To feel our best and offer our best, introverts need time to think—because there’s lots to process in the introvert’s brain!
It was my kind of interview.
It wasn’t for a job. I was actually being interviewed about my book The Introvert Manifesto and my passion for sharing with the world how introverts tick and why.
It was all for a two-part article that appeared in 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.)
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 back with my detailed, well-thought-out responses.
It took me a little under three hours to answer the nine questions Nancy had posed, which is undoubtedly far longer than it would have taken had the two of us been on the phone together.
But that’s fine by me.
It was time very well spent.
The Introvert’s Way—Think, Then Speak
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 say that Nancy, too, preferred it from her side of the exchange.
I’m the quintessential introvert in many ways, but especially this one: I need—I crave—the chance to think before I speak, whether I’m literally speaking aloud or reacting to something in writing.
Over the years, I’ve gotten a little better at responding in the moment. But, given the choice, I will always default toward finding, or taking, some time—if only a few seconds—before I speak.
And I’m not the only one.
Introverts Need Time to Process
One of the first reviewers of The Introvert Manifesto was my then girlfriend and now wife, Adrianne, herself an introvert.
Something Adrianne said in her notes to me highlighted the unspoken urgency of the idea that, for introverts, time to think is imperative:
“Sensory overload is REAL!”
In the context of meetings, she continued by way of example:
“I won’t speak up, but I do have lots to say! I just need time to hear others’ thoughts and opinions before formulating my own.” (emphasis added)
I’ve learned in the seven or so years since then that Adrianne still needs this momentary (or not so momentary!) pause—she calls it processing time—to be her best.
And I know I need the same thing, as do so many of the rest of us.
As trainer and consultant Juliet Funt puts it in the online introductory material to her fascinating book A Minute to Think: Reclaim Creativity, Conquer Busyness, and Do Your Best Work:
You’re not alone in your yearning for freedom from constant reactivity. The global workforce today is so fried that it belongs in the food court of a county fair. We’re relentlessly behind the curve, dousing fires everywhere, and our 3 a.m. insomnia provides the only unscheduled thinking time of the day.
But you can change that.
Unless It’s Life Threatening, Buy Time
Obviously, having a little time to think before you speak/react isn’t always feasible. If you’re about to be hit by a speeding Mack truck, for example, responding like a philosopher will get you killed.
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 most non-life-threatening situations.
In those pesky job interviews, for example, you can ask for a few seconds to consider a particular question 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’ll think about it and answer it later. You can even describe why introverts need to think in order to effectively process information—it’s a teachable moment—so that you model a positive behavior at the same time.
Give Yourself a Little “White Space” in Life
On a broader level, you can take Funt’s advice to heart and intentionally build what she calls white space—“freed time in the day to think (and breathe, and ponder, and plan, and create)”—into your life, even if it’s possible only in one- or two-minute blocks at times.
Awareness of your introverted need for thinking time/white space is the first step toward prioritizing it in your life. You only stand to gain by taking the time you need to think before you respond.
And in the long run, the other people in your life will benefit too—because when they eventually do hear from you, they’ll get your best.