How to Get the Best Stories from an Introvert

I’m an introvert.  That is, I’m energized by being alone, I don’t like small talk, and as much as I’m invigorated by spending time with other people one-on-one or in small groups, it’s also exhausting.

I’ve talked about introversion on this blog, but there’s an area of it I haven’t explored: Things people can do to encourage introverts to speak in settings where they might otherwise be quiet.

Now, to be clear, if you’re an extrovert, it’s not your responsibility to help us introverts come out of our shell. If we opt into a social situation, it’s up to us to at least be friendly and kind. But if you want to get the best of us, there are a few things you can do to help (just like we can help extroverts learn to listen and think before speaking).

The following ideas are directly inspired by a fantastic blog entry by Claire Lew on the Signal v. Noise blog. Claire writes about how to get feedback from employees, and in this entry she focuses specifically on introverts. Here are my favorite points that tie into the idea of encouraging introverts to share their stories.

  1. Circle back to topics before conversation moves on. Say a group of people are talking about their favorite travel experiences. People have been talking about it for 10-15 minutes. A common trait of introverts is that they thrive when they have the chance to process something before saying it. So before the conversation turns to something else, ask an introvert in the group if they have something to add, as they may have just spent the last 10-15 minutes crafting their answer.
  2. Ask “what” instead of “any.” I hadn’t ever considered the power of this turn of phrase. For example, instead of asking, “Did you have any thoughts about the movie?”, ask, “What was your favorite scene in the movie?” The first encourages a yes or no answer, while the second hones in on a specific aspect.
  3. Focus on a specific timeframe. Similar to the previous point, there’s something about funneling an answer that will help an introvert process a question faster and give a potentially interesting answer. Instead of asking, “What do you do in your free time?”, ask “What did you do yesterday after work?”
  4. Allow for pauses in conversation. Claire says this as “be quiet,” which is part of listening. That’s great. But I think it starts with your willingness to allow for pauses in conversations. This can be particularly difficult for extroverts who are eager to fill every pause in a conversation. But here’s the truth: A pause is an open door for an introvert. That’s our chance to join the fray. While it’s great for people to ask us questions–most questions are a gift to introverts–a pause is almost as good, as it gives us the option to join or hang back.

I only mentioned 4 of the topics in Claire’s article–were there any others that you think could make a difference when interacting with introverts in social situations?