Sometimes I think that introverts and extroverts are from different planets. This is fine, until they find themselves married to one another or working in the same office. If they are not conscious of the differences, they can quickly frustrate one another—or worse.
I am speaking from personal experience here. I have been married to my wife, Gail, for thirty-two years. She is an extrovert; I am an introvert. Early in our marriage, this was a constant source of friction. Frankly, it’s a miracle we survived it.
Most people assume that I am an extrovert, because I am a CEO of a large company and do a lot of public speaking. But things are not always what they seem. Many leaders I know are introverts. They can “turn it on” when they need to, but are much more comfortable away from the crowds and the lights.
The real difference between introverts and extroverts is in what energizes them. Ask yourself this question, “Where do you get your energy: by being alone or by being with others?” Or conversely, “What drains you: being alone or being with others?”
Introverts—like me—are energized by being alone. People drain us. Extroverts—like Gail—are energized by others. Being alone drains them. These are not hard and fast rules but general tendencies. I also enjoy being with people and she enjoys being alone—this is just not our dominant way of recharging.
- I am content to spend time with a small, tight-knit circle of friends. I am not really interested in meeting anyone else. I have enough friends, thank you very much. Gail, on the other hand, views strangers as “friends-she-hasn’t-yet-met.” She loves meeting new people. The more the merrier.
- My idea of a great vacation is being somewhere alone—just the two of us. I want to spend the time reading or taking quiet walks. She, on the other hand, wants to meet the locals and go on sight-seeing adventures. The more activities, the better.
- I want to leave immediately after church—being with all those people is exhausting! On the other hand, Gail can’t wait to get to coffee hour. And she takes the hour part seriously. If she is not the last one to leave, she feels cheated.
Which perspective is right?
Neither. The truth is that you need both. Our marriage is so much richer because we are able to draw from two perspectives. My introversion ensures that we go deep and make time to nourish our souls. Her extroversion ensures that we don’t get stuck there, focused exclusively on ourselves. We reach out to others.
The key is learning to appreciate one another—and serve one another.
If your spouse or colleague is an introvert, you need to give him the space to be alone without making him feel guilty for not being more social. If your spouse or colleague is an extrovert, you need to allow him the freedom to socialize without getting annoyed that he isn’t ready to leave when you are.
The key is appreciating your differences rather than resenting them.