Tuesday, October 9, 2012

How to be Friends with an Extrovert (without losing your mind completely)

Having spent more than a decade in a teamwork-oriented, socially-focused profession, I've taken and analyzed more than my fair share of personality tests. 

These tests are all well and good as far as they go, but I've noticed that although these assessments often describe the personality types and advise those of differing temperaments in how to work well together, they rarely go so far as to advise us on how to be friends with one another. How to genuinely get along with and understand one another. How to learn to breathe the same airspace day after day without fighting the urge to pull a lever that would drop an anvil down on one another.

You know. That sort of thing.

Never fear, dear friends. I'm here to fill the gap. In an as-yet-not-fully-planned, multi-post blog series of indeterminate length, I'm here to throw myself into the sociopsychological breach. 

You're welcome!

But first, a few caveats. 

One, let me state for the record that I'm a card-carrying ESTJ. (Surely we've reached the stage in social development at which most of us are familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality assessment? Yes? No?1) The first time I read my ESTJ profile description2 aloud to my sister/roommate, she listened, wide-eyed and mouth agape in shocked silence, before asking, "Are you sure this isn't just someone who wrote up a description of you?"  

If there were only one change I'd make to the ESTJ profile description, it would be to add that if it were possible to be an Extrovert with a CAPITAL E!, then I would be one of those.

All of this is just to let you know that when I talk of being extroverted, I know what I'm talking about. I am not just one of them, my friend. 

I'm an Extroverted Extrovert with a CAPITAL E!3

Second, allow me to apologize on behalf of my people to all of you who are not extroverts. Allow me to offer a quick blanket apology for all of the ways in which we've caused you to suffer. We're sorry. Really.4

But enough of that.


It's time to quit dithering and teach you How to Be Friends with an Extrovert (without losing your mind completely):


Step 1: Remember that being an extrovert is about more than being friendly and outgoing. Being an extrovert basically means that we process things externally. That means, among other things, 1) that we often don't know what we're going to say until we open our mouths and say it, 2) that we have to talk things out not just to clear the air, but also in order to complete key steps in processing what's actually happening, and 3) that events in our life haven't fully happened until we've been able to tell other people about them.  If, at the end of the day, I find that I've missed out on my chatty downtime with my roommate, I feel that I've missed more than talking to her: I've missed my chance to experience the day fully.  

This means that if you're going to be friends with extroverts, you bear the burden of helping them to process their own lives.  They need you to listen to their stories, to help them talk through their problems, and to laugh at their goofy ideas.  They need you to acknowledge the multiple comments they've left under every Facebook post documenting their stream-of-consciousness thoughts and opinions for all the world to see.

Remember that in the mind of the extrovert, for you to do these things is to aid in validating their existence

Yes, on the surface extroverts may seem like attention-seeking egomaniacs (which, indeed, many of them are), but understand that part of their drive to tell you all about themselves is that doing so helps them to feel that they fully exist. They are external processors. They need not only to know things, but to acknowledge those things externally, and --best of all-- have you acknowledge them externally as well.

They just don't know how to process the world any other way.

Step 2: Bear in mind that being friends with an extrovert can be exhausting (for both you and the extrovert). Extroverts are by nature generally energetic, upbeat, and friendly. Most of them have an innate curiosity about life, especially in regards to the people who inhabit their world. Their insatiable desire to interact with you and learn everything about you may feel exhausting (especially if you're an introvert! I know! I'm sorry!), but remember that this process can be equally tiring for them.

For many extroverts, the brain never shuts off. There are always more things to wonder, more things to ask, and more people to meet. However, no matter how physically or emotionally weary extroverts become, somehow they can't bring themselves not to care.5

Step 3: Forgive them for not being in tune with what you're thinking/feeling. Due to their outgoing natures, extroverts are assumed to be prime friend material; however, sadly, this is not always the case. Extroverts process their emotions externally, meaning that you will never have to wonder what they are thinking/feeling. Although this quality can be a strength, it also exhibits itself in several weaknesses.  

First, external processing means that most extroverts are ill-equipped to mask their emotional responses. Remember, they feel the need to express their emotions in order to process them. This often makes for messy, unfiltered explosions of emotion (ideally to be followed up later with an apology and more balanced response). 

Second, since extroverts are usually busy processing their own emotions externally, they are less likely to pick up on how you are thinking and feeling. 

Unfortunately, some extroverts never get a handle on these weaknesses, meaning that they go through life spewing their own emotions all over the place whilst simultaneously giving the impression that they couldn't give a rip about yours. In fact, most extroverts do care immensely about the feelings of those around them: they just aren't wired well for picking up on those emotions until it's too late. 

Not that I'm saying all of this is excusable, or that because we're extroverts it's acceptable for us to behave this way. I'm just saying that we're a bundle of strengths and weaknesses just like everybody else, and that sometimes our weaknesses get the better of us. However, because we're extroverts, our failures tend to be more obvious, given our penchant for being loud, entertaining attention hogs. 

Yay, us!

At the end of the day, if you can better understand your extroverted friends, perhaps you'll be more willing to put up with some of the more ridiculous aspects of our natures and love us in spite of our weaknesses.

_________________
1. You're not? See here.
3. So basically, that means you could take all of the weaknesses mentioned in this article, multiply them by a power of ten, and you would have a fairly good idea of what it is like to live with me.  I know. It doesn't bear thinking! My roommate is a saint, I tell you. A SAINT.
4. For more on this, see here: Open Letter to Introverts of the World
5. Extroverts in socially-oriented jobs will find this especially draining. 

5 comments:

  1. Thank you, Dear Extrovert, for explaining why the introverts in your life feel so overwhelmed sometimes. :D

    This ISFP. . . or sometimes ISFJ appreciates the information.

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  2. I prefer this B-M test: http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/jtypes2.asp
    It was more accurate for me, but I am a moderate in all aspects, with Introversion being the only clear direction at 33% preference. I'm a marginal INFJ.

    The one revelation I had when taking this test years ago was learning how I could set aside emotion and look at two sides of an issue with an unbiased eye. I knew, from bitter experience, that many people consider that ability a failing, or even traitorous, and it bewildered me until I finally figured out that many people can't divorce their emotions and values from the equation. It's still difficult to me to realize that many people aren't wired that way, but I have come to accept this and be more careful about analyzing situations in uncertain company. Analyzing situations in an unbiased manner doesn't mean that I don't have strong ideas or opinions on the matter--it just means that I can set them aside in order to inspect the topic thoroughly.

    It's always helpful to learn how other people operate--especially when it is so foreign to how I think and feel. It makes one more understanding and accepting. Or, at least it does for me, because I'd like to think there is a logical and reasonable explanation for some of the loony people walking on planet Earth!

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  3. I really like this; as an introvert, it's great to get the other perspective. I have many extrovert (or extrovert-leaning ambivert) friends.

    The surprising one for me is how much you say extroverts care about other people's feelings. Not that I thought they didn't, but most extroverts I know seem much freer to just be themselves than I am, and more willing and able to talk about themselves than to listen to me in the rare times when I do need to open up.

    Two of my friends have figured out that they *have* to ask me questions for me to feel comfortable expressing myself. :) I think I somehow accidentally taught everyone else that I don't have anything to say! Whoops.

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    1. Not that I thought they didn't, but most extroverts I know seem much freer to just be themselves than I am, and more willing and able to talk about themselves than to listen to me in the rare times when I do need to open up

      Yes! And it's hard for us to understand that we need to turn things around and draw introverts out because I think we just sort of assume that the rest of the world is wired like we are, meaning that we assume everyone will just go ahead and say what they're thinking as soon as they're thinking it.

      Did you catch the associated post about introverts linked on the bottom of this post? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on that one, since you're an introvert and I'm not. I'd be interested to see if you identify with it or if I'm way off base.

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