Introverts process the world around them by turning inward and thinking quietly, and gain energy by spending time alone. On the other end of the personality spectrum are extroverts—the people you’d refer to as the life of the party. As opposed to introverts, extroverts gain steam from being around other people and seem more bold, talkative, and assertive.
No one is 100-percent introverted or extroverted—we all fall somewhere on the scale between the two types. And just because someone is an introvert doesn’t mean they’re antisocial, nor are they necessarily shy. But in the end, being around large groups of people for extended periods of time will typically tire out an introvert.
Don’t get us wrong: An introverted personality comes with a whole lot of perks. Research shows that people with a penchant for long periods of alone time can come off as impeccable listeners, receptive and enjoyable leaders, and can even appear more competent than extroverts at work.
The Introvert’s Dilemma
However, with today’s focus on being connected 24/7 and our obsession with social media, it may seem like extroverts rule the roost. After all, they’re the ones who love being out and about (and posting about it too). In turn, following the lead of extroverts can cause some introverts to lose touch with their intuition, explains Laurie Helgoe, Ph.D., author of Introvert Power and assistant professor of psychology at Davis and Elkins College. And staying connected to our true selves is essential to staving off burnout and surviving what can seem like a hyper-social world, she adds.
Sometimes, though, it’s just plain necessary to go out with friends or colleagues in order maintain relationships, build your professional reputation, or expand your network, Helgoe says. We know it can be hard to motivate yourself when the couch is calling your name, but these simple tips will make going out a whole lot easier. And just remember: Going outside your comfort zone into situations that can benefit your career—or doing something for someone you love—will work in your favor in the long run.
1. Prep talking points.
It’s common for introverts to feel some apprehension about keeping up idle chitchat before heading to a party or professional event. Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, Ph.D., author of the forthcoming The Genius of Opposites, suggests entering challenging social situations armed with a reserve of energy and conversation fillers. Introverts are great listeners (always a good thing!), but they don’t always chime into the conversation to the same degree extroverts do, Kahnweiler explains. To even things out, prep some questions for other people. Think: “What have you been working on lately?” or “What trips do you have planned this summer?” as well as relevant topics from your own life, such as “I just tried this fantastic new restaurant, have you been there?”
2. Tune in before you go out.
It can be helpful for introverts to take some time to regroup before heading into a big event, party, or household full of people (even if it’s loved ones). Try sitting quietly in your car for 10 to 15 minutes in the driveway before going inside, Kahnweiler says. Or if you commute on public transportation, take advantage of calming music or a meditation app to create the peace of mind necessary for introverts to recalibrate.
3. Use the buddy system.
If you’re invited to a party that may reach The Hangover-esque levels, you may feel some trepidation at facing so much social stimulation. The solution: Invite a more extroverted pal of yours to tag along, Helgoe suggests. “They’ll understand you may not want to talk to everyone and can help introduce you to people you’d like to connect with,” she says.Not only can you trust your social butterfly pal not to leave you floundering in a corner, but an extroverted ally can be great at promoting your accomplishments in professional situations since introverts are less likely to toot their own horns, Helgoe says. The only catch? Make sure to arrange your own ride home—your friend may want to hang out later than you’ll want to.
4. Say it again.
If you find yourself drawing a blank mid-conversation, try paraphrasing. “A lot of introverts can become anxious in a conversation about what they should say next—so much so that they miss what the other person is saying,” Kahnweiler says. “A great way to show you’re listening—and to keep your focus from straying—is to repeat whatever the person just said in your own words. This conveys understanding and gives you a clearer sense of when to add your own input.”
5. Take a break.
Need a little room to breathe? Excusing yourself to get a drink or use the bathroom (even if you don’t actually have to) can be great opportunities to find pockets of solace at overly crowded events, Helgoe says. She even suggests sneaking out for a walk when you’re locked into even lengthier situations like weddings, holiday parties, or conferences. And don’t worry—people are so wrapped up in their own conversations that you can slip in and out without raising eyebrows.If you’re stuck in a deathly boring conversation, there are some “stop” signals that are still socially appropriate. “Try being very still, as if you are waiting for the other to finish, then looking down or away, which can communicate you’re ready to move on,” Helgoe says. You can also try interjecting during a pause in the other person’s monologue: “Great meeting you, but I’ve got to go say hello to the host/refill my drink/visit the restroom.”
6. Fake it till you make it.
Research conducted by John Zelenski, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Carlton University, has found that introverts who act like extroverts—for example, by being more sociable, talkative, energetic, and enthusiastic than they normally are—see their happiness increase. Zelenski thinks this is partially due to the positive social feedback that being gregarious and extraverted elicits from others. Plus, research shows there’s a psychological mood boost derived from simply forcing a smile.
7. Know when to say no.
Of course, there comes a point where you need to turn down some invites. Introverts especially need make room in their schedule for some serious downtime, Kahnweiler says. But no two introverts are exactly alike when it comes to a set number of commitments that tip them over the edge. Take note of which weeks feel more overwhelming, and use those to determine an upper limit on how many obligations you can handle, she suggests.Helgoe adds that it’s equally important to tune in to our bodily cues. “We know at a cellular level when we’re losing steam—we may start to feel restless, bored, even headachy,” she says. If you’re itching to get out of a situation, it’s OK to leave a little early or decline an invite to hit yet another bar. Say something like, “I’ve had a blast, but I’m going to head home now. Let’s pick this up another time.’”
Being an introvert is nothing to worry about. Yes, exiting your comfort zone when it’s necessary for your career or maintaining social ties is important. But tuning in to your innate sense of when enough is enough takes priority. So recharge and regroup as often as you need and, when you’re ready, get out there armed with these tips.