Modern Etiquette: How introverts can survive the party season

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Are you secretly dreading holiday party invitations in your mailbox?

Revellers dance at an office Christmas party in London December 13, 2007. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

Would you prefer to share celebrations with one person or a few friends rather than a big party? Do you feel drained after social situations, even when you’ve enjoyed yourself? Do you become grouchy if you’re around people or activities too long?

If you answered, “Yes,” to these questions, you are probably an introvert like me, and find the holiday entertaining season draining when it’s supposed to be joyful.

Until I married an extravert, I never truly appreciated the fact that introverts and extraverts are simply hardwired that way. Parties energize extraverts, but drain the rest of us.

The kicker is that we are very sociable. We appear to be having a swell time - and very often we are - so extraverts assume parties are easy for us, and bring us along for more.

“There is a whole culture developed around introverts having to hide to get what they need,” said Dr. Larry Richard, a psychologist who heads the Leadership & Organization Development practice at Hildebrandt Baker Robbins, and an expert on the famed Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test.

“Extraverts don’t understand introverts nearly as well as introverts understand extraverts.”

Studies indicate that introverts naturally generate elevated levels of electrical stimulation in the neo-cortex, and burn a great deal of glucose, Richard said. That takes energy, which is why we introverts can feel exhausted after a party, when others want to keep going into the wee hours.

“Introverts are born with brains that generate more stimulation than extraverted brains. Their job in life is to meter what comes in… and with so much going on already in their brains, they don’t need help from the outside.”


On the flip side, Richard said that since extraverts seek outside stimulation “what could be better than chasing after fire engines or inviting 300 of your closest friends to lunch?”

Then how do introverts conquer the holiday crush?

For myself, I learned to breathe, focus, and meditate on-demand. Years ago I took the Silva Mind Development program, which proved to be one of my best investments. I can excuse myself from a party, go to the restroom, and recharge in a minute or even less. Except for someone who’s really gotta go, who would interrupt someone behind a closed bathroom door?

Perhaps that’s an etiquette topic for another column.

Somewhat more difficult is saying “No” to invitations.

Practice saying: “Thanks so much. I’d be there if I did not already have plans that night.”

Your “plan” can be watching plants grow or paint dry. You need not give a reason. The key is to sound decisive rather than apologetic.

Richard agreed, saying: The number one job for an introvert is figuring out how to manage energy, to build in time for solitude and reflection.”

Talking to one person at a time is another helpful tactic. I often seek out another person who seems to be solo. I introduce myself and say: “I don’t know anybody here. How are you connected to the host?”

That leads into a conversation. I’m all ears and find that, when I focus my attention on the other person, he unfolds, becomes engaged and animated. People always respond to the gift of another person’s time and attention.

Susan Masucci, principal at Ruckus Advertising and Public Relations in Jacksonville, Florida, said that since she is, by nature, a good listener, being an introvert is a business plus.

“We’re not trying to speak over the client and people appreciate that,” she said.

As a successful entrepreneur, she makes time for exercise and solitude to keep her sharp.

As important as writing a ‘thank you’ note to your host after an event, we introverts also must take care of ourselves, and that means taking the time and solitude we need to recharge.

A party is only as good as its guests. When we present our best selves, we fulfil our responsibility to the host, even if we go to fewer events, leave earlier, and speak with fewer people.

Mary Mitchell has written several books on the subject of etiquette, including "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Etiquette" and "Class Acts." She is also the founder of executive training consultancy The Mitchell Organization with the website The opinions expressed are her own.