Please help me kill my introversion before it kills my relationships.
(standard apologies for the length)
One weekend a couple of years back, I had a good college friend come and visit me at my place in NYC. I remember on that Saturday we made no plans, didn't go anywhere, just opened up the windows and door to the deck and enjoyed the nice weather. She read a book and journaled, I surfed the internet and cleaned my desk. We went for hours at a time without saying anything to each other. I often think of this as one of the most pleasant days of my life - having somebody there with me but the both of us actively pursuing our own activities, not feeling much need for words.
People don't seem to get me. I'm an introvert, and unfortunately for a long time have been trying to live like I wasn't one, which seemed to work well enough for maybe the past 5 years. I had my problems here and there, but I got by - landed the better jobs, got the promotion, had good friends, was enjoying life. During this period I rarely dated and never had a serious relationship, not so much for lack of opportunity as just a lack of interest.
Recently I made a major move to a new city (in a new country), and in particular have struggled with two individuals: a subordinate I manage on my work project that brought me here, and a colleague on another project nearby who I have been spending a few weekends traveling with. In both circumstances, I have extremely upset these people, the first in the work environment and the second in the travel / leisure environment, due to my lack of effort at open, direct communication. Both of them, actually, were upset by the same situation - when I picked up my book for an hour or more and just read without saying anything. Was I supposed to warn them I was going to read instead of chat? This kind of blows my mind - that things like this which seem so insignificant to me could lead to total relationship meltdown.
Things I have trouble with:
1) Eye contact. When talking to either of the aforementioned about specifics, I find it incredibly hard to maintain eye contact, regardless of the environment or topic at hand. I have absolutely no trouble with eye contact with strangers, my close friends, a girl I'm interested in, or acquaintances that I have little dealing with. It seems to be more in relationships that are forced upon me by circumstance (i.e. work colleagues, etc.).
2) Small talk. I pretty much hate this with anyone. I like to get to the point, I don't want to comment on the weather or your day yesterday or other uninteresting information. I know this is rude and inconsiderate, but how do I change myself to actually be interested in hearing someone talk about these things?
3) Verbalizing my thoughts. If I don't have anything to say, I usually remain quiet. I realize that some people need more explanation about what I'm thinking / feeling / etc., but even given this realization I find it very hard to remember / force myself to actually say things that I really don't think need to be said. This sometimes pours over into not verbalizing things that I do think need to be said, because an atmosphere of tense silence has already been created, and because I'm fairly comfortable with it, so why rock the boat?
I often prefer to communicate via email / IM - writing feels important to me - I have my thoughts there in a format that is clear and easy to reference, and it allows no one to bend what I've said. That said, I think I sometimes rely to heavily on this when I should be saying things verbally.
How do I change? I realize there are parts of this that are just who I am, but if who I am makes other people miserable, I believe I have to change that. I suppose "get thee to therapy" is the logical response but I don't really have that option at the moment (on reduced salary with limited benefits in a country I'm not from). What I am looking for are practical habits I can look to develop, tips/tricks I can pick up, ways to be a warmer person that can help others understand where I am coming from, etc..
It seems like most of the popular stuff out there regarding introversion is focused on helping everyone else understand us (see here
, and here
). That's all well and good and I wish they would, but its a hell of a lot easier to change myself than it is to change everyone else.