REALLY Caring for Your Introvert

After rereading my last post, I realized that it didn’t really paint introverts in the best light. It makes introverts seem selfish. That’s actually a good thing because that’s how introversion tends to look to extraverts. But that’s not really accurate.

Here’s the funny thing about personality: disputes tend to happen between people when they have opposite ways to do the same thing. Whereas extraverts respect people by integrating their thoughts into the whole, introverts respect people by leaving them alone. They view trying to merge peoples’ thoughts into one big whole as an attempt to “water them down”. Thus, introverts will constantly try to differentiate themselves from the common point of view.

That said, introverts would do well to heed Derek Sivers’s advice that sometimes Persistence is Polite. People aren’t usually as put off by an introvert’s “intrusion” as they imagine them to be.

Thus far, I’ve only focused on applying the concept of introversion and extraversion to how we make decisions. But they also affect perception.

Let’s look at Joel Spolsky. If you look at Spolsky’s famous “Don’t rewrite your software” blog post, you can see that Joel is obviously extraverted when it comes to making decisions. It might be easier to see this if you realize that psychologists refer to extraverted attitudes as “objective” and introverted ones as “subjective”. In other words, extraverts tend to look for the “one true” plan or way of seeing things while introverts will be focused on trying to find a plan or truth that works for them. You can see Spolsky’s extraversion in decision-making when he says things like:

They did it by making the single worst strategic mistake that any software company can make

or

The old mantra build one to throw away is dangerous when applied to large scale commercial applications.

or

But throwing away the whole program is a dangerous folly

Heck, even the title of the blog post (“Things you should never do”) is extraverted. These are all couched in very logical language, but taken together you can see an overarching theme: “There’s one true way to write software, and the only way to figure it out is for everyone to add their little piece of the truth. Here’s mine.”

However if you look, it’s clear that Spolsky also has an introverted side. Consider the following phrases:

The reason is that they think the old code is a mess.

or

The consensus seems to be that the old Netscape code base was really bad. Well, it might have been bad, but, you know what? It worked pretty darn well on an awful lot of real world computer systems.

or

“Well,” they say, “look at this function. It is two pages long! None of this stuff belongs in there! I don’t know what half of these API calls are for.”

You can see that Spolsky has an introverted way of perceiving the world that complements his extraverted decision-making. The hallmark of the introverted attitude is the desire to separate oneself from others. The overarching theme of these phrases is “they see the world like this, but I see the world like this”, which is introverted. That the others are wrong is just a side effect.

Again, even though I’ve pointed out Spolsky’s introverted side and extraverted side, remember that this is still oversimplified. I’ve pointed out what I see as his primary ways of looking at things, but you can see others in the rest of his text.

So how can an extravert get along with an introvert?

  1. Agree to disagree. Extraverts tend to dislike ending a conversation without everyone coming to a consensus. Unless the matter is completely trivial, introverts dislike ending a conversation without having differentiated themselves from the other person somehow. If possible, try to find a happy medium. End the conversation by pointing out things you both agree on (carefully: make sure to couch this with phrases like “It sounds to me like you agree with me on x, y, and z”), but acknowledge that there are areas where you both disagree and that’s ok.
  2. Realize that when an introvert is quiet, that doesn’t mean they don’t respect you. If you need feedback from them, try to do so in a way that is respectful to them. For instance, say something like “Hey, whenever you have a moment can we discuss x?”
  3. Don’t go too far in accepting their worldview. Some people (both introverted and extraverted) might try to take advantage of your desire to connect with other people. Always be skeptical of someone whose judgement of you is dependent upon you giving them (or not giving them) something they want.