The Introvert’s Guide to Building Relationships

by Tammy Strobel on August 30, 2010

I have a secret to share with you. I’m a natural introvert. I love curling up with a good book, writing, going for long hikes, and doing yoga. I can do a lot of these things by myself. And while I love alone time, I also love connecting with people and believe building relationships is a key component to happiness.

But I’m crazy shy and get really nervous when I meet new folks. I tend to stumble over my words, forget things that should be easy to remember, and laugh in very high pitches.

Now just because I’m a natural introvert, doesn’t mean I hide out in my apartment all the time. I’m constantly looking for ways to challenge myself. For instance, last week I had the pleasure of meeting Chris Guillebeau for coffee. Chris is one of my favorite writers and also inspired me to start living an unconventional life. So to actually meet Chris in-person was a big deal.

As I biked across town to meet-up with Chris, I thought my heart was going to jump out of my body and land on the sidewalk. I kept telling myself:

“Seriously, chill out. Chris is a fellow human. And I don’t think he has any magical superpowers that he is going to smite me with, just because I’m nervous.”

It was awesome talking with Chris about entrepreneurship, his epic book tour, The World Domination Summit, and the launch of Smalltopia. I love working at home and connecting with my online community. However, it’s always fun to connect with people face-to-face. All the positive self talk seemed to help stem my anxiety and I think my chat with Chris went really well. :)

If you have trouble breaking out of your shell, try some of these strategies:

1. Do what you’re afraid of.

I constantly look for ways to challenge myself by meeting new people and taking on new projects that I’m afraid of. I’ve noticed an interesting pattern when I’m scared of starting say, Project X, that project usually turns out to be crazy successful. I’m not sure why this is the case, but it’s been true for me. I’ve also found that when I’m scared of meeting new people, I end up walking away with a new friend.

2. Met new friends by volunteering.

Volunteering is an amazing way to connect with like minded individuals, break out of your shell, and build community at the same time.

3. Connect with friends for coffee, a bike ride, or a picnic in the park.

For my fellow introverts out there, I think it’s essential to connect and keep reconnecting with acquaintances, friends, and even family. Don’t let yourself get wrapped up in a bubble. Connect with your friends and actively practice using your social skills.

4. Leave your smart phone at home.

Smart phones are handy tools. However, if you’re meeting a new person, volunteering, or meeting up with an old friend, leave your phone at home. If you can’t leave the your phone at home, put it on “silent.”

Phones can be used as a crutch to avoid intense conversations. Checking your smart phone every two minutes is not only rude, but you’ll miss out on good conversations and the chance to make a meaningful connection with a fellow human. Be present 100% or not at all.

5. Ask lots of questions about a person’s history, opinion, and future goals.

Asking a lot of questions is a great way to get to know other people. And it’s an excellent strategy to harness nervous energy. I’ve found that by asking a lot of questions, I get to know people better and the focus is taken off of me.

What if you run out of questions to ask? Relax. The world isn’t going to end. It’s natural for conversations to end at some point. And if you’ve just met a new friend for coffee, you don’t have to talk to each other the whole time. You can just hang out, drink coffee, and do some work.

1 Jean Sarauer August 30, 2010

I’m finding a lot of my fellow bloggers are natural introverts. I call myself a social hermit. I love getting out and mixing it up with people, but lots of solo time is essential. I suppose it’s normal that those of us who write enjoy our time alone so much and tend to feel a bit jangled in social settings.

You’ve given great tips for introverts and extroverts. We could all gain by spending more time focusing on others, leaving our phones at home (or at least on silent!), etc.

Wishing you all the best with Smalltopia!

2 Karol Gajda August 30, 2010

Whoa! Social hermit. I like that name Jean. ;) I’ve also been an introvert for most of my life. For the past couple of years I’ve enjoyed challenging myself to be more social, but I still need lots of time alone. It’s hard to explain to people who are not like that … which is another awesome benefit of blogging. Knowing there’s so many of “us” out there. :)

3 Tammy August 30, 2010

@Karol – I agree! It’s nice to know we’re not alone. :)

4 Tammy August 30, 2010

Thanks Jean! :) I appreciate the well wishes…

5 Kristen | gezellig*girl August 30, 2010

What about *after* you’ve broken out of your shell? Although I enjoy socializing (usually) while I’m there, I’m just knackered afterward, mentally and sometimes physically as well, which makes it a little harder for me to get up and get socializing the next time.

Also, I would add “take a class” to your list above. It’s sometimes a little too easy to back out of something (like volunteering) if the socializing aspect seems a bit overwhelming, but taking a class gets you socializing (at least a little) while giving you a steadfast time/date to get out and do so.

6 Laurie August 30, 2010

Tammy, thanks so much for the pep talk. I’m a crazy-shy person as well, and your words helped a lot!

7 Kent Griswold August 30, 2010

That fits me to a tee, Tammy and you put it into words perfectly. I’m going to take your challenges and work on them myself.

On another note, you need to create a badge so people can join you FB page right here on RowdyKittens.

8 MichMich August 30, 2010

Sometimes naturally introverted people feel that it is a bad thing to be an introvert, as if it means being antisocial or something. Most of the introverted people I know can be just as fun and pleasant to be around as anyone, but the difference is that extroverted people get their energy from being around others, while introverted people expend their energy when they are around a lot of people, and they need some alone time to retreat and regain some of that energy back. I think these tips are an excellent way to expand your comfort zone and try new techniques that might make it easier to cope, but don’t feel bad if you are naturally introverted :)

9 Pearl August 31, 2010

Thank you MichMich,
As a well known philospher once said “I yam what I yam”.

10 Meaghan September 1, 2010

Nice comment MichMich. Really enjoyed reading your thoughtful response to the blog.

11 Tammy September 1, 2010

Awesome comment MichMich! :) I don’t feel bad for being introverted; it’s part of who I am and like you were saying it’s so important to challenge yourself and actually break out of the comfort zone. :)

12 et August 30, 2010

Your blog is an inspiration.

But…I wonder about the marketing aspects of the e-business movement. You write: “I’m launching Smalltopia tomorrow at 6am PST! If you’re interested in purchasing the ebook, be sure to sign up for my email list. I’m going to send out a discount code to email subscribers today at 5pm PST. Then I’m closing the list.” This attitude of hurry, sign up now limited offer seems counterproductive…

As an informed reader I would like to know more before I sign up: how much will the book cost, what is the discount, will you post a few pages somewhere for us to read before buying?

13 Tammy August 30, 2010

@et – sorry you felt that way. It wasn’t my intent to make folks feel rushed. You can preview the book by clicking here. It will be sold for $27.00 and folks on the email list will receive a 27% discount.

14 Tammy August 30, 2010

Thanks everyone! I’m loving the comments and feedback. It’s much appreciated. :) Now I’m off to do some writing! Have a beautiful day.

15 Brendan August 30, 2010

Thanks for the great post, Tammy. I am an introvert too, although sometimes I am loathe to admit it. Funny thing is that I run a business that involves, amoung other things, meeting and interacting with ambassadors of foreign countries here in Washington, D.C. I find that I really enjoy meeting new people, but the prospect of maintaining relationships over time is what saps my energy and give me anxiety. In any case, thank you for the inspiration and keep up the good work!

16 jacqueline August 30, 2010

You are so right about the phone. What an easy, socially acceptable, way to not talk to people. We can sit in a crowded room and look at our phone allowing us to not interact. I hadn’t really thought about it before. I just heard recently that 25% of all Americans don’t feel that they have anyone to confide in and 25% more only have one person they trust to confide it – we are desperately lonely and we use our “social” networking tools to keep us that way. Thank you for this post – excellent. Jacqueline

17 Molly On Money August 30, 2010

I’m married to an introvert (or so my friends tell me, he never shuts up when we’re alone together!) and I’m an extrovert.
My brother is the introvert of all time. When I’m on the phone with him we have long moments of silence within the conversation. He’s taught me a lot on how not to chatter on and on just because the person you’re talking to is kind of quiet. After 20 minutes or so of this on and of silence he starts rolling in conversation!

18 Trey Tomes August 30, 2010

“Do what you’re afraid of.”

I have encountered this principle of being most successful at what I most fear, and for me at least my success seems to stem from the idea that when I’m afraid, I’m also put a lot of care into how I’m going to implement whatever I’m working on. It’s like crossing a rushing river over an old rope bridge; when I don’t feel safe I spend more time making sure I don’t trip.

Thanks for sharing these tips; it’s so easy to not be intentional about doing these things to maintain our relationships.

19 Pearl August 31, 2010

Trey,
I appreciate the nuance you bring out in this phrase that has always seemed to me to mean more than the obvious. There are often very good reasons I am afraid of something. I am working on listening to myself when this is going on, not plunging in willy nilly. Sometimes what I am afraid of is trusting my own knowing and my intuition!

20 Trey Tomes September 1, 2010

How we deal with fear is a worthy topic all of its own, aside from its ties to intro/extroversion. So I decided to write about it.

http://www.thetomesdomain.com/happiness/controlyourfear

21 Tammy September 1, 2010

Nice comment Trey! And I loved your post. :) Good stuff.

22 Becky August 30, 2010

thanks for the post. I also use my toddler as a crutch – which is easy when he runs away most of the time so I don’t have to worry about saying more than “hi”.

23 Karen August 30, 2010

What timing! I’ve had this problem for years, I’m an introvert but people think of me as outgoing. That’s what makes it so difficult. I may be outgoing, which works fine in casual situations, but I’m painfully shy when it comes to real friensships. As a result, I have no girlfriends or even male friends anymore, except for my significant other. Although I really wish I could develop new friends, the very thought scares me to death.

24 Steve Thomas August 30, 2010

I like this! I just wrote a blog post along these same lines! I’m going to link back to your post! Great minds think alike I guess!

25 Tammy September 1, 2010

Awesome! Thanks Steve. :)

26 Dwight August 30, 2010

I’ve been living simply for many years and have noticed a correlation between introversion and Voluntary Simplicity. People who avoid having too much stuff are the same people who avoid too much stimulation. We don’t like small talk. We don’t like TV. We don’t like meaningless noise.

We do enjoy intelligent conversation and intelligent writing. That’s why so many introverts enjoy your blog.

27 Pearl August 31, 2010

Dwight,
Yes! Thank you for saying these things!

28 Tammy September 1, 2010

Introverts unite! Yay. :) Thanks so much for reading RowdyKittens. :)

29 Mary August 30, 2010

I have 3 grown daughters and the older 2 are extroverts and the youngest is a intovert like me. I’m not so painfully shy or sacred of everything as I was when I was younger . But I still needs lots of alone time which works out well since I now live alone. I’m never bored–I can always find something to entertain myself with–and very seldom lonely. I love to spend time with my friends and specially my daughters and their families–but always glad to come back home. We just are what we are and that’s okay. But growing and stretching out of our comfort zone is good for us too. Best wishes on your new ebook!

30 Joan August 30, 2010

Our society is so other-centered that it’s hard to realize that half of us are introverts.

My husband and I, both introverts, spent over thirty years each as public school teachers, meeting 150 or so teenagers each day. It’s my observation that a fair number of teachers are introverts, and my prejudice that we may be better teachers than the ones who feed on the hubbub of the classroom. Yes, alone time is essential. It is good to recognize the differing personality types and learning styles among our students. High school is not an easy place to be an introvert.

31 Pearl August 31, 2010

Yes Joan, I teach also and I put on my professional persona when I face a classroom. I tell my students this too, trying to model for them how I do something that that they must craft for themselves. Can you recommend a website or publication that I can use to follow this up? I’ve only just come to it by myself. Thank you!

32 Tammy September 1, 2010

@Pearl – You might find some info on the Ted website. :) http://www.ted.com/

33 mary anne August 30, 2010

You seem to be confusing introversion with shyness. The two don’t necessarily correlate. An introvert needs alone time and many prefer to be alone (mostly). Many introverts train themselves to be functional extroverts, by working hard to create and maintain relationships, reach out more, etc. This is especially true in business, but may start earlier out of a need to be more “normal” since extraverts are perceived as better liked, more popular, etc. I am a strong introvert, but definitely not shy. I have no trouble speaking up, being assertive, introducing myself or making conversation. It just drains me to do it. Introverts tend to live more in their head and to objectify people. Extroverts tend to live through relationships and tend to subjectify people.

Interesting list of traits and short discussion of introverts: http://psychology.suite101.com/article.cfm/the_introvert and http://www.personalitydimensions.com/articles/ierevisited.htm

34 Pearl August 31, 2010

Mary Anne, Thank you for that important distinction between introvert and shy. I am very socially adept and can enjoy it at times. But it ain’t ‘me’. This has confused me for a long time and I have spent much energy and angst over ‘what is wrong with me’ and trying to change the way I am. Thinking there is something bad wrong with me to come home drained by being with people. It is very hard to operate in a world that rewards extroverts. and hard for my friends to understand. They think I must have a problem or don’t like them when neither is true. I feel sooo much better now.

35 Vanessa August 31, 2010

This is exactly what I’m like. I can be quite opinionated and outspoken when the situation calls for it, but if I don’t have anything to say, I just listen without talking and conserve my energy. About half the people I know think I’m very quiet and shy, and the rest will turn to me an hour into a meeting and say, “Well? I know you’ve been taking all this in, and now you’re going to make some comment that changes everything.”

36 dave August 31, 2010

Great discussion that I relate to! My friends call me a closet extrovert. I am one of those people who you’d never be able to recognize me in the physical world based upon knowing me online. Never.

Kristen – I’ve been writing online since 1997 and I’ve never broken out of my shell for good. I have to constantly work at it. I am so uncomfortable at social gatherings. Two things have helped. I continue to try and throw myself at the wolves (do what I’m afraid of) and I married a social animal. When I find myself in a sea of icebergs, I follow her lead and it seems to work.

Molly – LOL! I got a quick visual of you and your husband. I think you could probably make a comic strip out of it.

37 T.J. August 31, 2010

Well, I like this post. I have to say… I think I’ve become more of an introvert as I get older (not old, but older). The reasons: mainly because I don’t go out much due to financial limitations, I work from home, my closest friends over the years have all gotten married and moved away, and so forth. I believe this is the case with many people and sometimes I just need a good kick in the butt to get out of the house. When I do, I meet new people (I’ve got a few great friends that like to throw me to the wolves when we’re out, it’s not such a bad thing) and always have a great time! The comforts of being shy, I think, leave less possibles for rejection and embarrassment, less to worry about if you keep to yourself. Things I have learned though: I can be a private person and still go out, meet new people and have fun. A little of both worlds seems to be a good balance, for me anyway. Thanks!

38 AP August 31, 2010

Such a timely post and comments, given that I spent the better part of today re-reading and mulling over Jonathan Rauch’s classic Atlantic article, in which he defines and defends introversion to an extroverted world. (He also explains in some detail the distinction between shyness and introversion.) I think the commenters here will enjoy the article as well as the attached interview and discussion thread…because after a few hours on the (frequently) necessary and (very often) fulfilling task of building relationships with the techniques Tammy outlines above, it feels good to luxuriate in your introversion for the rest of the day (or week).

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2006/02/introverts-of-the-world-unite/4646/

39 Pearl August 31, 2010

Thank you for this article! Yes yes yes. I never could figure it out–I am socially skilled and adept at groups. But I feel like being with people is like eating my museli for breakfast. It is something I do that is good for me. I feel like my introverted-ness has been seen as a problem by myself and others all my life. No longer!

40 Pearl August 31, 2010

OMG, my tribe! Tammy you have opened the door for me and I am soooo grateful—what a gift. How many ways can I say thank you—THANK YOU

41 Bronwyn September 1, 2010

These are great tips, thank you! I’m an artist, writer, & blogger, I live on a cul-de-sac on a tiny rainy island soooo… obviously I enjoy spending time alone…. yet staying connected is so important for our emotional and even physical health – studies have shown that people with rich social networks stay happier, live longer & are healthier. Those coffee dates really make a big difference. thanks for the reminder.

42 CoCoYoYo September 1, 2010

Such an interesting topic! I’m becoming more and more introverted as I get older. I feel like I have to force myself to do anything but go to work (and even that is difficult). Anyway, you’ve given me a lot to think about :)

43 Catherine September 4, 2010

Hi Tammy. I love your website and follow all your posts.
You are inspiring to me, so I was surprised to hear that you are an introvert.
I am also an introvert but it seems to be a negative thing for me because I am very lonely. I don’t understand how other introverts have partners. How did they meet them? I can’t get close to anyone and I don’t go out because every time I do I feel alone even when I’m around a lot of people – I can’t relate to anyone. I feel so different, and like a bad person because I don’t like anyone.

44 Majeeda September 12, 2010

It’s interesting that those who are introvert’s are not necessarily always the classic ”shy” types. It’s a stereotype which not everyone fits. We’re all so different and it’s been really interesting reading this post and the comments too :)

45 nadruki na koszulkach January 26, 2011

Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to say that I’ve truly enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I will be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

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