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The "Silent Treatment" vs. the Talking Machine: Understanding Introverts and Extroverts

2. Coaching Introverts When They Need Time for Reflection
I had no idea what would have made Thomas dad. "Can you tell me what made you sad?" I asked. He snorted. Ah, he needs time to think, and I'm interrupting him by asking too many questions, I thought. Introverts don't like that. So I said, "You can think about it, and I'll keep working until you're ready."

I waited. I admit it almost killed me. I'm an extrovert who likes to talk things through; it's hard for me to remember that introverts are not wasting time when they are silent. They are thinking It was even harder for me to wait because I was running out of time. 1 gave him a few minutes, and then I tried answering my own question by guessing. "I'm wondering if someone took a toy from you." He nodded and snorted once more, but it was a weak snort, the intensity diminishing. He was forgiving me for my intrusion, so I continued. "It must have been a very special toy to make you feel this sad." He nodded once more. This time he didn't growl or snort. We were making progress! I waited to see if he would tell me what toy it was. He didn't. So I guessed. "I wonder if it was a truck?" Finally, he turned and said, "No, it was my dinosaur!" "Oh," I replied. "I can understand how sad that would be. I really like dinosaurs, too. My favorite is Tyrannosaurus rex. What's yours?" "Brontosaurus," he proclaimed, and proceeded to tell me he had a book about dinosaurs in his bag. "You do!" I exclaimed. "Would you like to get your book and read it with me?" He nodded' and led the way to his cubby. Once again, I gave him his space, and walked next to him without touching him. When we returned to the office, I asked him where he would like to sit, offering him a chair at the table or on my lap. He chose a chair – still needing more space. Then he opened the book, turned it so that we could both see it, and proceeded to read it with me. It took twenty minutes until he began to laugh, and his body relaxed. It was only then that the teaching and planning could begin. I told him that next time he needed more quiet time he could say, "I'm not read to talk yet." Or, "I need a break before I can talk about this." He didn't need to snort. Words worked much better. He looked at me, but h didn't snarl. I continued. "I'm noticing that your body seems mud more relaxed and you're smiling. Are you ready to go back to you classroom?"

"No," he replied.

"All right," I agreed, realizing he needed more time but also aware of my time limits. I said, "We can read three more pages, then you'll need to go back to the classroom." He agreed, and we read the pages.

Introverts do need time for reflection. Even if it means waiting until the next day to talk through an issue, it's worth the wait. But sometimes there are time limits. In this instance I realized Thomas was relaxed enough that I could set a deadline. It worked. If his intensity had been higher, I may have had to make a phone call and change my plans to give him a bit longer or find someone else who could take over. If neither of those options was feasible, I may have had to take him back to the classroom and help him find a quiet space there. Somehow I needed to help him get his reflection time. He couldn't work with me until he got it. I needed to know that in order to stay out of a power struggle with him.

If you're an extrovert who finds yourself aggravated by the introvert who in your mind is taking too long to make a decision, you should know about a study completed at 3M Corporation. Engineers for 3M were sent out to fix problems for their customers. The engineers who preferred introversion took much longer to complete the tasks than their extroverted peers. However, those jobs completed by introverts had a vastly lower percentage of callbacks than those completed by the extroverts who had finished the jobs more quickly but failed to solve the actual problems the first time out. It's worth your time to give the introverts the reflection time they need! (Ultimately 3M trained their extroverts to slow down and their introverts to give their clients more feedback as to why it was taking them longer. Both types have their strengths and weaknesses!)


From the book KIDS, PARENTS, AND POWER STRUGGLES: Winning for a Lifetime by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, published by HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright 2000 by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. All rights reserved.

Buy the book at www.harpercollins.com.

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