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Mistakes Introverts Make

Some pitfalls of letting your introversion hold too much power.

We are all so very wonderful and yet--I'm sorry, but it must be said--we are not perfect. This blog has focused mostly on staking out turf in our culture for introverts, but now it's time to consider some things related to our introversion that might be interfering with our relationships and accomplishments. Many or most of us have probably made some of these mistakes at one time or another. I certainly have.

Isolating: Sure, some people need more social interaction than others, but we all need some. Too much isolation is not healthy. I know it's time to leave the house when I start feeling gloomy in my solitude, or like I'm getting weird. Weird is subjective, but when going to the supermarket feels like a major excursion, when I start worrying that I may have lost the ability to converse, when I get furious at near-strangers in my online social networks, I know it's time for face time. I call a friend, do lunch, attend a party...anything to get my social gears cranking again. It needn't be anything deep and meaningful. Just a little something to reconnect me.

Not returning phone calls: Yes, we hate the phone, and it's OK to ask that people respect and honor this. But that doesn't give us carte blanche to ignore phone calls. When someone you care about calls--even if you let it go to voicemail to deal with later--you really should respond at some point. If necessary, drop an e-mail and schedule the call. Otherwise, pick up the phone and dial. You can do it.

OK, if someone obstinately refuses any other form of communication and insists on frequent time-sucking phone calls, then you get some leeway to make your point. Otherwise, be nice. (I learned this lesson after hurting the feelings of a very dear friend.)

Plunging into the deep end: As much as we prefer deep conversation, plunging straight into your worldview over the onion dip at a party can be off-putting to others. Start shallow and ease into the deep if the conversation continues. If you're looking for friends, remember that insta-friendships are rare, and rushing the conversation isn't a shortcut. Friendships build incrementally, and they start with small talk.

Letting your mouth run away with you: Ah, the dreaded babble. It happens. Lots of us chatter when we're nervous. Shy introverts might be prone to this. It's like running down a hill; once you get started, it's hard to slow down. But it also might happen when the subject is something you are particularly passionate about. Either you get caught up in your own enthusiasm, or you burrow deep into your own knowledge and forget to check audience reaction.

If you suddenly realize you've careened into a long monologue, take a breath and look around. Do people appear rapt? Then continue. Do they look slightly pained? My favorite line at that point is, "But don't get me started...." Cue laughter, everything's fine.

Confusing introversion and fear: We all must do things we don't like. That's life. But if you find that you can't bring yourself to do certain things-return a phone call, attend a gathering, join a conversation-then what you're feeling may be fear, not introversion. Fear is a useful emotion, of course, with deep evolutionary roots. But if it interferes with your life and you find yourself regretting things not done, maybe it's time to rummage around in your psyche (one of our favorite activities!) to figure out what you're scared of and how to change that.

Judging: Some introverts insist that parties are pointless, chit-chat is a waste of time, and extroverts are shallow. I neither share nor endorse those opinions. Parties can be joyous, and community ritual has been important throughout history. Chit-chat connects us and greases the gears of society. And while I'm sure some extroverts are shallow, as I'm sure some introverts are (thinking deeply about yourself only does not make you a deep person), a blanket dismissal of extroverts is bigoted and, well, shallow.

Just 'cause I don't like something doesn't mean it's bad.


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