Sometimes, the Act of Sharing Boils Down to Self-Worth — Not Introversion

When my wife Adrianne asks me about my day, she means it. She genuinely wants to hear about what I did, what I’ve been thinking about, and how I’m feeling. In some detail.

I need to get the detail part through my head.

Actually, I need to work on my head — my thinking — where sharing is concerned. And I doubt I’m the only introvert on the planet who can say that.

As Sophia Dembling wisely notes in her Psychology TodayIntrovert’s Corner” blog post “When the Listening/Talking Ratio Is Out of Whack,” it’s often easy for us introverts to listen to the stories of other people’s days in great detail while neglecting to share the full stories of our own, or anything even close to it. It takes less energy, and in some ways it’s simply a lifelong habit that is such a part of our essence that we don’t even realize we’re doing it.

Yet it can be problematic, too, as Dembling points out. She says we introverts can find ouselves “perpetually in the position of sounding board,” for starters, which has the potential to lead to fatigue and resentment over time.

But there’s a much more sinister problem to be concerned about.

Often when Adrianne asks me her loving question — “How was your day?” —  my brain’s first response goes something like this:

Fine. I guess. I did some administrative crap this morning, wrote a little, and did some house-y stuff in the afternoon. The end. It’s so boring, who could possibly care to learn more? Yawn.

Not good. Not related to my energy expenditures or my habits. And certainly not at all what Adrianne is looking for with a question that comes straight from her heart each time she asks it.

If you’re an introvert who, like me, struggles to share at times — even with a very close and trusted loved one — you might have a self-worth issue on your hands. And while it may be connected to your introversion, it is not your introversion in and of itself. It’s a different animal. And it will be critical for you to get some help with it, from a counselor (that’s the route I’ve taken) or from another trusted soul in your life.

In the meantime, practice. That’s what I’m doing when Adrianne asks about my day: I’m practicing sharing in detail. One day recently, I knocked the ball out of the park and shared with her for several minutes, elaborating on several activities I was particularly proud of, including blogging. Yesterday, conversely, I laid an egg with my one-word reply: “Fine.” I didn’t come through, for her or for myself.

That has to change.

I don’t have to change who I am as an introvert, and neither do you if you wrestle with this issue. We don’t have to be something we’re not. But we do need to be heard, and to allow other people to hear us.

The only way we can do that is to give people something to hear. Especially when they ask.

Time to Think Leads to Better Responses — Unless, of Course, a Mack Truck Is Bearing Down on You

It was my kind of interview.

It wasn’t for a job (I’m self-employed). I was actually interviewed about my book, The Introvert Manifesto, and my passion for teaching the world how introverts tick and why. It was for a two-part article that appeared on Nancy Ancowitz’s insightful Psychology Today blog entitled “Self-Promotion for Introverts.” (Nancy has a superb book of the same name, by the way — be sure to check it out.)

So what was so special about this particular interview?

It was conducted entirely via the written word. Nancy emailed me her questions and I emailed her my detailed, well-thought-out responses.

It took me a little under three hours to answer the nine questions Nancy posed, undoubtedly far longer than it would have taken in a phone conversation. That’s fine by me; it was time very well spent. As an introvert, I far prefer the email approach when I’m the interviewee. And, having been in Nancy’s shoes as the interviewer hundreds of times myself, I think I can safely say that Nancy prefers it too from her end of the exchange. I’ve been conducting my own interviews this way for years.

I’m the quintessential introvert in many ways but especially this one: I crave having the chance to think, carefully, before I speak, whether I’m literally speaking or reacting to something in writing. Over the years, I’ve gotten better at responding in the moment. But, given the choice, I will always — always — default toward finding, or taking, some time before I speak. Even just five seconds can make a world of difference.

When I did go on job interviews back in the day, I noticed that my best responses to the questions consistently came to me after the interview was over! Often they showed up as soon as I stepped into the elevator to ride down to the main floor of the building, or in the parking lot as I was walking to my car. What I couldn’t come up with in the interview hot seat just minutes before suddenly sprang to my mind in vividTechnicolor, ready to be delivered to … well, no one.


I learned, eventually, that I could indeed share snippets of these higher-quality responses in my thank-you notes to the interviewers. But for the most part the phenomenon was just a bitter aftertaste of a job interview that could have gone so much better.

I saw my preference to think before I speak as a liability, one I couldn’t do much about, be it in job interviews or anywhere else. But that’s not true. Not always, at least.

Sure, if you’re about to be hit by a Mack truck and you’re not able to respond instantly, you’ve got a liability on your hands: your dilly-dallying will kill you. So you can’t exactly expect the world to stop and give you time to ponder in every circumstance.

But as an introvert, you can indeed learn ways to buy yourself time to think in non-life-threatening situations. In job interviews, for example, you can ask for a few seconds to consider a particular question (I started doing that, by the way, and it worked well) before responding. If one of your kids asks you a question that’s hard to answer in the moment, you can tell him/her that you will think about it and answer it later. In that case you can even describe why you want and need the additional time as an introvert — it’s a teachable moment — hopefully modeling a positive behavior in the process.

If you’re an introvert, then, look for your own ways to buy time when you’re responding to life’s challenges, whether your response needs to be verbal, written, or in some other form. With rare exceptions, asking for additional time won’t hurt you at all. In fact, it will help you. And in the long run, it will help the other people in your life as well — because when they do hear from you, they’ll get your best.

Introverts Are People People Too

Even though it’s often joked about, the world doesn’t really see introverts as people haters.

But there’s a fairly widespread, frequently unspoken belief out there that we introverts are merely tolerant of or, at best, indifferent toward or uncomfortable around other people — that while we don’t actively and vocally dislike being around others, we don’t necessarily enjoy it either; we simply put up with it.

Basically, the prevailing thought goes, we introverts are just not people people.

It’s not true. It’s frustrating to have to say it, but it’s simply not true.

I so enjoy talking to other people — but not in a noisy party or reception environment amidst dozens of other people battling for the same airspace, over blaring music no less. Let’s find somewhere a little quieter so we can chat one on one, perhaps over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. I really want to hear and understand what you have to say. It’s important. You’re important. I am too, for that matter. We both deserve to be truly heard.

I so enjoy talking to other people — but not about the weather or the football game on TV. Let’s get into a deeper, more thought-provoking subject. You’ll have both my attention and my appreciation as we exchange observations and ideas about a topic that really matters. We’ll probably both learn something in the process. Even better.

I so enjoy talking to other people — but not for hours on end, nonstop. Let’s take a teeny tiny break once in a while to catch our respective breaths for just a few minutes, then get back together to continue the conversation. You’ll be refreshed. I’ll be refreshed. And our discussion will get a jolt of new energy because we’ve had a chance to reflect and recharge.

I like being with people. I’m a people person; I really am. Introverts are people people too.

It’s the way we like being with other people that is so significantly different from the typical extravert’s way of enjoying people. And it’s this difference in our preferences for interacting that is, sadly, apt to be misconstrued for the sinister something it is not.

You Don’t Need to Be Talking to Be Engaged

One day a few years ago, I drove 40 miles east to my hometown of Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, to participate in the care conference for my 79-year-old mom, who lived in the memory care unit of a nursing home there. (She has since died of Alzheimer’s disease.) I brought with me a copy of my new book, The Introvert Manifesto, to show her and my dad, who was also on hand for Mom’s periodic health update.

The book ended up tagging along to our meeting with the nurse and the social worker who were most involved in my mom’s day-to-day life at the facility. The social worker, Barb — who had always struck me as an introvert to begin with — took one look at the book, picked it up, and started reading.

She opened up to page 24, where she was immediately drawn to a piece entitled “Just Because I’m Not Talking Doesn’t Mean I’m Not Engaged.” As she sat there reading, she nodded and said “yes, yes.” Then she shared with me that she had struggled to articulate this very concept to the other people in her life, especially professionally — and that she was even concerned she might be perceived as disengaged for her upcoming election run for the Detroit Lakes City Council.

“I’ll listen for a long time before I say anything,” Barb stressed. “But that doesn’t mean I’m not participating. And it doesn’t mean I have nothing to say.”

I couldn’t have put it any better myself.

And yet, too often, engagement is equated solely with talking. Not talking is seen as not caring. Which is ironic, because I can’t think of a better way to demonstrate caring than to listen to someone else. Quietly.

This same dilemma resurfaced for me when I ran into Bruce Macfarlane’s thought-provoking Times Higher Education (United Kingdom) article entitled “No Place for Introverts in the Academy?” There he wrote, in the context of the college/university classroom:

“[T]here is no place in the new regime of student engagement for shy students who might participate in less obvious ways through active listening, making eye contact, taking good notes and even, dare I say, thinking. … Yet … listening and reflective introspection need to be understood as legitimate forms of class participation. Silence is just as likely as talking to indicate an engagement with the ideas of others.”

You can challenge Bruce on his use of the term “shy” as a synonym for “introverted,” but his argument is solid. In fact, he and Barb might as well change places. For they are thinking the exact same thing about engagement — an ocean apart, in completely different work environments. And they are most certainly not alone in their frustration.

The typical introvert is going to listen more than he/she talks, especially in settings like work meetings or classroom discussions. The typical introvert is going to take in the information, analyze it carefully, synthesize it in silence, and then — then — perhaps make a comment or offer some feedback or new insight.

That’s not disengagement. It’s the ultimate in true engagement. It just looks and feels a little different from the typical extravert’s idea of engagement.

As an introvert, you might not say much during a conversation or a presentation, at least not right away. But it’s not because you don’t care.

It’s because you do.