Conflict in Relationships

I am an introvert. I prefer one-on-one conversations to a large group setting. I am not very physically or emotionally expressive. The thought of public speaking makes my heart race. In a public setting I worry about standing out in the crowd. On my wedding day I was most nervous about having a group of people (even a group I know and love) focusing their attention on me as I walked down the aisle and said my vows. I like spending time alone doing quiet activities like reading and writing.

This isn’t to say that I am anti-social. I enjoy hanging out with friends, going to cultural and sporting events and some parties/large gatherings. Part of it depends on my level of comfort with the people who will be attending or how much I will be noticed. I am usually fine as long as I know there will be at least one familiar face. I tend to hang out and talk with one or two people at a party rather than try to meet and converse with everyone.

I did go to an event this summer where I knew there were going to be over 200 people and I really didn’t know anyone. I had met one of the attenders earlier in the summer but there was no guarantee I would see her in such a large crowd. I was quite nervous about it, but I considered it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and chose to push through the uncomfortableness. Per usual (for me) I met someone early on who was friendly and then spent the majority of my time talking and learning about her. It made the party much more enjoyable to feel like I knew someone and could talk with her (which, of course, went deep quickly as opposed to two hours spent on the weather).

I recently read Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It was such a good read! I would encourage other introverts and people living with introverts to read it. It helped me to see the benefits of my personality as well as encouraged me that there’s nothing wrong with the way I was wired (the book talks a lot about the Extrovert Ideal as what our society has come to prefer and encourage).

There was a section that talked about relationships and conflict. Susan gave an example of a couple, one an introvert and the other an extrovert. Each temperament thinks and handles conflict differently. Introverts tend to try to minimize conflict and keep the peace, which means they tend to get quiet and anger tends to cause them to withdraw into themselves. Extroverts are more comfortable with conflict and are more passionate and loud when they are trying to work out an issue. Their volume/passion tends to increase as they get closer toward a resolution. Extroverts tend to be external processors, working out their ideas out loud, whereas many introverts are internal processors, working out their thoughts in their heads before voicing them.

I can see how the introvert’s problem-solving process would frustrate extroverts. While I’m trying to decide what I want to say and how I want to say it (preferably in a way that is not inflammatory or hurtful and will lead to a peaceful resolution) it seems like I’m closing myself off and not contributing to the conversation. Meanwhile, an extrovert is passionately voicing his/her thoughts and feelings in the hopes of coming to a resolution but if feels like an attack to the introvert. The louder or more fiery the extrovert becomes, the more uncomfortable, stressed and quiet the introvert becomes. You can see this creates a terrible cycle that is counterproductive.

I liked the explanation of how each temperament handles conflict because it helped remove the feelings that affect understanding. I learned that the extrovert is not attacking but earnestly trying to express their underlying emotions and achieve reconciliation (the same goal as the introvert). As an introvert I need to remember that conflict is inevitable and not bad in itself. I need to allow myself to deal with the tension I feel and be willing to walk through it in order to resolve issues. I also need to be more vocal during conflict and give input even if it doesn’t seem perfectly crafted yet.

Having read and thought about conflict and the different styles of dealing with it, I feel more empowered to deal with future issues when they arise. I’m sure it will still feel uncomfortable and I will have to remind myself that it’s not necessarily a personal attack but more likely a genuine desire to resolve a grievance.

And, of course, you can see I’ve done a lot of internal processing to come to this conclusion.

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