Towards the end of the previous post of this pair, drawing from Susan Cain’s fascinating book, Quiet, we touched on something that can impact on close relationships between extraverts and introverts. This was the idea of a Free Trait Contract, where, for example, the extravert who wants to have a big dinner party every Saturday compromises with his introverted spouse and goes for every other week instead and allows her to have quiet conversations on the sidelines rather than have to stand centre stage as he does. She has given ground as well by agreeing to the fortnightly parties.
As an introvert married to an extravert I’m well used to this kind of give and take which is perhaps the most obvious way in which these two temperaments have to accommodate to each other if the relationship is going to survive. Susan Cain explains (page 227):
This was a painfully common dynamic in the introvert-extrovert couples I interviewed: the introverts desperately craving downtime and understanding from their partners, the extroverts longing for company, and resentful that others seemed to benefit from their partners’ “best” selves.
The last part relates to how introverts with a commitment to a demanding ‘core project’ of some kind (see previous post), exert themselves during the day for that purpose but come home frazzled and tired wanting only to collapse into silence to recharge their batteries (ibid.):
It can be hard for extroverts to understand how badly introverts need to recharge at the end of a busy day.
This lack of understanding is, of course, a two-way street (page 228):
It’s also hard for introverts to understand just how hurtful their silence can be.
You would think that the solution is obvious. Why don’t they just talk to each other? Unfortunately it’s not quite as straightforward as that, given that the two temperaments have two different communication styles (page 229):
Just as men and women often have different ways of resolving conflict, so do introverts and extroverts; studies suggest that the former tend to be conflict-avoiders, while the latter are “confrontive copers,” at ease with an up-front, even argumentative style of disagreement.
That’s tricky. She draws out the distinction very clearly with an example (page 232):
When Emily lowers her voice and flattens her affect during fights with Greg, she thinks she’s being respectful by taking the trouble not to let her negative emotions show. But Greg thinks she’s checking out or, worse, that she doesn’t give a damn. Similarly, when Greg lets his anger fly, he assumes that Emily feels, as he does, that this is a healthy and honest expression of their deeply committed relationship. But to Emily, it’s as if Greg has suddenly turned on her.
So, how do we deal with that? Again, I know from personal experience that this mismatch of styles is very upsetting to both parties when what starts out as a discussion ends up as an argument. One possibility, she suggests, is to learn from the Swami and the snake (page 232):
In her book Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion, Carol Tavris recounts a story about a Bengali cobra that liked to bite passing villagers. One day a swami—a man who has achieved self-mastery—convinces the snake that biting is wrong. The cobra vows to stop immediately, and does. Before long, the village boys grow unafraid of the snake and start to abuse him. Battered and bloodied, the snake complains to the swami that this is what came of keeping his promise. “I told you not to bite,” said the swami, “but I did not tell you not to hiss.”
“Many people, like the swami’s cobra, confuse the hiss with the bite,” writes Tavris.
Basically, then Greg as the extravert and the introverted Emily (ibid.):
. . . . [b]oth have much to learn from the swami’s story: Greg to stop biting, Emily that it’s OK for him—and for her—to hiss.
This undoubtedly works, but both sides have to vigilant otherwise the introvert hiss becomes inaudible and the extravert hiss becomes ear-piercing.
I hope these posts have given a flavour of how useful and intriguing Susan Cain’s exploration of introversion is. Given that the success or failure of a society, a marriage or a family depends to a large extent upon the effectiveness of its communication, there is much of value to be learned from this book. Our communities have to find a place for both temperaments. Her references to the studies of the 2008 recession give a powerful example of exactly why.
Fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) are characteristic of an introvert’s more cautious approach to life and its decisions. She explains its relevance (pages 163-164):
Disdain for FUD—and for the type of person who tends to experience it—is what helped cause the crash, says Boykin Curry, a managing director of the investment firm Eagle Capital . . . .
“Each time someone at the table pressed for more leverage and more risk, the next few years proved them ‘right.’ These people were emboldened, they were promoted and they gained control of ever more capital. Meanwhile, anyone in power who hesitated, who argued for caution, was proved ‘wrong’. The cautious types were increasingly intimidated, passed over for promotion. They lost their hold on capital. This happened every day in almost every financial institution, over and over, until we ended up with a very specific kind of person running things.”. . .
“People with certain personality types got control of capital and institutions and power,” Curry told me. “And people who are congenitally more cautious and introverted and statistical in their thinking became discredited and pushed aside.”
Stand by then for the quiet revolution!