Buying yourself just a few seconds of time to think will help you to contribute your best.

Buying Yourself Time to Think in the Moment—a Key Introvert Skill

When you’re an introvert, having time to think before you share your ideas—even if it’s only a few seconds—is a bigger deal than you might realize.

Sophia Dembling says she’s “terrible” at games that demand speed.

“My attempts at computer games that involve shooting fast-moving objects turn into frenzied and ineffectual smashing of computer keys,” Dembling writes in her informative book The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World.

She fares no better, she says, in games where players have to think of a certain number of words in a specified timeframe.

As she notes in the book:

“I come up with words, but other people come up with more. I find this mildly embarrassing, what with my being a writer and all.”

Like many introverts, Dembling always figured she was just a slower thinker compared to most extroverts. But years ago, when she ran her theory past personality researcher Robert Stelmack, he set her straight.

Introverts are not necessarily slower thinkers than extroverts, Stelmack told her. But they are slower than extroverts at acting on their thoughts, particularly when it comes to translating thoughts to speech in the immediate moment.

Introverts Need Time to Think

When I first read this idea, I 
remember the proverbial light bulb going on in my head.

“That’s why my best answers at job interviews always come afterwards, in the elevator as I’m leaving the building!” I thought to myself.

We introverts need our thinking time—before, during, and after our experiences. We need to think before an experience to prepare for it, and after an experience to process it.

And during an experience?

It’s almost always to buy ourselves time to verbally respond somehow.

That’s damn difficult.

Fortunately, we have some helpful strategies we can turn to.

Here are four that I’ve developed—or borrowed!—over the years.

“Can I Take a Second?”

It had never occurred to me, and no one had ever told me, that if I was in a job interview, for example, I could respond in the moment to a tricky question by simply asking:

“Could I take a few seconds to think about that?”

But that’s exactly what I, and you, can do.

It’s a tactic that works in similar situations as well, like those on-the-job meetings where someone asks you something and you can almost feel your brain’s gears locking up, 
as they struggle to generate a response that will actually come out of your mouth.

Think about it: Is anyone really going to fault you for asking for a few seconds to ponder?

“Please Repeat”

TV game show contestants often use the “can you please repeat the question?” strategy to buy themselves a bit more time to come up with an answer.

You can do the same, either by asking your questioner to literally repeat the question or, more likely, by getting them to clarify exactly what they’re asking about when the question is broad or vague.


“When you say ‘future planning,’ are you talking about the coming weeks and months, or the coming years?”

“I’ll Have More to Say Later”

You probably know that you’ll eventually have something substantive to say about most anything that comes up in your daily life—the keyword being “eventually.”

So another thing you can do in the moment is offer up any initial thoughts you have, along with a foreshadowing of the more-detailed response you’ll be able to offer later.


“I’m sure I’ll have more to say after I think about it, but for now let me just say this …”

If you’re in a relatively new environment where people are just starting to get to know you, you can add something like:

“I’m better able to contribute when I can think things over first, but here’s my initial take …”

“I’ll Get Back to You”

You can also respond in the moment by deciding not to respond in the moment at all—and then communicating that decision to the person you’re dealing with, along with 
a firm pledge to respond thoughtfully by a specific time.


“I’m sorry but I can’t give you an answer at this moment. I’m up against a deadline, and I also need some time to think it all through. I’ll get back to you by tomorrow morning, though. I’ll send you a detailed email and then come talk to you around 9.”

Take Time to Think—to Pause

Our introverted brains “are what they are,” Dembling says.

They are not only slower to act on thoughts in the moment, they’re also more apt to dwell on thoughts in order to process them deeply.

“So we need to allow our brains that room, accept it, and respect it,” Dembling stresses:

“Let people know when we need to pause for thought. [And] refuse to let anyone force us into hasty decisions.”

2 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *