How to get to know an introvert – the slower the better!

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Although I’m the Counselor (INFJ) personality type and usually hear or figure out someone’s life story within just a few minutes and even enjoy helping people with whatever’s bothering them, I don’t appreciate instant familiarity in the form of abrasiveness or sarcasm. The difference is, I want to be approached in a appropriate way with appropriate boundaries respected, then if we decide to talk about something more personal, we will.

I’m happy to make a remark about a mutual situation to a stranger (“Do you think this line will ever move?”) and to exchange pleasantries with anyone, but I don’t expect anyone to make unwanted personal remarks or tease me about anything when we don’t yet know each other!

A few years ago we merged offices with another group. I knew that Monday morning would be awful, as everyone tried to get logged in and get settled, and of course now I’d have double the coworkers, with half of them being strangers. I was in the IT department, but we did have a well-known procedure people should go through if they were having trouble, and everyone knew that. I arrived at work a little early that Monday morning, and a woman I’d never seen before said loudly, “Hey cb, wanna get to work? I can’t get logged in.” ExCUSE me? “Wanna get to work?” I was actually early, plus my presence or lack of it wasn’t keeping her from getting logged in; she was supposed to call the help desk. I didn’t say any of that, of course. Instead I quietly said I’d see if I could help.

A week or so ago a woman came into our office. She works for our company, in another division, and I’d never met her before. First I heard her go into the office of an extremely extroverted young man. I could hear her loud voice and I soon heard him laughing. Then she came my way. Standing in my doorway not smiling, she demanded of me in a loud voice, “Have I met you?” I answered calmly but not taking the bait, “I’m afraid I don’t know.” Then someone introduced us, and before I could finish saying, “It’s nice to meet you…” she blurted to the other person (or to me?), “And what does cb do?” I didn’t know if I was supposed to answer this strange question that was asked in front of me but not directed at me, but the other person did. And after she left, he told me that he knew that her extremely abrasive personality would set me on edge. :) Later I asked the young extrovert about her and he said, “Oh, I just thought she was a big tough woman and it was a real hoot!”

Most of the time the almost insulting unwanted attention comes from people who know my friends or coworkers. They seem to think that by extension, they’ve known me for years and that it will be amusing somehow for them to comment about what I happen to be drinking or wearing that day.

The best analogy I have for this sort of thing is the cat/dog one that Nick Laborde mentioned in this comment. I feel like a cat. You may approach me, but do so in a controlled manner if I don’t know you. Or if you look receptive and don’t jump all over me, I may approach you! My friend down the hall is a golden retriever. Sure, go rushing right up to him, thump him on the side, throw the ball for him. Just don’t ignore him, because that’s what he hates most in this world.

If you’re an extrovert and find that an introvert seems to shrink away from you when you try to have fun with him, are you overstepping his boundaries with friendly insults as if you know him very well (when really you don’t)? Why not tone it down and talk about something he’s working on or a hobby, instead of blasting him with so much overwhelming attention?

And as an introvert, I’m going to try to learn to be a little more detached and notice the “real hoot” in situations instead of getting my hackles up so easily. Maybe I’ll get a laugh out of the next boorish intruder!

Photo credit: JohnSeb

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38 Comments

  1. I wondered about this recently; can two people who have very different, almost polar personality types ever get along? And what about meeting for the first time someone who is totally different personality type from your own? Do introverted people feel overwhelmed and intimidated by extroverts to the degree that they would rather cut all interaction than to give the other person a second chance?
    Elaine@Commitment Advice´s last post ..Why Men Who Seem To Avoid Some Women Chase Others

    • Hi Elaine, sure, two of my very favorite guys to hang out with at work are extremely extroverted. But in both cases, they were nice to me from the time we first met, sharing funny things with me, but never ever embarrassing me with “friendly” insults or other invasive behaviors. By now I consider them both really good friends, so by now they could tease me about something and it would be fine.

      I’d think the only thing an extrovert would have to do to get a second chance – at least in my case – would be to back off just a wee bit and show the introvert that it’s safe to talk to them without the introvert being in danger of the verbal equivalent of a fraternity hazing. :)

    • Hi Elaine,

      I would add to CBs response that yeah, polar opposites can get along. In fact, Paula Abdul wrote a song about it back in the 90′s.

      I think the key is, based on personal experience, is to understand and respect the others personality.
      Nick Laborde´s last post ..Stay Hungry Stay Foolish

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  3. Love the cat/dog analogy – I’ve actually used it before because it’s so simple and accurate. Isn’t it funny that almost all cats are introverts and almost all dogs are extroverts? Makes me wonder what an MBTI for cats or dogs would look like, if introversion/extroversion isn’t one of the preference pairs.
    Hunter Nuttall@Personal Development for Polymaths´s last post ..9 Life Lessons From Texas Hold’em

    • It really is funny – down to the part where the cat isn’t *shy*, he’s just checking things out before jumping in. A cat will circle a visitor in really big circles, just observing. Hmm…I think my two cats have a good degree of N in their MBTIs too, because we may all be found daydreaming with that same look on our faces.

  4. I haven’t posted to this blog in a while, but this entry hit home with me, because I have experienced this kind of overly familar behavior, on a couple of occasions, and usually these very same people who have been overly familar with me, seemed to be very sensitive when comments were directed at them or they got a dose of their own medicine. I find this to be so ironic, because they think it is ok to say whatever they want, but as soon as I did it to them, they play victim, and that’s one thing that I don’t like and have gotten enough of a voice to call people out on their hypocritical behavior and double standards.

    Now that I have stated that, I am going to give a couple of examples of how I have experienced overly familar behavior. When I started working at what is now a former job, a few years ago, I got along well with most of my coworkers, but there were three coworkers in particular that really started to get on my nerves because of their overly familar behavior toward me. One of them seemed to take amusement in tormenting me about my job performance, even though the way I did my work was none of her business. But she took any chance she could to make comments, and also she didn’t hesitate to comment about my appearance. If I happened to be having a bad hair day, she would make a comment as soon as she saw me. If my hair had just been done at the salon, she would make a comment if she saw me. If I took a long time helping a customer, she would want to know what was going on, after the customer had left. You get where I am going with this… She was just a very nosey-parker. After a few months of putting up with her nosey behavior, and after one particularly annoying incident of her nosiness, I decided that I didn’t want to tolerate her anymore. So I went into work one day, with the intention of completely blocking her out, and the next thing I know, I am trying to have a conversation with a manager, and this nosey coworker gets into the conversation. I ended up mocking her, because I was so annoyed. She then had the nerve to call me out, in a very loud voice, for my behavior. I ended up writing her up to management and informing them of her hypocritcal behavior because I couldn’t deal with her loud mouth and intrusive behaviors anymore, and also the fact that she was trying to scold me. I even asked to be placed on a different work shift because I didn’t feel comfortable around her. That’s the kind of person I refuse to tolerate or to have any respect for, because they are usually very unaware of how they act and they are very obnoxious. And in this case, I felt that this woman had narcissistic personality disorder and I refused to play that game with her, because it tends to be a game with them, in which they will try to target and try to control people.

    Then the second person seemed to not know the concept of personal space. I immediately got a bad vibe about him when I started at that job, but I still talked to him whenever he approached me. But after a few months, my uncomfortable feeling around him got to the point where I would feel nervous and anxious whenever he was close by, because I felt that he would invade my personal space. So sure enough, one day, I happened to be in the staff area, getting ready to start my shift. The next thing I know, he enters the room, comes right up behind me, and nudges me in my back. I immediately walked away from him and refused to engage him in conversation. He followed me out onto the work floor, asking what was wrong, and I still did not engage him. He finally got the hint and walked off. I did not speak to him at any point after that. The worse part about the whole thing was that he was the head of security at that job, so if anyone should have been aware of personal space boundaries, it should have been him. But oh no, he was creepy.

    The third coworker was a bit of a pest but she and I continued to talk and I really didn’t mind her over all personality. The one thing that irked me about her was that she was definitely sarcastic, and she seemed to target me with it. I put up with it for a few months, and then one day, when I was annoyed enough, I called her out on it, in a matter of fact, straight forward way. That’s pretty much all it took for her to tone down the sarcasm. She knew that I was more of a serious person, so she stopped bugging me as much. I saw that she at least respected that aspect of my personality, enough to tone down her behavior, so I remained on speaking terms with her and we got along quite well. There are some cases, such as this one, where I will give the person the benefit of the doubt. I knew that in this case, the sarcasm was just one aspect of her personality and that there were things that I truly liked about her.

    • Hey JW! Very glad to see you again. Yes, there are a lot of people who we just have to avoid, but many are like that third coworker of yours who we end up getting along with and even liking. They just came on ‘way too strong in the beginning but maybe didn’t know any better. :)

  5. I’m pretty sure that I am a (INFJ) Counselor as well, so I can totally relate. Which is why I dread and suck at networking type events. Oddly enough I am the only person at my office that gets along with every one, even the outgoing extroverts. I guess that’s the counselor in me. It just takes me I while to reveal my true self.

    Thanks for the shout out, the cat/dog analogy is the best way I know how to explain it.
    Nick Laborde´s last post ..Stay Hungry Stay Foolish

      • Hah, me too! It’s in an academic setting as opposed to the workplace, but still, go figure right?

        At school, I’m like Nick as well in that I am one of the only people that gets along with everybody. Not sure where it came from, but somehow I’ve become a pretty ‘popular’ guy. :)

        Not too shabby for somebody that originally took a month to open himself up to his classmates and will still isolate himself from the mindless chatter of the room with his headphones on a daily basis. :P

      • hi guys! I am an INTP. It seems people will forgive the alone time if they’re convinced by some sort of obvious constant emotional display or investment on the I’s part that makes them feel less threatened by the quiet. I think I’ve even seen the same result when the E is *projecting* a positive emotional response onto an I. Do you think it’s just that the F is what earns more respect from Es?

        • Hi Kayle, I’m an INTP too and I know what you mean. Luckily I have an extroverted husband and when I’m with him he does a lot of the relating to people and the friendly stuff which leaves me free to observe and study the situation, which I would much rather do! People that know me understand that I’m not much of a talker and are used to my silences. Other than that I have become an expert in avoidance over the years and have learnt how to block out unwanted interactions through simple things such as avoiding eye contact and looking busy and preoccupied.

  6. Just to follow up, I am an INFP. I don’t really have a problem getting along with others, but there have been a few times, like in the examples I gave above, that I have gotten very annoyed with a few people. I think that there are people who seem to think that I am an easy target because I “seem” laid back and even timid to some extent. So people think that they can say and do whatever they want around me. So, consequently, they are very shocked when I get annoyed enough and speak up for myself. After I do that, they don’t know how to act around me, because they realize that I am not predictable or “timid”. INFPs have a whole lot of empathy for people, and at times, that can actually be a burden for me.

    • I know what you mean, since I’m burdened with that same empathy. I’ve been totally shocked at the lack of empathy I’ve found even in some people who are very nice and would do anything for others if they’re asked. They just can’t empathize or “see” what we see.

  7. I’m an INFP, too, JW. I’ve shocked people the same way. Quiet does not equal timid, though many people think it does.

    I logged in to share a story that I think will be well understood here. I am having a conflict with a neighbor over boundary issues. A few months ago, I was taking a nap on a Saturday afternoon, exhausted from work all week, and I hear voices outside. There she is with 6 other people, right off my deck. Later I asked her what they were doing there and she said they came to see the horses. I explained that I don’t want people showing up at my house on the weekends, when it’s my “home” time. She does not work and is home all week, I don’t care if she brings people over during that time frame, just don’t invade my space. She apologized.

    So last Sunday I get a phone call from her — yes, napping again — asking if she and some friends can come over to pick up a bed from here. She started out with, “I know you don’t like people over on the weekends…” but then quickly added, “But Bill only has his truck here today”. I was mad but agreed, knowing I’d have to deal with it all again if I did not. She apologized the next day via email but discussing it further just made the whole thing worse, and now there are hard feelings on both sides. I get tired of explaining what seems like simple common courtesy to me. Really, you were just at church and felt inspired to come and get the bed afterward, and nobody knew in advance that that was the plan? I would like to cut her off totally but as we both live way out in the country, there are times when we will need one another’s help. Advice?

    • OTHERS DO ENJOY COMPANY ON THE WEEKENDS. Even if your neighbor doesn’t work outside the home during the week, her friends probably do. This is the only time they and MOST PEOPLE have when they can be together. Ever notice how many people go out to dinner with family and friends after church, NOT “take a nap”? Everyone is different. That your neighbor and her friends are loud & extroverted and you are not is the only problem. Some people will not get it even if you explain it to them, but don’t expect them to be a mind reader, or act like they’re doing things differently just to upset you.
      Instead, you need to reach a real compromise that doesn’t equal your neighbor not seeing her friends (and I’d say it shouldn’t include her not entertaining during normal entertaining hours. That’s really a way of making her comfortable in her own home). Try using earplugs, directing a white or pink noise-maker in the direction of their house, or playing some music during your naptime. And try asking them to stay away from ?YOUR? horses (I’d make up some excuse about how “sensitive” or “crazy” or “sick” they are. They may only end up thinking YOU’RE crazy, but that will keep them away, too.) And try spending regular, appointed , extroverted time WITH your neighbor so that they start to understand that you’re not mean, but that is the only time that they are going to get.
      Or move.

      • I don’t appreciate your post at all. I don’t need to reach a compromise on what my neighbor can do at MY house. She can do what she likes and see her friends when she likes at HER house. I’m certainly not wearing earplugs in case the neighbor wants to come to my house uninvited and bring a group of people with her. Good grief.

        • Sorry, I wasn’t clear that she had left her house to come to yours!! It sounded like she might have still been on her side of the fence, in which case there really is little you can do. Sorry for your predicament.

        • Sorry, I wasn’t clear that she had left her house to come to yours!! It sounded like she might have still been on her side of the fence, in which case there really is little you can do. Sorry for your predicament.

          …Wait, you do have a fence, right? And is it far away from your house??
          Otherwise, *to an extrovert* and their buddies, it will seem perfectly reasonable to wander WHEREVER (no html, sorry) on a Saturday afternoon, without them being crazy and/or *actually* trespassing. And that they are loud and near your house and that you might mind it on a Saturday afternoon will not seem as obvious to them as it does to you. Some people are dolts, but some people really do move to the country *to have the room to entertain* and that they do all their *really important* extroverting on the weekend. They might even think you should know you’re um…invited…and that you should be happier about being included, or being considered laid-back enough that they don’t have to ask your permission to do so near your house.

          Many extroverts won’t know or believe that they’re legitimately keeping you from doing an activity that you need to do –”Nothing”. (I know I remember having to say that I was doing “nothing” when I was little. I remember how I still thought it was important and resented being interrupted, even if it was “nothing.” I also remember that almost nobody else seemed to care or understand.) They probably feel the same way about being loud and roaming.

          Also, many of them can only respond well to physical barriers and more “substantial” excuses- meaning ones that exist in the physical world, especially ones THEY would engage in at that time. For example, “the BABY is sleeping” or “my elderly mom needs her rest” or “my weekly soufflee time”. Find something plausible, given how much they’re likely to find out about you, that it’s ‘impossible’ to avoid or engage in at another time. If that doesn’t work, then they really are nutty and insensitive and you will have to get used to it or wait until one of you moves. Or gets a restraining order. I am dead serious.

          They might also think that asking someone to engage in what is normally a weekend activity for most people (spending time with friends, home projects, moving) at another time is not going to sound reasonable to them. Many people are too busy with family & work at other times and it will just sound like you’re sending mixed signals by saying you’ll accommodate them, but refusing to do so at a time that’s convenient to them. This will be especially so when you do it without offering a time that’s potentially convenient to both of you. And it’s really up to you to lead the negotiating, since they will have no way to gauge your sincerity (or your schedule) otherwise.<<—

          I hope I'm being more helpful this time. Good luck. Sorry again about the misunderstanding and the tone.

          • You’re still basing your premise on the idea that I:

            a) want to spend time with the neighbor and
            b) owe her some kind of excuse for not wanting company or
            c) owe her and her friends visiting rights to my home

            I think I’m being accommodating by saying that she’s free to bring friends over to the house to see the horses during the week — the week during which she does not work and I do — whenever she wants. It’s the weekends when I’m home that I don’t need or want the intrusion.

            • I think you are definitely being more than accommodating. I had horses as a teenager and would have never wanted strangers to have unsupervised access to them. Despite their size, horses can easily get sick or hurt if an idiot feeds them something or some quantity they shouldn’t or throws something at them to make them run and buck.

              I think setting those “hours of operation” was a great idea, and it’s just a shame your neighbor can’t understand or empathize.

          • Also, she wasn’t just casually chatting over the fence, she and her parade were actually in my garden. Outside my bedroom, when I was napping — which is a perfectly reasonable thing for someone who works all week to do on a Saturday afternoon.

  8. An introvert may not be shy at all but may merely prefer non social or less social activities. Introverts tend to be more reserved and less outspoken in large groups. They often take pleasure in solitary activities such as reading, writing, music, drawing, tinkering, playing video games, watching movies and plays, and using computers, along with some more reserved outdoor activities such as fishing. I believe Im part introvert and part extrovert which kinda makes me into a ambivert cause it’s not all the time that I want to be alone sometimes I want to go out and have fun with everyone.
    Andrea @ Anelli Xavier Reviews´s last post ..New Post

  9. I just recently took a personality test and I found out that I was an influential person. So I don’t consider myself an introvert. But I used to hang out with individuals who are introvert or melancholic. Anyway, I got valuable insights from you on how I gonna deal and interact with them. Also, I do agree with you “the slower the better!” We can fully appreciate the beauty of each individual if we just discover them step by step but persistently. Thanks!

  10. Yeah. See “nutty,” “trespassing,” and “restraining order.”
    Otherwise:
    I think you’ve already established that she is not going to see things the way you do, regardless of validity, so your only alternative is to train her by putting validity aside. This is always how it is when you are dealing with crazy (=poor boundary recognition) people. I’m not saying you should like it, but that in order to get what you want (which might include a ride to the hospital or her at least knowing from the outside of the house when things have gone horribly wrong on the inside enough to call the police), you are probably going to have to give her at least some of what she wants or give her a really good reason why she can’t. And yes, I’m saying at this point, unless you bring in another influence, probably with some authority over her or threat, *she* gets to define “reasonable.” You get to decide how much of her version of “reasonable” you’re willing to take and how you’re going to deal with the consequences. It’s not fair, but again…”crazy. ”
    But I thought you were going to give her a bed? I was referring to that when I said weekend activities like moving.
    She is feeling sad or angry because she knows you two didn’t come to a mutual decision and that you resent it. I’m just trying to point out that you could have said no, but suggested a better time or at least said you would think about it and tried to reschedule later instead of getting angry AND giving in . You might have been able to schedule more to your liking in advance of the incident, too (which is something many Is have to do with everything. It’s a pain yes, but much of the time, the only alternative is putting up with or renegotiating what you end up with) .
    I know you didn’t want to have your time interrupted or to have to say no, but I was under the impression that you agreed to help her. (And is she helping you, too, by getting rid of the bed? If she is, doesn’t that count for something?) If you really want to work situations like that out without letting the other person feel like you are jerk (because you might still want them to drive you to the hospital some day), you really have to work at giving them the impression that THEIR convenience counts, too. I’m not telling you necessarily to violate your own boundaries by doing so, but it helps to give the impression that you care what someone else wants or needs (and is giving you) while you’re negotiating. If you want to keep things friendly. I know ideally, you wouldn’t “negotiate” boundaries, but I think unless you want to lose that relationship altogether, you will have to.
    However, if you don’t care about your neighbor, you should just say no all the time and not worry about how either of you feel about it and not expect her to help you should you need it in the future. Lots of people do it. You just have to decide if that’s what will make you comfortable.

  11. You keep missing the point. There was no “advance” notice on her coming to get the bed. I was storing it for a friend of hers and had no idea they wanted it that weekend, or at all. I got 20 minutes’ notice when they called from church to announce they had a truck and were coming to get it, totally out of the blue.

    Rescheduling it would have only meant going through more hassle later — arranging the time and then dealing with them (on the weekend, I’m sure) some other day. Better to suck it up and get it over with than prolong the ordeal.

    And good lord, we’re not barbarians…she would take me to the hospital if I needed it and vice versa, no matter what petty differences we had.

    • Also, she’s not nutty. She grew up in a very close knit clan who were always together and she likes her life with lots of people around. I prefer quiet time. I don’t think she’d met someone like me before and it took a while to understand that not everybody lives in a pack and loves drop in visitors.

  12. So the problem is (active listening): You don’t mind her, but she’s not listening. Now she’s mad that you’re mad? And you’re annoyed that you have to deal with that? Okay

    On to advice, if that’s what you’re after. I can’t tell from what you’re putting out there.

    I got that there was no immediate advance notice. However, in my experience, there is the initial agreement, (if not, then how is it that something that belongs to her is at your house?) then plans are made. If she has the consistent problem of finalizing only at the last minute when it is convenient for her, in order to make such agreements work for you, you have to address that problem.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but you would have been happy to give her the bed at a mutually agreed upon time, even if it were slightly less than ideal for you, right? Well because you’re the only one who understands or respects that, you’re the one who’s going to have to be assertive in 1.setting up those plans and 2.sticking to them. They’re your boundaries. You can’t make her believe in or agree with or like them, but you can still get what you (both) want if you are the one who is proactive about it. If that doesn’t work eventually (you may have to be persistent), and you are being clear that that is what you are doing, then her attitude is no longer your problem.

    I realize initiative and persistence in boundary communication is a pain in the butt, but it is a skill we have to learn to use if you want to avoid scenarios like the present one. Most introverts are much better at hearing “no” than the general population. I had to learn that extroverts (and negotiators) tend to hear “maybe later” and assume that you said no because you hadn’t really thought it through (because of they way the don’t think about things before they talk). You have to adjust if you want to be heard.

    People who need something from you or decent people who are that weird about boundaries tend to forget they were offended, but remember that you’re “just like that” and get over it. I think that’s more of an extrovert thing of only understanding concrete boundaries (after testing them 87^nth times) and a maturity of thing not taking your boundaries personally, even if they don’t agree with the weight you put on them.

    I’m not saying it doesn’t backfire, but in those cases, I think there’s very little you can do anyway. Except maybe try to dissuade them from their hurt feelings every time they get offended because you defended yourself. But you already know that’s exhausting.
    http://www.theintrovertzcoach.com/hermit_loner_setting_boundaries.html

    All in all, *I* am confused where your boundaries lie and what you want out of this relationship. and *I* am an introvert and wouldn’t be caught dead on your property without your knowledge unless I was doing you a service. She must be totally lost.

    Listen, you’re territorial. I’m not and I get the impression that your neighbor isn’t either. If you want to be territorial AND you WANT to have a successful relationship with someone who is not, you have to make it clear that you are making room FOR them somewhere. You’re not communicating that positive very effectively, especially whey you say you don’t think you owe her even an explanation for your behavior or feelings. Respect is respect, but there are plenty of people I respect who I don’t want or need to know. I don’t allow them to take up space in my life and I don’t feel the need to share who I am enough to explain or excuse my boundaries. And I allow them the same (uni-)latitude. People I do want to know have to know that they have a place with me in some way. (Why would anyone stick around if they thought otherwise???) If that means telling them why, then that is no skin off my nose. That is how building intimacy works. If you are uncomfortable having to do that, but would not mind doing it later, let her know that much at least! If you don’t want to do it at all, then don’t let her being offended bother you.

    Take care.

  13. I used to be with an introvert person for a quite long time. I really find difficult to boost his confidence and he is kinda slow, slow in many ways whether in dressing up, eating and preparing something.. :) I think I need lot of patience and being so understanding when I’m with him. Despite from those things that I said about him yet still he is my friend and knowing him more each day is truly amazing.

  14. Oh.my.G-d. Big tough woman, eh? That’s what your coworker called her? Big boorish boob is more like it – and, proof positive that you can be an extrovert and lack social skills. It’s extroverts like her, the loud mouths, and the back slappers that give extroverts a bad name. There is no excuse for coming on that strong to another human being, a complete stranger. None. Many people use extroversion as an excuse for acting an a-hole and not respecting boundaries. They have so much “personality” and it can’t be contained, what a “character”! Bulls***. This is where a withering, condescending stare is best employed to its full power. Add a “Pardon me?” to the mix and I guarantee that you will deflate the sails of the next odious, extroverted boor.

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