What this extrovert learned from working with introverts

I’m naturally an extrovert. Not the bubbly, loud, in-your-face extrovert – but an extrovert nonetheless. I get a little antsy and listless if I’m alone for too long. I need faces, friends, and voices to re-energize me, stimulate my thoughts, and keep me motivated.

Straight out of college, I joined an magazine’s editorial team. I loved the job, but even more, I loved being on a close-knit team with an incredible bunch of people. But I did notice I was the only extrovert on a team full of introverts—not that I minded it. I had more than a few life lessons to learn about the differences between us. Here are some of them:

Respect other people’s morning-time

The morning is a sacred time for us all, whether we are “morning people” or not. And in dealing with introverts, I learned quickly that morning is usually a time of processing, adjusting, and planning for them. I might be fully awake and ready to chat about Pixar or something funny my cat did by the time I hit my desk at 8:30am, but I’ve learned that it’s sometimes kinder to just say “good morning” and head to my own space for a while. Then, like the morning-glory flower when it gets enough sunlight, an introvert will emerge and draw you into her sphere!

There are many ways to grieve

While there are many joys that come with office life (i.e. “guys, donuts in the breakroom!!”) there are really hard times too. People quit and are let go. Upper management makes bewildering decisions. Everybody feels the crunch and the stress when numbers aren’t high enough, people aren’t making quotas, or structure is shifting. And that’s, of course, not even counting personal drama that we still have to think about when we’re at work.

While we all strive to be professional in the office, we still grieve in different ways. I often process grief through conversation – but that’s not the case for a lot of introverts. I learned that sometimes the most respectful thing to do is give space, don’t push conversation, but leave an open door to visits, talks, and sometimes a long walk outside. Taking a walk on one’s lunch break truly does have healing qualities.

Everybody concentrates differently

A huge thing I learned in the introvert-haven of my editorial bubble is that — like cats—sometimes people just straight-up need to be left alone. Whether they are pondering a life problem, writing a feature, or trying to get a project finished by deadline, more introverted types tend to be a lot more productive at channeling brainpower when they are given space and quiet. Sometimes it will mean they plug into headphones because they need a background soundtrack to inspire them. Sometimes they need to hide away in perfect silence. Sometimes they need reassurance that someone else will take care of business-as-usual while they are in their zone. I learned to be way more observant, notice these moments, and try to be a helpful, encouraging co-worker when I could tell my pals needed to concentrate and make their magic.

Don’t take things too personally. It’s not always about you.

Brace yourself: sometimes being friends with a introvert when you’re an extrovert like me, means occasionally feeling unwanted or disliked. The keyword here is feeling, but don’t worry, that feeling usually doesn’t reflect reality! Because so much goes on inside other people’s heads, it’s easy to mistake someone else’s desire to be alone as a personal slight, especially if you’re extroverted and turn to others when you’re sad. A more introverted person might not want to publicize their momentary discomfort, maybe they just want to deal with it alone.  Clueless me took those moments as a sign that I did something to upset a co-worker, when in fact, it wasn’t about me at all. People just deal with things differently, and that’s OK.

Finally, we are all so much more than just “introverts” and “extroverts”

We all have individual needs, desires, and fears, whether we’re introverted or extroverted. Maybe the most important lesson I took away from my team is that no two introverts are the same! They may share qualities, interests, and predispositions, but don’t assume that because you know one introvert, you know them all. Everyone is still a unique person.


Debbie Holloway
Debbie Holloway lives in Brooklyn, New York, and works closely with Narrative Muse, a fast-growing source for movies, TV, and books created by and about women and gender diverse folks. Read more