you'll finish watching the last five episodes of the new season of Arrested Development that you've been waiting on. The important thing is that no one disturb you. That is until your friend calls you up and invites you to a bar. Crap. You tell her you'd rather just stay in, but now you feel guilty all night. Tomorrow you'll have to go though. You can't keep turning down invites.
Extrovert's perspective: ...finding some friends and getting out of the house. Coming home to that stuffy apartment every night is suffocating. Maybe you'll hit up a bar tonight. You call up three of your best friends. Two of them say they've already got other plans (though they won't specify what they are), while one said he's going to watch some show at home. What the heck? This sucks. You're ready to go and no one wants to do anything.
It's a classic problem. If the introvert has to go somewhere stimulating when they're tired, they'll have a bad time, while the extrovert will feel frustrated if they don't. So, what to do?
The solution: For starters, if you're an introvert, prioritise your friends and loved ones. Yes, it will sound callous, but if you use up your socialisation energy on Bob from Accounting, then you'll be drained when it comes time for date night with your boyfriend. Setting up boundaries also helps. You know you need quiet time, right? Well, make sure you have it. The worst thing an introvert can do is let other people completely dictate their schedule. Give yourself at least one day every week that is yours and no one else's.
Meanwhile, for extroverts, find out which days your introvert friends are open and plan around those. If your girlfriend is introverted and she elects to stay home on Saturday evening, then plan date night for Friday or vice versa. Communicating your schedules will do a lot more good than hoping that people are free at the last minute.
The alternative for extroverts is to have plenty of options. In the example above, the extrovert gets frustrated because she called three friends with no luck. If you find yourself running into this problem often, find more friends. Again, it may sound callous — not to mention difficult (though not impossible) to do — but it's a simple numbers game: if you want to be social every weekend night and you don't have enough friends that do as well, you'll either need to know more people or live with the frustration. Finding a group outside your introverted friends/significant others can make it much easier to get the stimulation you need. If you have trouble making friends (yes, extroverts can have this problem too), try taking a class, volunteering at events or joining a club.
Most importantly, try not to demonise, criticise or insult the other person for their choices. Telling an introvert it's "Lame!" that they want to stay in tonight is a surefire way to ensure they won't come out with you tomorrow. By the same token, if you want to curl up with a nice book, there's no need to say your friend's party sounds boring.
"Should We Make Plans for Next Week or Play It by Ear?"
The problem: In an effort to be more amicable with your pal of a different psychological persuasion, you decided that you're going to share your Friday evenings, and do your own things on Saturday. Great! So, today's Monday. How should we decide what we're going to do this Friday? Well, I suppose we could...
Introvert's perspective: ...make a plan to watch a movie or something. Maybe we'll call up two or three people on Tuesday, see who's available and invite them over at 8pm. I'll be sure to cook a nice meal and have everything ready before they get here.
Extrovert's perspective: ...just see what happens. I'm not really sure what I'll be feeling like doing. Maybe I'll want to go out to a party, or maybe I'll want to stay in with just a few people. I'm not sure I really want to commit to doing something before I know how I'll feel about it, you know?
Of course, to clarify, this isn't to say that introverts are inherently planners while extroverts are always more casual. However, part of the nature of introverts is a greater sensitivity to unexpected stimuli. Tell an extrovert that the plan has changed — "We're going to the club instead of having a dinner party! Wanna come?" — and they may handle the new stimulus better than an introvert that planned for a small gathering and then finds themselves thrust into a larger one.
The solution: This one will be quite a bit more subjective, as it's not entirely dependent on which person involved is the introvert and who's the extrovert. However, if you set aside time for cross-mindset socialisation, there's no reason to ruin it with something as simple as a change of plans.
One strategy would be to come up with a range of activities that are acceptable. Think of your joint time less like a calendar or a void and more like a junk drawer. Junk drawers may not have a specific set of items that are permitted in them, but you sure as heck don't keep power drills in there.
When trying to find that middle ground, look for a spectrum of activities that both parties will enjoy. It can be up to you how specific your plans get, but know your own habits and adjust accordingly. Give yourselves options. Pick a few unobjectionable activities and pull from that pool when the time comes.
More importantly, if you're planning to interact with people who have a different recharge method than you do, don't expect these interactions to be that recharge for you. It's great if they are, but if you're an introvert hoping that a loud party will relax you, or an extrovert expecting a quiet evening at home with one other person to be the relief you need, you're in for a stressful surprise.
"Do You Think I Should Invite Them?"
The problem: You're not really close enough with your brother from another Myers. Not close enough to plan weekly get-togethers anyway. Still, you'd like to hang out with them. Trouble is...
Introvert perspective: ...they've stopped inviting you out. I mean, it's hard to blame them. Most of the time you stay home anyway. Still, you'd like to go out once in a while. You don't want to impose though.
Extrovert perspective: ...they never come. You like hanging out with them. You have a good time when you're together. That only happens four out of five times. You get that they like their alone time, but should you maybe just wait for them to ask to come along?
So, we reach a stalemate. One person doesn't want to invite themselves along because they grew up with Emily Post and inviting oneself over unrequested is just improper decorum, while the other doesn't want to pop the bubble that their friend has so carefully curated.
The solution: communication. It may sound cliché, but it's true. This problem doesn't just occur along the lines of introverts and extroverts. In fact, this dance is one of the fundamental tensions of dating and romance. Making the first move or knowing what the other person wants is part of the fundamental problem of being able to hear your own thoughts and no one else's.
The solution is almost always the same though: talk. In the scenario above, both parties want to interact. It only takes one person to initiate the conversation for it to happen. If you have an introvert friend that turns down invitations, it doesn't necessarily mean they don't ever want to be invited. If they've ever said yes before, they should probably stay on the invite list most of the time if you want them around.
Alternatively, introverts, feel free to ask your more extroverted friends what's going on. "Hey, I feel like getting out of the house. Do you want to do something?" This has the double-whammy effect of both offering to create plans if none exist, and inviting yourself out without directly intruding on any existing plans you weren't initially included on.
Speak Your Mind and Be Cool
Ultimately, the solution to most problems between introverts and extroverts is the same as any other relational problem: communicating and understanding. Introversion and extroversion are not the light and dark side of the Socialisation Force, and neither is clearly better or worse than the other. They're just different.
At some point, you're probably going to encounter someone who thinks differently to you. This does not necessarily mean you have to "fake it". Who you are and how you work is not wrong. It's simply a matter of adapting to a society that contains other people. Sometimes, an introvert will need to deal with being around people, even if they don't particularly want to, and sometimes an extrovert will need to accept a lack of stimulus. In fact, you can even marry people of the opposite type if you work at it, like one of our readers did:
I'm a strong introvert married to a wild extrovert. We balance our lives mostly through compromise and trust. I encourage her to go out with friends and to engage in work related social activities, which usually gives me the time I need to recharge so that I am better prepared for social activities.
Understanding how introversion and extroversion work is a fantastic first step, but even if psychology is just something you can't comprehend, it's not the end of the world. You don't necessarily need to "get it". You just have to accept it. Learn how your friends and loved ones work, how they differ from yourself, and make your preferences known.