Introverts’ and extroverts’ preferred communication styles are fundamentally different. If people don’t realise this, introvert-extrovert conversations can be fraught with potential misunderstandings, inaccurate assumptions and wrongly inferred meanings, leaving one, or sometimes both, participants feeling frustrated and dissatisfied.
Neither communication style is better than the other, they are just different. As such, for an introvert-extrovert conversation to feel mutually satisfying, both people need at least a basic understanding of how their communication needs differ. Sadly, this is often not the case, sometimes even for people who have been in close introvert-extrovert relationships for years.
To help redress the balance, here is a list of five basic differences in introverts’ and extroverts’ communication styles and the problems that they sometimes cause. As with everything in this blog, not all of these will apply to everyone in every situation.
How we think
Introverts tend to: think internally, i.e. need time to think things through before speaking; find it difficult to think and talk at the same time; be uncomfortable talking spontaneously about unfamiliar subjects
Extroverts tend to: think externally, i.e. think by talking things through; think and talk at the same time; be comfortable talking spontaneously on multiple subjects
Results: to extroverts, an unprepared introvert may appear as if they either don’t have any opinions or are deliberately withholding their opinions; extroverts can interpret an introvert’s silence as agreement with what they are saying/proposing
How much we listen vs talk
Introverts tend to: listen more than they talk; be uncomfortable interrupting and wait for a gap in the conversation before speaking; talk at a slower pace to allow thinking time
Extroverts tend to: talk more than they listen; expect people to interrupt/talk over them when they want to speak; talk more quickly and fill in any gaps in the conversation
Results: the extrovert dominates the talking and the introvert tunes out of the one-sided conversation; extroverts can get impatient with an introvert’s pace of thinking and speaking
What we talk about
Introverts tend to: dislike small talk; prefer to explore one subject at a time and in more depth
Extroverts tend to: be happy making small talk; move quickly back and forth between subjects
Results: extroverts can think introverts are unfriendly or too serious; introverts on their pet subject can be difficult to stop
How comfortable we are with conflict
Introverts tend to: be quite uncomfortable with conflict; withdraw when conversations start to get heated
Extroverts tend to: be comfortable with airing strong feelings; enjoy a good scrap
Results: introverts may think extroverts are being aggressive or disrespectful, extroverts may think introverts are being distant and aloof, or that they don’t care about the subject
How much energy we have
Introverts tend to: be low energy so appear less animated; be drained by too much talking; disengage if they can’t find a way into the conversation;
Extroverts tend to: be high energy so show stronger reactions; be energised by talking
Results: to extroverts, introverts can appear flat and dull or look as if they are not really interested