Some of my closest friends are functioning introverts. And yes, I’ve been one since grade school. But I didn’t know it then. I thought I just had this inordinate fascination for books, that’s why I wanted to be left alone. Study period was one of my best times in school because it meant I could read in silence. I also didn’t have to talk to my classmates. Heaven.
Right after classes, I’d make a mad dash for the library. It was my safe haven. I loved being surrounded by books. Little did I know then that I was this little introvert who had just found a comfortable cocoon to crawl into: the library.
You’ve heard that very tired cliche, “birds of a feather…”? Well, it has a weird way of working for certified introverts. As a rule, we introverts don’t like to be with people — our energy gets drained fast when we have to interact with humans. But by some fluke of nature, introverts gravitate naturally to each other (from my experience). We probably have this built-in radar that blips discreetly when another introvert enters our perimeter. Like two aliens touching antennae, we just know. And are careful to respect each other’s space and boundaries.
Functioning introverts are people who’d rather be left alone but have to venture out into people zones because of work, family or social obligations, or because they have something crucial to gain or lose. We never wade into a sea of humanity for a reason that’s negotiable. If we can avoid people contact, we will.
Introverts love their own company. We like to read, work, write, watch something, or do our passion projects all by our lonesome. Of course we have to work with people to get stuff done. But as a rule, we like doing things at our own pace. We like doing things without being interrupted.
We don’t like to hear comments when we’re watching something that requires a modicum of focus — unless you’re particularly wise, clever or funny.
We enjoy working for long hours in silence, or listening to something we like. We are okay with communicating in layers — texting, emails, search engines, voice mails, social media. Even vintage faxing is ok. As long as we keep live, interpersonal communication to a minimum, were fine.
That’s why it disturbs me when people call me without notice. I actually cringe when I have to take a call about which I have no inkling. So most of the time, I don’t take calls from people I’m not close to. Besides, isn’t it better (if it’s not an emergency) to text first and ask a person if it’s ok to call, and tell him what it’s about? I think that’s basic GMRC. Introverts prefer texting. We like to filter things this way. We don’t like to be randomly surprised or kept in suspense.
If we can find a way out of talking to you, we will. Our underlying fear is, perhaps, this: a phone call may take longer than it should. Unless we enjoy talking to a person, we’d rather keep the call short. Nothing personal. It’s just that talking depletes our energy — which can be put to better use elsewhere. It’s not being snooty. It’s just being practical.
Of course it takes more effort for an introvert to socialize, interact, or work with people.
Three of the biggest ironies in my life (or three of the biggest jokes God played on me) are these: my early career was in Public Relations. Part of my work was public speaking, teaching and counseling. And I got married to an extreme extrovert. While that may sound amusing, it’s not. It was harrowing, to say the least. But I had to do what I had to do. And leave the results to God.
When I wasn’t yet adept at being a functioning introvert, I found it aggravating and awkward to give instructions to my staff, hold meetings, confront people when they needed correction, give them advice when they had office or personal problems (definitely out of my purview but had to be done when they were breaking down in front of me). Intense person-to-person interactions like that drained me more than being sleep-deprived for days when our kids were sick.
It took me weeks to recover completely from out-of-town conferences where I had to be with my staff 24/7. But I survived by taking off whenever I could, even just to sit for ten minutes in a restroom cubicle. Being alone cleared up my brain fog.
As I grew older, I got better and better at unwinding, recharging, and regrouping right after doing my PR tasks. I even enjoyed mingling and engaging in mindless small talk whenever my job required it — as long as I knew I could take a day off right after. To recharge.
So if you’re working or living with an introvert, remember this: Extroverts get energized by being with people. Introverts get drained by being with people (except those who are close to them, and those whose company they enjoy). Introverts get energized when they’re alone — but they can also work excellently with people if you just give them breathing space, and time to recharge.
That being said, it’s time to go back to my book.