Are You Talking to an Extrovert or an Introvert?

A Simple Test

Fifteen years ago, you didn’t hear much about introverts.

Everybody assumed that extroverts had better social skills, and that introverts were shy and needed to be healed. It seemed like they were lacking the tools to function well in society.

But in 2003, Jonathan Rauch wrote an essay for The Atlantic that went viral (before we knew what that meant).  He said that introverts make up 25% of the population, but are among the most misunderstood and aggrieved groups in America – possibly the world.

He put words to what introverts were thinking, and started the dialogue. That was followed by Marti Olsen Laney’s book The Introvert Advantage: How Quiet People Can Thrive in an Extrovert World that showed how introverts had a distinct place in society.

  • Extroverts tended to think faster, but introverts think deeper.
  • Extroverts are like solar panels – energized by group interaction. Introverts are like rechargeable batteries – they recharge when they’re alone, which allows them to function in groups.
  • Extroverts tend to think by talking. Introverts think before talking.

In 2013, Susan Cain wrote Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It quickly hit the bestseller list, because introverts were given a voice.  She told us that introverts had the strongest role in making a society solid, and they could make a serious difference in the world.

It’s a great book, if you haven’t read it. She’s the voice that extroverts are actually listening to, and her TED talk is a now a classic.

I’ve written a lot about introverts and extroverts in my books. As a practicing introvert, I’ve learned that we can actually celebrate the way we’re wired.  We have no desire to become extroverts, because it robs the world of our unique contribution.

Relationships get interesting when you mix and match temperaments.

  • Put two extroverts together, and the energy is nonstop.
  • Put two introverts together, and the connection runs deep.
  • Put an introvert and an extrovert together and it’s . . . well, interesting. If they don’t value the differences, they’ll be constantly frustrated with each other. If they learn to celebrate those differences, the potential exists for a world-class relationship.

So, how can you tell if someone is an introvert or an extrovert?

eye-contact-1Pick up Cain’s book or read Rauch’s article and you’ll gain a wealth of wisdom on the topic.  They’re a great overview to understanding the differences.

But here’s one simple thing you can do to test it out in a conversation.  It’s not foolproof, but it’s an interesting place to start.

The next time you’re sitting across a table from someone at Starbucks or a restaurant, observe their eye contact.

  • Extroverts usually make really good eye contact with you while they’re talking, and tend to look around more when they’re listening.
  • Introverts tend to break eye contact when they’re the ones talking, but give solid eye contact when they’re listening.

Why? Because we make eye contact when we’re comfortable. 

When an extrovert is talking, she’s in her “sweet spot.” It’s what she does best, so it’s natural to focus her attention on the other person.

When an introvert is listening, that’s her unique sweet spot for the same reason.

Like I said, it’s only a place to start. Observe someone for a while, then talk together about it.  Ask them to do the same for you.

Isnt’ that what healthy conversation is based on?

Paying attention to each other, and talking.

Sounds like a good reason to go to Starbucks . . .

Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Speaker, Author of 5 books - including "People Can't Drive You Crazy If You Don't Give Them the Keys," "I Wish He Had Come With Instructions," and "Dealing With the Elephant in the Room." (See Book page)

  • Lonnie Shields

    As an extrovert married for over 40 years to an introvert, celebrating the differences between us has been crucial! The eye contact insight is fascinating! I can’t wait to check it out! GOOD JOB MIKE!

    • So, how did your eye contact experiment turn out?

      Always great to hear from you, my friend. I didn’t realize in High School that you were an extrovert. I just thought you were crazy . . .