Extroverted? Here’s Some Tips From a Zen Monk on How To Be More Quiet and Reflective.

It seems like the world is obsessed with introverts. We want to understand them, laugh about them, and even try to change them. As an extrovert who has mostly dated introverted people I’ve laughed at the memes about introverts being relieved when people cancel plans, had my heart melt at comics about how loved introverts feel when people lovingly give them space, and even marveled at how my partners can feel totally depleted after a party when I feel fully energized.

In April 2019, Tom and Lorenzo responded to a tweet by Oprah that featured an article titled “Introverted? Here’s how to be more social”. He asked a simple question, “Where are the articles titled: Extroverted? Here’s some tips on How to be more Quiet and Reflective.”

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And he makes a good point. For the first twenty years of my life I was a passionate, outgoing, extrovert known for arguing any point that crossed my path and interrupting people to say “actually . . . “ and share my knowledge on a given subject.

But in my late twenties I moved into and lived at a Zen monastery for two years and what I learned there about being quiet and reflective changed my life. Sure introverts are interesting for their sometimes counterintuitive behavior, but what’s really unexamined is the strange thing that drives extroverts to talk and how changing it can help you in all sorts of ways.

Extroverts who learn self control around speaking and connecting . . .

  • Appear more confident and powerful
  • Have people listen to them more closely
  • Experience greater satisfaction and depth in life
  • Have stronger and more intimate relationships
  • Appreciate the small things in life more
  • And take fewer things personally

One thing most extroverts don’t understand is that . . .

Talking a lot isn’t always a sign of confidence, it might actually be camouflage for your insecurity.

When I lived at the monastery we spent a lot of time not talking. And at first this was really challenging. I noticed how often I wanted to make a comment, a joke, or offer an interesting fact about something that was happening.

But because silence was encouraged I learned how to bite my tongue and I discovered how deeply uncomfortable I was.

If I wasn’t talking, sharing my insights, making a joke then who was I?
Was I valuable as a person? Would people want me around?

I came to see that while I do love connecting with people my desire to talk and connect wasn’t coming from a deep commitment to connection, but an anxious yearning to have the people around me constantly reassuring me that I was funny, smart, and charming.

And when I let that go I had to face the reality that I wasn’t very confident at all, I was just addicted to the constant stream of feedback I got by being extroverted.

You see, many extroverts love to connect. They get energy from being around people, from loud noises, and exciting activities, but they sometimes struggle to be with themselves.

The silence can feel confronting, their own energy can be hard to contain, and so they go through life hooked on this social feedback. Slowly by being silent I learned to let go of this need and found that I could enjoy other people even more.

Because they were no longer a dealer for my social dopamine high, but rather actually really interesting people with whom I could connect and deepen relationships.

This leads me to the second thing I noticed:

The key to more connection isn’t more conversation, it’s more silence.

One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard from friends about the dates they go on is that the person just talked about themselves the whole time.

It’s a mistake that can be understood by our current culture of producing content. Our job is to share, share, share and hope that someone will respond. This puts our attention on talking and sharing and not much on listening.

None of the platforms most of us spend much time on really encourage us to listen or engage. It’s why so many of my coaching clients are blown away by how much I simply listen to them.

When you’re quiet there’s more space for things to arise.

Practice talking less and notice what arises in you

If you want to actually connect with more people, be quiet and notice what arises.
When you’re listening are you really listening? or are you waiting for your turn to talk?
Can you slow down and pause before speaking?
Did you really hear what that person just said? Or do you already have something lined up?

What do you feel when you hold your comments?
What do you feel when you talk less?

By slowing down and talking less you can learn a lot about yourself and even find a way to be fully comfortable without having to talk all the time.


10 Prompts for Deeper Conversations with a Friend or Colleague

Have you ever felt like you want to get to know someone better, but you just have no idea where to start?

In life, it’s safe to say we’re going to meet and interact with all different kinds of people…

On a few lucky occasions, we’ll come across a person that we get along with right away. Usually we know this because our interactions with this person provoke a feeling of trust or comfort. It feels almost effortless to get to know the person, and equally effortless to share personal details about our life…

On the other hand, there are times when we know right away that we are not compatible with someone. Maybe their core values or views conflict with our own, or maybe it’s as simple as their tone of voice just rubs us the wrong way…

But what about the people that we just simply want to get to know better? Maybe you have a hunch that you’d really enjoy someone’s company… but it’s hard to bridge the gap between the niceties of “Hey, how’s it going?”, “I’m fine. How are you?” to “Hey, did you end up deciding to take the day off to visit your cousin in the hospital? I’ve been thinking of you both…”

A client of mine actually reached out to me the other day asking for some ideas on how they can create deeper conversation with their colleagues on a weekend trip they were about to embark on…

And this got me thinking…

When looking to have a deeper conversation with someone, where do you start? Obviously you don’t want to scare anyone off by probing if they’re not very comfortable with you yet, but at the same time, maybe that’s the person who could really stand to gain from opening up about their life. What’s more, sometimes I find that it’s almost easier to confide in a person you don’t know very well, compared to confiding in a spouse or a family member.

In search of how to aid my client in their request, I came up with a list of 10 different ways to invoke deeper conversation with someone:

1) Have each of you make a list of the things that you’re most curious about the other person then take turns answering questions about their area of interest

2) Each of you shares one regret you have in life and what you learned from it (repeating as many times as you please)

3) Each of you writes down 5 answers on individual pieces of paper (answers that involve simple ideas or concepts) then, place each paper into a hat and take turns drawing an answer and trying to come up with the question that you think your answer is responding to.

4) Time Machine Time! Share something about who you were or what your life was like starting at age 5 and working your way up to your current age in increments of 5 years. (What was life like at 10 for you? 15? 20? And continuing on…)

5) Talk about the future you see for yourself and the future you see for your kids. What will the world be like for them and how might you help them prepare for it?

6) Talk about what you love about your romantic partners and what you want to learn to love and accept more of.

7) Discuss what you are most grateful for.

8) If you could change something about the way you were raised, what would it be?

9) Each of you choose one problem you are currently facing, then take the time to share, discuss and reflect on them together.

10) Throw all these questions away and simply ask in each moment what could I say that’s more true? What could we talk about that would matter more? What am I hiding or holding back? What if I shared more of my heart in this moment?

The beautiful thing about this process isn’t just that you’re about to gain a new friend! You also stand to gain from being vulnerable with this person, and will learn more about yourself through these conversations!

If you try any of these conversation-starters out, let me know how it goes!

Happy conversing!