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Bridging the Communication Gap: Introverts and Extraverts

It is easy to see why miscommunications might occur between introverts and extraverts. As with other miscommunications, we tend to interpret other people’s behaviors based on what we know from our own experiences. And without knowing the intentions of other people, we make a great deal of assumptions about what their behaviors mean. Keep reading to find out more about the introvert extravert communication gap.

The Interpersonal Gap Model

It may be helpful to briefly review John L. Wallen’s Interpersonal Gap Model (introduced in Bridging the Communication Gap: Introduction) to provide a framework before looking at miscommunications between introverts and extraverts. Here’s my attempt at a demographically-neutral representation of two people in the Interpersonal Gap Model:

Interpersonal Gap Model

As you can see in the drawing, the private thoughts and intentions of “Person A” are unknown to “Person B” and visa versa. Person A has a particular intention, which is turned into observable behaviors (speaking, silence, gesturing, standing still, etc) in accordance with Person A’s encoding system. Then, Person B decodes the behavior based on Person B’s decoding system.

If Person A and Person B have the same encoding/decoding systems, they will probably have fewer miscommunications. However, so many different factors come into play for one’s encoding/decoding system that it is nearly impossible for two people to have identical systems. Culture, sub-culture, socioeconomic status, gender, year of birth, parental influence, and personality factors, among other things, can contribute to one’s encoding/decoding system.

If we do not realize that we are using different systems, miscommunications abound. If we do not check our assumptions, the miscommunications solidify. And the more solid they get the harder it is to resolve them, particularly if hurt feelings and anger get solidified with them.

Introversion/Extraversion and Communication

One personality factor that can influence one’s encoding and decoding system is where one falls on the introversion/extraversion spectrum. Let’s bring back our blue friends to demonstrate.

introvert extravert communication gap

Ideally, Person B would check with Person A to see if Person B’s interpretation is accurate. Person B could ask a question and leave some space for the answer. Such as, “What do you think about ____?” or “Hey, I’ve been throwing out a lot of my own ideas. Do you have some to add?”

On the other hand, Person A could provide an indication of having something to share so that Person A does not have to interrupt but is still able to communicate the desire to add something to the conversation.

Either way, if these two are going to have conversations in the future, it would probably be a good idea to have a discussion about communication styles and agree to work towards bridging the gap. A strong bridge will require each person contributing to building the bridge, just as both people contribute to the miscommunications that occur.

Of course, this is just one example of a miscommunication between introverts and extraverts. Misinterpretations go both ways.

For instance, I have heard extraverts lament being misunderstood as flirting when their intent was merely to be friendly.

In addition, I have helped introverts to understand that when someone talks over them, it is not always a sign of disrespect. Sometimes it is, but many times the introverts are talking to an excited extravert who cannot contain himself or an extravert who is demonstrating accord or connection by jumping in and finishing the introvert’s sentences.

This is not to say the introvert is wrong to want the conversation partner to refrain from jumping in before the introvert has finished. Rather, it is to say that how the introvert interprets the interruption may lead to the solidification of a miscommunication filled with hurt feelings, resentment, or anger when seeing it as a sign of disrespect.

Instead of making any assumptions, it may be better to step back from the situation, note the observable behaviors (minus any interpretation) and initiate a conversation about differences in communication style and how each demonstrates respect. These are pretty key bridge-building actions and will apply to miscommunications of all sorts. With some practice, you will be able to build bridges like a pro.

Best wishes in your communication bridge-building efforts! Feel free to contact me if you need support in your endeavors.

For more examples and some tips for navigating miscommunications between introverts and extraverts, I will be presenting a free Webinar on December 2nd entitled “Exploring Communication with the Perplexing Other: When Introverts and Extraverts Collide.” If you are unable to attend the Webinar during the scheduled time (9am-10am PST), you will be able to view it by finding it in the archives here.

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