An Extrovert's Guide to Encouraging Your Introverted Friends

Because putting your friends at ease is one of life's greatest pleasures.
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Monica Gabriel Marshall
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Because putting your friends at ease is one of life's greatest pleasures.

Opposites attract, right? While that may be true in magnetics, when it comes to the finer points of friendship, mixing introverts and not-so-introverts can be harder than it looks.

This is especially true for extroverts looking to be there for an introvert friend. If you're of the extroverted variety, a simple "how was your day?" might launch a 30-minute blow-by-blow of insanity. Your introverted friend, however, may be more inclined to just say, "good." We may think that they don't have much to say since we gave them a chance, but really, introverts need to be drawn out by further probing and gentle encouragement.

Your extroverted ways don't mean you're incapable of having good introvert friends. Jennifer B. Kahnweiler Ph.D., author of Quiet Influence: The Introvert’s Guide to Making a Difference, explains that, contrary to popular belief, “Extroverts can be incredible listeners, because they draw people out by their open-ended questions and paraphrasing. Extroverts are able to develop rapport with others and know how to make people comfortable.”

So really, you're a natural! But you do need a different strategy than "treat others as you want to be treated." Introverts require a different script. So if you’re grabbing your favorite introverted friend for drinks tonight and are hoping to get her out of her shell, here are six tips to help you do just that.

01. Go somewhere you can be focused on them, not your surroundings.

Introverts tend to be more comfortable opening up in one-on-one conversation. That doesn't always have to mean a coffee shop or at your apartment, but signal that you're focusing on this conversation by turning your body to fully face her, and be close enough that you can easily hear. Making an effort to accommodate quality conversation will give your friend the hint that now is not the time to sit back, observe the room, and think those private thoughts.

02. Share first.

Ever get popped the question, “So how are you?” and draw a complete blank? Instead of plopping down and homing in on your friend, try getting into the conversation by first offering up a little bit about yourself or your day. This can ease your friend into conversation and provide an opportunity for her to connect with something that you’re sharing. Be sure to acknowledge her and invite her into conversation by saying something like, “I’m so happy to be able to sit and talk with you…”

03. Ask open-ended questions, and prompt for more information.

This is all about inviting your introverted friend into conversation—and if you are more extroverted, it’s likely to come naturally! I'm not talking about asking “How are things?” Instead go with, “How was that meeting you were feeling anxious about last week?” This offers both a prompt to a specific subject and the emotional insight you hope to glean. When it seems like your friend might have more to say on a subject but doesn't, encourage her with something like “tell me more about that” or "how do you feel about that?" They're signs to the introvert that you're still listening and want to hear what they're talking about.

04. Try paraphrasing.

We can’t all be as in tune as George Clooney and Brad Pitt in Oceans Eleven. More often than not, we express an idea, someone grabs hold of it like they get what you are saying, and then they run the other direction. Extroverts typically don’t have a problem interrupting the conversation to say, “Oh no, that’s not what I mean. What I mean is…” Introverts, on the other hand, probably won’t stop you.

This redirection of the conversation can leave your introverted friend feeling misunderstood or unacknowledged. If you are trying to draw your introverted friend out for meaningful conversation, it would be better to get clarification before you move on with the conversation. But don’t worry, like asking open-ended questions, Kahnweiler reminds us that helpful paraphrasing is a common gift among more extroverted personalities. Seek clarification with something like, “So what you are saying is…” and then move the conversation forward, that way you can be sure you and your introverted friend are on the same page.

05. Allow them to let you into their quiet space. 

When an introvert falls quiet, don't misconstrue her as being rigid, flighty, or moody. She's probably just thinking! In these still moments, let body language speak volumes. Introverts tend not to be the type to reach out for a hug or casually sidle up next to you like more extroverted friends. But that doesn't mean she'd be opposed to you linking arms as you walk silently down the street. Silence is golden—it's OK to savor some of it together!

06. Ask her if she needs help with anything.

When introverts are in the middle of something, they are in the zone.Interrupt her and she may totally forget what she was doing, get flustered, or worse, lose her cool. And living in a world increasingly full of distractions doesn't make it any easier. One difficult thing about being an introvert in a busy world is that introverts don't automatically seek help outside of themselves. They tend to prefer to live and work independently. This isn't to say that they don't need your help; they just forget to ask for it. Even if it doesn't look like she needs a hand, ask anyway. It will prompt her to think about the fact that, hey, she'd love for you to hold her umbrella while she rifles through her purse.