Time to Think Leads to Better Responses — Unless, of Course, a Mack Truck Is Bearing Down on You

It was my kind of interview.

It wasn’t for a job (I’m self-employed). I was actually interviewed about my book, The Introvert Manifesto, and my passion for teaching the world how introverts tick and why. It was for a two-part article that appeared on Nancy Ancowitz’s insightful Psychology Today blog entitled “Self-Promotion for Introverts.” (Nancy has a superb book of the same name, by the way — be sure to check it out.)

So what was so special about this particular interview?

It was conducted entirely via the written word. Nancy emailed me her questions and I emailed her my detailed, well-thought-out responses.

It took me a little under three hours to answer the nine questions Nancy posed, undoubtedly far longer than it would have taken in a phone conversation. That’s fine by me; it was time very well spent. As an introvert, I far prefer the email approach when I’m the interviewee. And, having been in Nancy’s shoes as the interviewer hundreds of times myself, I think I can safely say that Nancy prefers it too from her end of the exchange. I’ve been conducting my own interviews this way for years.

I’m the quintessential introvert in many ways but especially this one: I crave having the chance to think, carefully, before I speak, whether I’m literally speaking or reacting to something in writing. Over the years, I’ve gotten better at responding in the moment. But, given the choice, I will always — always — default toward finding, or taking, some time before I speak. Even just five seconds can make a world of difference.

When I did go on job interviews back in the day, I noticed that my best responses to the questions consistently came to me after the interview was over! Often they showed up as soon as I stepped into the elevator to ride down to the main floor of the building, or in the parking lot as I was walking to my car. What I couldn’t come up with in the interview hot seat just minutes before suddenly sprang to my mind in vividTechnicolor, ready to be delivered to … well, no one.

Grrr!

I learned, eventually, that I could indeed share snippets of these higher-quality responses in my thank-you notes to the interviewers. But for the most part the phenomenon was just a bitter aftertaste of a job interview that could have gone so much better.

I saw my preference to think before I speak as a liability, one I couldn’t do much about, be it in job interviews or anywhere else. But that’s not true. Not always, at least.

Sure, if you’re about to be hit by a Mack truck and you’re not able to respond instantly, you’ve got a liability on your hands: your dilly-dallying will kill you. So you can’t exactly expect the world to stop and give you time to ponder in every circumstance.

But as an introvert, you can indeed learn ways to buy yourself time to think in non-life-threatening situations. In job interviews, for example, you can ask for a few seconds to consider a particular question (I started doing that, by the way, and it worked well) before responding. If one of your kids asks you a question that’s hard to answer in the moment, you can tell him/her that you will think about it and answer it later. In that case you can even describe why you want and need the additional time as an introvert — it’s a teachable moment — hopefully modeling a positive behavior in the process.

If you’re an introvert, then, look for your own ways to buy time when you’re responding to life’s challenges, whether your response needs to be verbal, written, or in some other form. With rare exceptions, asking for additional time won’t hurt you at all. In fact, it will help you. And in the long run, it will help the other people in your life as well — because when they do hear from you, they’ll get your best.

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