I spend a great deal of my time advocating on behalf of introverts, often saying we’re not all the terrible things that the media and ill-informed misconceptions would have many believe: they don’t hate people, they’re not stuck up, they’re not shy or weird or self-involved. With that said, I’m the first to admit that I have some bad habits that I allow to persist with introversion as a readily-identified scapegoat. No longer! I’m pledging to cut down on each of the following habits, and I hope the introverts among you reading will do the same (and extroverts: some of these things may make a bit more sense after you finish this).

Delaying Phone Calls

Being fueled by a slower neurotransmitter (in acetylcholine) means that thoughts take a little longer for introverts to piece together than they do for extroverts, who seem to find their thoughts as they spill out of their mouths. For this reason, synchronous (or real time) communication can be harder for introverts if they don’t have time to think out what they need to say. This makes conversations challenging at times, and phone calls are especially challenging because there are no nonverbal cues to supplement what’s being said. Phone calls- to vendors, to coworkers and collaborators, even to my parents- are often delayed in anticipated dread over these situations.

How to Fix It? Before you head into a phone call, seek to anticipate a few things that the recipient might need to know or want to talk about, and prepare your attack. Alternatively, if you receive a call, weigh the cost of answering the phone versus returning the voicemail later. Which reminds me…

Avoiding Voicemail

A major fault of mine is allowing voicemails to pile up unreturned- I believe my record is 44. Ouch. Understanding how it feels to get phone calls without warning, many introverts are reluctant to put that same feeling on others. That, combined with the anxiety of having to leave a message (which I maintain exists for all, regardless of temperament), can delay the process even further. But this is an instance where introverts can be perceived as rude if calls repeatedly go unaddressed.

How to Fix It? As with the previous issue, weigh the cost involved. Particularly when it’s a call to a friend, consider how they’d feel if they just never heard back from you. Alternatively, if you’d prefer that missed calls be addressed in another fashion, say so in your outgoing voicemail message: ask them to text or email you. This way, people know how you can best be reached and behave accordingly.

Avoiding Confrontation

Arguments can sap a great deal of fuel from the introverted engines, and many introverts will evade the drain by evading conflict altogether. But conflict, despite being time and energy-consuming, is essential for maintaining the sorts of deep and meaningful relationships that introverts actually gain energy from. It is important to work through issues that arise, no matter how uncomfortable or tiring they may feel.

How to Fix It? Set ground rules as you enter into these conversations to “fight fair.” This means disputes should be confined to the issue at hand, and not the people or personalities behind them. Sticking to these rules, no matter how heated the confrontation may get, is essential to protecting the relationship you may literally be fighting to hold on to.

Flaking on Plans

One of the truest quotes I’ve seen in recent years reads, “Commitment means staying loyal to what you said you were going to do long after the mood you said it in has left you.” And indeed, committing to an event, gathering, or task in advance, only to find yourself sapped of the energy to follow through when the time comes is a common issue for introverts. What is truly an energy management issue ends up just looking flaky or noncommital, and it can be problematic for those who count on you.

How to Fix It? I’ve written a post about this elsewhere previously, but I want to add a tip not featured there: if you know you can’t do something or don’t want to, don’t hedge your decision with a “maybe.” If you truly can’t or don’t want to commit to something, say so. This way, a clear decision has been made, and no one is left hanging in the balance.

Delaying Decisions

“Analysis paralysis” is a common ailment for introverts, who have a great deal of time to turn over options in their minds. They may have spent more time assessing the implications of each option than their extroverted counterparts, and may ask more questions to land on an answer than others. However, this inclination is disadvantageous when quick decisions are needed.

How to Fix It? Consider each decision in terms of overall impact. Don’t overthink decisions like where to go for brunch or what to wear to an event; save that energy for larger decisions like how to spend budget surpluses or where to invest a bonus check. Additionally, go into decisions with information- be it restaurant hours or knowledge of what’s clean in your closet, or prospecta for companies of interest for investment. The more information you have, the easier the decision becomes.

Over-Writing

Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of Quiet Influence, identifies writing as one of six Quiet Influence traits for introverts. Indeed, the asynchronous nature of writing allows introverts to spend time crafting their message, and can make this form of communication easier than many others we’re called upon to employ. However, this doesn’t mean that it can be the only way they communicate, a fact introverts sometimes need to be reminded of.

How to Fix It: Rather than keeping the focus on yourself, the sender of the message, focus for a moment on the message’s recipient. Is there nuance that can’t be conveyed in writing, perhaps a message whose tone could be misinterpreted in writing? If this is the case, skip the letter or manifesto and make plans to talk in person or over the phone. Gauge the importance and subject of the topic when deciding how to convey it, and choose the one most appropriate for the message- even if it’s not the most comfortable.

Underappreciating Others

Internal processors like introverts spend a lot of time in their own heads, and it can occasionally (if unintentionally) come at the expense of acknowledgement of the people around them. Shows of appreciation or affection can come with reciprocation in kind that could make them uncomfortable, and so they may avoid them. However, this could be viewed as rude or unappreciative, so it’s important to work against this stereotype.

 

How to Fix It? Show appreciation in your own way- quietly, if you can. For my part, I am a frequent card sender- for holidays, but also just because. Small tokens left with a note of appreciation (a great way to leverage the strength of writing) can speak just as loudly as heartfelt speeches or gushing conversations that may leave introverts feeling exposed.

 

Introverts are often misunderstood, but there is a method to their machinations. I hope that these seven items have given you greater insight into why they are as they are, and how one might go about combating these scourges of the introverted social life.

 

Written by Amma Marfo.