When I first studied psychology people were fascinated, but then I realised two things: firstly they were mainly fascinated by themselves. They’d say: “Oh you’d be interested in me,” (well we are all our own favourite anecdote) and secondly, they’d say: “well it depends what you mean by ‘introvert.’” That would drive me to distraction as Jung invented the terms ‘extravert’ and ‘introvert,’ so he’d know what he meant. And it is, of course, about where we draw our energy from. Extraverts draw their energy from their environment, from people, situations, conversations, they are like vampires sucking in energy. Introverts draw their energy from within, from their own space. We can see this at parties, lots of people chatting, having fun, no-one knows who the extraverts or the introverts are; but watch more closely. The extraverts get more animated and energised the more they engage, their battery levels top up to full. The introverts’ battery is running lower the more they engage until eventually they just need to have some ‘me’ time to recharge. They will butt out, take a walk, go wash up, anything where they can be in their own space to recharge their depleted batteries. However, watch what happens when the party is over, when the action ends. The extraverts will suddenly feel their batteries running down and they’ll desperately go find someone to keep the party going, or they’ll find the last person to talk to or, if all else fails, they’ll call someone, anything rather than watch the battery level go down to ‘dangerous.’
This is why extraverts and introverts often find it difficult to understand each other. To be fair we are more likely to ‘get’ people who are like ‘me.’ Extraverts often overwhelm introverts as their neural processing takes place through speaking, so they literally speak their thoughts out. You know “Hey I have an idea, I thought we could, well let’s take a step back, you know how we…” To the introvert, who’s neural processing takes place inside their heads, this depletes their energy and they can switch off. Introverts like the time and space to think things through, then the answer will pop out, perfectly formed and complete. Extraverts need the space to talk it all out, and they can even be suspicious of introverts whom they feel might be holding something back.
So, if you’re an extravert speaking to another extravert, go for it, have a stream of consciousness, talk over each other, escalate the loudness and arrive at the conclusion together. If you’re an introvert speaking to another introvert, you’re on safe ground, enjoy the space and be comfortable with the silence. However, if you’re an extravert speaking to an introvert, try to think it through first, keep it to the point, and give them the space to think it through and process, and accept there will be pauses. If you are an introvert speaking with (or listening to) an extravert, accept they will need the airtime and to talk around subjects, then gently corral them with “so in summary,” ask them what it is they’re like you to do, help them get to closure. We’re all different and that’s good, what we need to do is learn to accommodate, then we get the best of all worlds. So, what’s it best to be, extravert or introvert? Let me think about that one.