Please Don’t Interrupt, I’m an Introvert!
Sometimes, it can take far too long to tell a simple story, especially for Introverts.
For some people, the problem might be an inability to get to the point. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, for example, the courtier Polonius says that “brevity is the soul of wit” as he tells a long, rambling story about what he thinks is the cause of the prince’s apparent madness.
I have met many people like that, people who seem to be unable to give a short answer to a simple question. When I lived overseas, for example, I would avoid asking a certain American friend for directions around the city, since I knew that her answer was likely to take at least five minutes and would not necessarily include the information that I needed.
In giving information, I face a different problem as an Introvert: interruptions. A simple Web search reveals that I am not alone in this and that many Introverts are frustrated when others interrupt them.
Part of the issue is that, in general, Introverts tend to think things through before they speak while Extraverts tend to think while they’re speaking. Thus, what comes out of an Introvert’s mouth tends to be important. Since they are not merely verbalizing their thought processes but are actually trying to contribute something valuable to the discussion, they can become frustrated and just withdraw when people interrupt them. I know I do that.
Some Presentations Are Just Too Hard to Give
Recently, I had two very different experiences in giving presentations to two groups. The first presentation was to a class at a local community college, talking about my experiences in helping to complete an oral history project. It was a small group, maybe about 10 people including the instructor, in the field of library technician studies.
According to my co-presenter, one of the students fell asleep during our talk, but I didn’t notice or care; the class was quiet other than a few coughs and dropped pens. Even though I had only planned the talk in my mind and had not written any notes, I was able to get through what I wanted to say and to give the students the information that I thought would be valuable to them.
The second presentation was very different, and often difficult. Members of a writing group that I participate in had asked me, as a published writer, to talk about how I came to the point of being paid for my writing. Once again, I prepared my talk only very generally but brought along some of my articles to show to the group.
We were meeting in a noisy cafe instead of a quiet classroom, but I was still amazed at how difficult it was to get my audience to listen. The interruptions from the coffeemakers and other patrons were nothing compared with my inattentive audience.
While people at the other end of the table held their own conversations and occasionally broke in on what I was saying to ask me something, I desperately tried to keep my train of thought on track. Sometimes, one person would start to ask a question and then another would interrupt, often asking about the same point. Since these people were friends of mine, I tried to be gracious and to answer their questions, but I was getting more and more frustrated. Finally, I abandoned the other end of the table to its own devices and talked exclusively to the people immediately beside me.
This kind of frustration comes in many forms. I know someone at an office where I sometimes work who will frequently ask me how I am doing and then interrupt me as I try to answer. So far, I have managed to control my frustration, but I have noticed that I avoid talking with that person beyond the basic greetings so that I don’t have to deal with the interruptions.
Learn to Deal With Interruptions and Promote the Art of Listening
Here are some possible tactics I’ve learned for dealing with interruptions:
- Keep track of what you are saying and, when the interrupter pauses, continue the conversation.
- Speak faster. Extraverts generally speak more quickly than Introverts, and they might not be able to focus long enough to hear what you have to say.
- Moderate your volume. Try to talk as loudly as the interrupter. Alternatively, lower your voice to a whisper so that the other person has to stop talking to hear what you’re saying.
- Cut to the most important part of the presentation or conversation and leave out the details. If the interrupter comes back later to get the information, you might have a chance to say how much disruptions bother you
- Consider getting up and leaving the room if interruptions become persistent. This might be difficult, especially with friends or family, but it could get the point across
The bottom line is, Introverts can learn to deal with interruptions ….. but it would be so much better if people valued the art of listening.