If you are extremely introverted — I am — or a hardcore extrovert, you might notice the differences in the ways introverts and extroverts communicate. While I probably haven't actually become more introverted as I've gotten older, I think I have finally accepted that I am an introvert instead of beating myself up for not being able to enjoy the things extroverts do. And, one thing I have noticed is that introverts and extroverts have very different communications styles.
To break it down in simple terms when an extrovert is stimulated their brain pretty much processes that stimuli in a straight line. For an introvert the stimuli goes on a wild journey through their long-term memory, and the part of the brain responsible for planning. Picture a labyrinth instead of a straight line. Six illustrations on the website Quiet Revolution depict how these neurological variables can result in vastly different communications preferences.
"According to The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney, introverts have a longer neural pathway for processing stimuli. Information runs through a pathway that is associated with long term memory and planning," Liz Fosslien and Mollie West explained on the Quiet Revolution. "In other words, it’s more complicated for introverts to process interactions and events. As they process information, introverts are carefully attending to their internal thoughts and feelings at the same time."
While it all sounds pretty complicated, decoding this communication conundrum can help you better understand those who are different from you. Here are some of the differences in the ways introverts and extroverts communicate.
1. Verbal Verus Cerebral
When my cousin came to town to visit recently I was struck at how differently we communicated. She is an extrovert, and she processes things by talking out loud, to herself, and to others. For example, if she needs to set an alarm on her phone she asks Siri to do it. I liken this to narrating your own life out loud.
I am the complete opposite. As an introvert I process everything internally, and my narrator is non-verbal. Despite having an iPhone for five years I have never once asked Siri to do anything. I literally type everything into my phone.
It's no secret that extroverts love to talk so this now makes complete sense to me. It's also helpful for me to understand that just because an extrovert is narrating to themselves it doesn't necessarily mean they expect me to answer them just as I don't expect them to respond to my internal dialogue, which is happening non-verbally.
According to an article on Science Alert, "neurological research has also shown that extroverts respond more strongly to rewards than introverts, with the feel-good hormone dopamine being activated more strongly when extroverts win gambling tasks, as compared to introverts."
So, for an extrovert, having Siri respond to them can trigger the brain's reward center.
2. Talking On The Phone
Introverts generally don't like surprises, and this includes phone calls. For an extrovert, picking up the phone to call someone out of the blue "just because" can be fun and exciting. For an introvert this is a nightmare on a number of levels. I hate talking on the phone so much that I did not include my phone number on my business cards.
First, let's talk about the ringing. "It rings and we are expected to tear our minds away from whatever they were focusing on and refocus on whoever is on the other end of the line and whatever he or she has to say," Sophia Dembling explained on Psychology Today. "This makes my brain hurt. My mind doesn't change direction easily."
Second, the lack of visual cues makes it hard for introverts to focus on the conversation. Last, and perhaps the worst thing about talking on the phone, small talk is pretty much torture for introverts. So, how can we solve this?
I once worked for a company that gave our entire team Myers Briggs assessments. This was extremely helpful for our team communication. Before the assessment I was becoming frustrated with a co-worker who would call me out of the blue constantly. The phone calls would take me out of what I was doing, and getting back to my task after the call was difficult.
After the assessment we both understood that for her, an extrovert, calling me was a quick and effective way for her to get information. For me it was disruptive to my work. We agreed that going forward she would instant message me and ask if we could talk before she called me. This extra step saved us a lot of problems in the long run.
If you're an extrovert calling an introvert send a text first asking them to talk, and if you can do FaceTime or Skype so they can read your non-verbal cues that's even better.
3. Talking In General
For extroverts who get energy from external stimuli small talk can be appealing. For introverts, who get energy from within, small talk is a mental drain and feels meaningless. I mean, who actually cares about the weather anyway?
"People who are introverted tend to prefer 'heavier' conversations pertaining to philosophy and ideas, rather than small talk. Indeed, introverts can get easily intimidated, bored, or exhausted by small talk," Lecia Bushak noted on Medical Daily. "They would much rather be 'real' with someone and talk about more weighty things. Of course, that’s not to say that extroverts aren’t capable of having in-depth discussions; they are as well, but are more likely to add some excitement and lightheartedness to the conversation."
This is not to say that small talk isn't valuable and can't lead to larger conversations, and if I am somewhere I need to talk to people you better believe I want an extrovert by my side. I recently went to a U2 concert with my extroverted cousin. We were waiting for hours in the dreaded general admission line, and we were totally unprepared. It was 95 degrees and we had no shade, and no water. I left the line to go to the bathroom, and by the time I returned my cousin had made friends with the people in front of us. She secured us something to drink, and a section underneath their umbrella. As an introvert I would not have initiated conversation, and we would have shriveled up in the hot sun.
4. As Speakers & Performers
Despite the stereotype of introverts being shy and timid, introverts are as successful at speaking and performing as extroverts. The difference is what happens once the show is over.
"Introverts more than any other speakers, I've worked with realize the importance of self-care after a presentation. Presenting is a massive energy exchange between the speaker and the audience. While introverts expect this to be draining, they prepare in advance how they are going to take care of themselves after a big speaking gig. They make time for being alone, curling up with a good book or take an extra long nap," explained Communication Rebel Founder Michelle Mazur on her blog.
"Extroverts typically feel amped up after a speaking gig, the energy exchange is the finest drug in the world for an extrovert. However, there is always the inevitable crash (like a sugar crash after you ate 10 Snickers bars) that leaves extroverts feeling depleted. No self-care has been planned yet it's still desperately needed."
So, if a a speaker or performer doesn't hang around and socialize after a gig, don't take it personally. Some introverted performers include: Emma Waston, Audrey Hepburn, Courtney Cox, and Michael Jackson.
5. At Work
Work is another place where the communication differences between introverts and extroverts become glaringly apparent. In general, introverts prefer to work alone, are less likely to speak up at meetings if there isn't a break in the conversation, prefer written communication, and prefer to lead a team of self-starters versus people they have to micro-manage.
Extroverts like to collaborate and think out loud. Entrepreneur magazine suggests assigning extroverts group work, giving them space to talk through a problem, and making sure they have access to face-to-face interaction.
In a former job, after we had done the Myers Briggs assessment, our boss was more sensitive to the needs of the team overall. He realized that he sometimes needed to approach the introverts on the team individually to ask for their feedback or ideas if a meeting has been dominated by extroverts. Understanding each other's differences can go a long way toward alleviating on-the-job communication frustration.
6. Silence Isn't A Bad Thing
Introverts tend to love silence, so if you spend a lot of time with us you might be subjected to things like quiet car rides — oh the horror! While an extrovert might feel bored and drained by silence, and even interpret it as a slight from the quiet person, introverts are having a whole other life in their head and are neither upset or bored. Sometimes introverts just like to be quiet.
I know this can be frustrating for extroverts who need the external stimulation of conversation. In these cases it might be helpful for the extrovert to have an iPad or phone with podcasts, games, or music so they can stay charged while the introvert is lost in quiet contemplation.
7. Talking To Salespeople
I hate shopping, particularly because someone always seems to want to help me find something. As an introvert I am not interested in telling a salesperson I don't know what I am looking for. I don't want to show them the clothes I've tried on, and I don't want to hear about the benefits of a product, especially because I've likely already done the research online.
For an extrovert, a shopping trip is a cornucopia of energizing sights and sounds. An extrovert might love using a personal shopper, getting a makeover at the makeup counter, chatting about the newest shade of lipstick, and modeling their clothes for salespeople.
Neither of these things is wrong. In fact most of the communication differences exist between introverts and extroverts because of brain chemistry. According to Science Alert, "research has found thicker prefrontal cortices in introverts as compared to extroverts, which is associated with deeper thought and planning — suggesting that introverts are less impulsive than extroverts."
And, since we can't change our brain chemistry, learning to communicate with one another can make everyone a whole lot happier. Just don't call me.