While on a train ride, I overheard four people engaged in lively chatter. Well, that’s not quite correct. Three of them were soft-spoken and reserved. The fourth, a gregarious conversationalist, dominated the interaction. She caught my attention when she said to one of the others: “You have a lot of ideas for such a quiet person.”
What a misconception—that a quiet person lacks ideas! Yet, it’s an understandable mistake. After all, if a person has ideas, that person would spout those ideas, right? Well, not necessarily.
In fact, one’s verbosity in expressing ideas is no clue at all to the quantity of one’s ideas. What this woman was experiencing was the difference between her own communication style as an extrovert and that of her three seat-mates, who were introverts.
Actually, both introverts and extroverts can talk your head off. And both need quiet time for reflection. But introverts and extroverts differ in where they get their energy. The result is a huge difference in communication style.
Extroverts get their energy from interaction and tend to be much more animated and expressive than introverts. They enjoy being with people, and can talk with people all day long and often still enjoy a group gathering in the evening.
Introverts get their energy internally. Thus, they are often less talkative, animated and expressive. And they lose energy from interaction. The very process of talking — or even listening — for an extended period can deplete an introvert’s energy. As a result, they have a much greater need for cave time to recharge.
Is it any wonder the two types confuse each other? Extroverts tend to think out loud. All that talking is actually the thought process in action. It’s not surprising, therefore, that they may appear to be changing their minds in mid-sentence as they work out their ideas and draw conclusions.
Introverts, by contrast, typically process their thoughts internally and then voice them — if indeed they voice them at all. They often prefer time to reflect on a thought before voicing it. As a result, they may take longer to respond than extroverts, but may be more articulate when (if!) they respond; after all, their utterances have already been through several rehearsals.
Taken to an extreme, introverts look at extroverts and wonder if they’ll ever stop yapping, and extroverts look at introverts and wonder if there’s anyone at home. Nevertheless, we will get along better if we strive to understand these differences, respect them, and find ways to laugh about them with each other.
We can also help others understand our own style. For example, extroverts can remind their introverted colleagues not to mistake the ideas they are voicing for their final thought on the matter if, in fact, they are just thinking out loud. Introverts can remind their extroverted buddies that they need a time-out or a break or a week alone in Hawaii.
As for me, I’ve had my say and I’m off to the cave.