Sometimes I think that introverts and extroverts are from different planets, and I am not alone in picturing it that way.
Quiet Revolution co-founder Susan Cain calls the distance from introversion to extroversion the “single most important aspect of personality.” One leading scientist calls it the “north and south of temperament.”
In her book Quiet, Cain explains that the introvert-extrovert dynamic “influences our choice of friends and mates, and how we make conversation, resolve differences, and show love. It affects the careers we choose and whether or not we succeed at them.”
The Odd Couple
For instance, an introvert and an extrovert can find themselves married to one another or working in the same offices. And if they are not conscious of their differences, watch out.
I am speaking from personal experience here. I have been married to my wife Gail for almost 40 years. She is an extrovert. I am an introvert. In the early years of our marriage, this was a source of constant friction.
Frankly, it’s a miracle we got through it alive and with our marriage still intact.
Not What You Expected
When people think of introverts and extroverts, there are plenty of misconceptions. Many people wrongly assume that I am an extrovert because I became the 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’ve learned to “turn it on” when they need to, yet are far more comfortable away from the crowds and the lights.
The real difference between introverts and extroverts is in what energizes us. Ask yourself, “Where do I get my energy: by being alone or by being with others?” Conversely, you could ask, “What drains me?”
Introverts like me are energized by being alone. People drain us. Extroverts like Gail are energized by others. Being alone drains them. There are exceptions. I also enjoy being with people sometimes and she enjoys some time alone. But this is not our dominant mode of renewal.
A Guide to the Differences
To explain the difference in how introverts and extroverts interact with the world, I’ll show you how Gail and I see things differently in 3 broad social areas of life.
1. Circle of Friends
- 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.
2. Rest and Relaxation
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.
Gail wants to meet the locals and go on sight-seeing adventures. The more activities, the better.
3. Regular Social Functions
I want to leave immediately after church. Being with all those people is exhausting!
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.
You may ask yourself, “Which perspective is right?” But that’s not the right way of thinking about it. 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—and that’s a good thing.
The key to getting along with your opposite personality type in marriage, at the office, or in other social situations is in learning to appreciate one another.
If you’re living or working with an introvert, give him space to be alone and don’t guilt trip him for not being more social.
And if your spouse or colleague is an extrovert, allow her the freedom to socialize without getting annoyed when she isn’t ready to leave at the same time you are.
See if you can learn something and even enjoy yourself while you’re spending time with this creature from another planet.