Last week I passed my six-year-old’s bedroom and started laughing. She had attached this message to her door.
Bless her introverted, empathic little heart. The poor thing is trying to figure out what it looks like to communicate she needs some space without offending the busy, often extroverted world around her. It’s hard to balance loving people while also needing breaks to refuel. This is the daily challenge for a low-bandwidth communicator.
There are a lot of reasons why someone may feel limited in their ability to communicate with energy and frequency. Introversion, a personality trait that craves quiet space and inner reflection, is certainly one. However, even the most extroverted person can be limited in their ability to communicate in times of stress, grief, or tragedy. And, of course, some people were simply not raised with strong, empathic communication skills. But, no matter the reason, all of us will sometimes find ourselves trying to communicate with someone who does not have a lot of words or energy to offer back. And, in those situations, here are my favorite tips for getting the most out of those precious few words or moments we get in return.
Give More Often Than Receive: This is a pretty good practice in almost any area of life but, with a low-bandwidth communicator, this can be especially helpful. It is important to remember that when people are introverted or under great strain, they are not retreating from you, they are retreating to gather their energy. Knowing this can help us not feel rejected. When you offer kindness and space you are helping them to recharge and be able to reconnect sooner.
Plan for Interaction: Can we always know when we need to talk with someone? No. But, low-bandwidth communicators are hyper-aware that their communication energy can drain quickly. Asking if they can chat in 20 minutes or “when would be a good time” can help them gather themselves for a more effective conversation than just popping in.
Send “No-Reply” Communication: This is one of my two favorites, especially for people who are under stress or grief. When we are under great strain, especially if many people are reaching out, it’s hard to get back to everyone. We can reduce the burden for folks in these circumstances by sending “no-reply” texts, e-mails, cards, etc. “I’m praying for you.” “No need to reply just wanted to say I love you.” and “Thinking of you today” is still offering support without also asking for a reply.
Ask for Specific Communication: My other favorite for low-bandwidth communicators is to ask for specifics. “Tell me two ways I can pray for you” is clearer than “How are you?” “Do you need your lawn mowed?” is more direct than “How can I help?” And, “Can you pick up the kids on Thursday?” is easier to focus on than, “Tell me your schedule for the week.” Of course, all of these options are valuable questions. But, when someone is trying hard to think through the fog of grief or a pile of details, these specifics can be helpful to get you back the information you desire.
Share Boundaries Around Your Needs: Ah, this is the one that will hopefully comfort all those saying, “But I have needs too! I want to talk with them. Be with them. Process my day!” Yep. The need to communicate matters just as much as the need to retreat and recharge. This is where we make a very clear distinction that the strategies offered here are for healthy situations where both people want to meet the other’s needs, even if they are different. The introverted man who loves his wife needs to know her needs so he can figure out how to meet her in her extroversion. The stressed-out Mom who loves her kids wants to make a plan to connect with them in a way that is satisfying to them. People may be different, but one of the best places to start helping a low-bandwidth communicator connect better with a high-bandwidth one is learning what they both need so they can each move toward the middle sometimes and serve each other in their extremes sometimes too.
May we all find ways to appreciate and meet one another in the diversity of our communication needs, skills, and ability.