It's not that tough, I promise
Dealing with introverts, I've noticed, is often treated as if it's some kind of ultra-sensitive, alien topic. Being an introvert myself, and being subject to some very interesting treatment from extroverts, I feel like I should (as many others have) shed some light on how to deal with our frequently misunderstood way of being.
At the core, dealing with introverts isn't actually as hard as some people think, given the fact that we like to be left to our own devices so you really don't need to do all that much. But here and there, despite our intent, we seem to come off as being a bit intimidating simply because people don't seem to know how to "handle" us. Don't worry, we're probably not going to snap and go serial killer on you, but here's a few tips if you're really struggling:
Have Introverts Write Their Thoughts Down
We introverts don't like to talk unless we have something important or valuable to say, and some of us refrain even then.
If you're having trouble communicating with your favorite introvert, or can't get them to come out and say what they're thinking, it's probably not your fault, and we're not deliberately trying to make your life harder. Sometimes we just have trouble finding the right words to accurately explain how we feel. We don't want to say the wrong thing and upset you. Don't give up on us, or think we don't want to talk to you. Ask us to write it down (this also works well for the INFJs of Myers-Briggs fame, but that's a different subject for a different time). Many introverts write very well, and you're likely to get the entire picture of the situation from an introvert who writes things down.
Don't Force Them Into Social Situations
Or situations where they will be the unwilling center of attention. Some of the worst things for introverts to hear are when we are told to "be more social", or "come out of your shell" by others. The misconception is that we are shy, so people think they are helping us emerge from our cocoon by throwing us to the social wolves. This is probably the worst thing you can do. Shyness can certainly be a part of introversion, but not all introverts are necessarily shy. We like to observe before we engage people. We're learning our surroundings, and trying to figure out where our energy would be best spent. We don't like small talk, so if the social scene is a whole lot of superficial gossip, you'll probably find us huddling in the corner bonding with the resident animals instead of the people. Get us talking about things we like or find meaningful, however, and we'll blab for hours. It just has to be the right thing.
We'll get social when we're ready, and when we feel comfortable, but it has to be on our time. So don't shove us into the spotlight and yell, "you're on!". Respect that we have our reservations, and no, it's not your fault and chances are you're doing nothing wrong. Let us do our thing, and all will work out.
Respect When They Want Time Alone/Apart
This does not mean our friendships/relationships are over for good. We do value our friends/families/etc, and we love that you want to spend time with us, but remember, our energy and spirit is revitalized in the absence of others. Our inner world is quite vast, and we replenish ourselves by visiting that world. It gets us in tune with our deepest needs and desires, so spending time alone is critical. We absorb so much from the world around us, I always refer to it as "white noise", and we are very prone to losing ourselves within that noise. Our own minds are already loud enough. It's basically like this:
Everyone has a method of recharging the proverbial batteries - introverts just prefer to do it alone. When we decide to retreat, the best thing you can do is not take it personal. Most of the time, it has little or nothing to do with you - so take comfort, extroverts, and don't take offense. Be aware, however, that it might be awhile before the introvert in your life decides to return to you. Feel free to check in periodically (we don't mind, because it shows that you care!), but don't overdo it. I can't tell you how many times you should call, text, or email your introvert - there's no way to measure it, since everyone's different - but use your better judgement. You can bet that the introvert doesn't want their phone blowing up at all hours of the day. Be patient, and don't fret. We'll be back.
Don't Treat Them As If They Are Always Depressed, Sad, or "Fragile"
Another common misconception is that introverts are depressed or sad because they desire so much time alone. As previously mentioned, we get our batteries recharged by solitude. Wanting time alone does not necessarily relate to depression. I would say that some concern might be warranted if your friend has a sudden change in behavior that you're not used to. Maybe then you might want to inquire about them to see if they are okay. Otherwise, introverts highly enjoy their privacy, and in fact, require it immensely in order to maintain relationships the way they desire. We're not always open books, but we can be when given the space to be ourselves.
It is also frequently assumed that introverts are "fragile", and some of us might be, but I can guarantee you that we are not all the same. You need not treat introverts as delicate flowers that can't handle anything. It can be a little demeaning when sometimes, all we want is just a bit of peace and quiet. We don't need any other special treatment really, and introverts are just as resilient as anyone else. Again, all it goes back to is different individual requirements.
In the end, even if you don't fully understand the introverts in your life, or their "strange" behavior, that's okay. Just respect their wishes when they want to be alone, or silent, and realize they are, like you, probably just trying to be themselves. Treat everyone as a unique individual (notice, I keep mentioning this concept), and it's hard to go wrong. It's our special traits and differences that make the world wonderful. Mushiness aside, here's the bottom line: