Dear Extroverts — Please Don’t Worry When Introverts Are Quiet

don't worry when introverts are quietYou know how sometimes an idea keeps presenting itself to you in various ways until you feel it’s a sign of something? That’s how this post came about. In a couple of other blog posts I’ve read lately, the idea of silence as a negative kept popping up. So here’s an open letter to all extroverts on the topic of introverts and silence.

Dear Extroverts,

We know it’s of great concern to you that introverts are sometimes — or often — quiet. For some reason, this kind of freaks you out. I think you have some misconceptions about what it means to be quiet.

We aren’t upset. Or angry. Or depressed. Or scared. Or nervous. Or any other negative emotion you can think of. We aren’t talking because we’re probably doing something else. We’re thinking. Or listening. Or watching. Sometimes we just don’t have anything to say (which may be hard for you to believe, but it’s true). We need to take in an enormous amount of data before we can output any data. Please don’t mistake silence for problem. That’s almost never the case.

It’s not a reflection on you. I know some extroverts who seem to think that introverts being quiet means something is wrong with them (the extroverts). Please don’t take it personally. We aren’t being quiet to offend you. It’s just the way we are.

We’re thinking about what to say next. Sounds silly to you, probably, but our brain pathways are much longer than yours. It literally takes us longer to come up with a thought and then put it out into the world. Here’s your process:

1. Thought
2. Mouth

Here’s the process for introverts:

1. Thought.
2. Is this what I really think?
3. Is this something I really want to say out loud?
4. How should I say it?
5. Waiting for a lull in the conversation to get a word in.
6. Wait, maybe I should rephrase that.
7. Okay, now I’m ready.
8. Mouth

We know you have the best intentions when you are worried about us. You are genuinely concerned and we love you for that. But when you start asking questions like “Are you okay?” you imply that something is wrong. And sometimes — when we lack a little bit of confidence or are in a new or unfamiliar situation — we might start to believe you.

Imagine what an introvert child will think when parents or teachers are constantly asking, “Why are you so quiet?”  The child may grow up thinking that there is truly something wrong with them.  In fact, quiet is a natural state for introverts.

So — don’t worry. We’re fine. When we fall quiet, just let there be silence for a moment. Experience it. Observe yourself in silence and see what it’s like. You might learn to like it (well, at least a little bit.)

Sincerely,

Introverts everywhere

 

Image credit: dirkercken / 123RF Stock Photo

 

Comments

  1. My # 8 waffles between “ok, now I’m ready” and “oh, never mind.” LOL! Seriously, if I could print this out and hand it to all of my extrovert friends to read, I would. Very nicely put.

    • Susan Steele says:

      You were reading my mind — I almost included that in my #8 as well! Sometimes by the time I’m ready, it’s like old news already. :)

  2. I think this also helps make sense of why the introvert in mylife sometimes comes out with such shockingly awful things when he’s upset and shouting over me- bypassing those processes not a good idea! Much backtracking and “I didn’t mean that” needed.

    I’m an introvert when it comes to loving time on my own and finding socialising draining, but an extravert in terms of talking, funny mix!

    • Susan Steele says:

      Yeah, sometimes when we talk without all that thinking we do regret it. We tend to like to have very “finished” thoughts when we’re ready to say them out loud.

  3. Sigh. Here we go again. Not all introverts are quiet. I can talk up a storm when I feel properly motivated. But I don’t like socializing like that beyond 2 or 3 hours and I do spend a lot of time alone afterwards and that is when I’m quiet. Or, when I’m out and concentrating hard at something like exercising at the gym. I don’t see that many people talking much at the gym except for a few die hard extroverts who seem to use it as a sort of club house. I just don’t want introverts to be pigeon-holed into the quiet kids who can’t express themselves unless they have something really important to say. It’s just not true of every introvert. We can be as funny and talkative as the next guy. There is a range for both types. So, please be careful about the quiet stuff. I know the latest book is called Quiet, which, in my opinion, isn’t the best title. And I know that I can be alone and quiet more than most. But I can also be a chatter box in a social situation, either because I’m very comfortable or very nervous.

    • Susan Steele says:

      I agree with you that not all introverts are quiet all the time. Sometimes I’m very talkative, when I’m with people I know well and feel comfortable being around.

      My point is that WHEN introverts are quiet (however frequently or infrequently that may be), extroverts need to not worry about it so much. This post is more about how some extroverts seem to think there’s something wrong WHEN we are being quiet. And that’s just not true.

      • Hi Susan,

        I love that you said, “(however frequently or infrequently that may be)”.

        We introverts know that personality is on a sliding scale and that some introverts are more introverted than others, and therefore differ in how quiet they are. Your reply was such an articulate explanation of this.

        As an extreme (and very quiet!) introvert, I really appreciated this post. It’s so concise and sums the subject up in such a perfect way. I love that you’re site says everything I want to but without rambling on and on in the same way my thoughts do! ;-D It articulates ‘everything introvert’ in a clear and simple manner.

        Keep up the good work! :-)

        • *your site. Sorry, I’m tired! But I hate bad grammar, and especially my own! ;-D

          I also forgot to say that extroverts should also always remember that the very definition of introversion is the fact that they find socialising draining, meaning that talking is very tiring for an introvert.

          Especially if they are already tired, as they are then even more likely to be quiet, and probably for longer periods than they would be if they weren’t tired.

          • Susan Steele says:

            Well, my thoughts get very rambling too before I edit. :) When you see a finished blog post, you don’t see all the stuff I took out before I published it. I think that’s one of the things I like best about blogging — being able to share those “finished” thoughts, but still allowing for conversation. :)

  4. “Imagine what an introvert child will think when parents or teachers are constantly asking, “Why are you so quiet?” The child may grow up thinking that there is truly something wrong with them. In fact, quiet is a natural state for introverts.”

    That did happen to me, throughout adolescence, too. And it really got me wondering if there was something VERY wrong with me. So glad I understand myself much better now. I love being an Introvert. :)

    • Susan Steele says:

      I think it just goes to show how everyone is brainwashed into thinking that quiet = bad. I think more people are starting to realize that introversion is not some kind of disease that needs to be cured — so fewer children will grow up hearing that.

      • This is so true. I meant to ask Susan, in light of the exposure of Susan Cain’s work, do you think things are starting to change?
        I too was made to feel bad about my quietness at school and I really hope that her work helps the future generations of introverts. I hate the thought of them suffering as I did.

        • Susan Steele says:

          You know, I go back and forth on this. Sometimes I think there’s more tolerance and then I’ll see a news story or a blog comment or a tweet, and then I realize we still have so far to go.

          I’ve been feeling a bit guilty about my lack of posts lately, but you remind me that we need to keep talking about this issue, because that’s the only way it’s going to improve. We have to constantly remind the world that there’s nothing wrong with introverts. We are just gloriously different. :)

          • I’m the same. I get really excited one minute, but then realise the reality the next when I see that so many people STILL don’t get it. To paraphrase Susan Cain herself, ‘Changing people’s perceptions of introverts will be like trying to turn an ocean liner, and could take decades.’

            Given the prevalence of social media now, you would hope that it would speed things up dramatically. But because the completely wrong definitions of the words ‘introvert’ and ‘extrovert’ have been so ingrained in people’s minds for so long now, they just can’t get their heads round the actual REAL definitions. A lot of introverts themselves sadly don’t even know the true meanings! I feel so strongly about this that I even think that all dictionary definitions should be changed to show the TRUE definitions. I also believe that it should be taught in schools from the very first year and talked about frequently, so that it really sticks and so there’s no more confusion. I also feel that extroverts should be made to act like introverts often. This would demonstrate perfectly the energy loss they would feel, thus demonstrating the definition in a literally physical way, and it would also give them an insight into how introverts feel in an extroverted world.

            Children are like sponges, so it’s easier to educate them from the off, rather than trying to teach adults, who already have well-worn, incorrect perceptions of what those words mean. It would also mean that introverted children would have a MUCH easier time of things as they would hopefully be accepted for who they are, rather than being pushed to conform to the ‘extrovert norm’. I really do believe early education would help them to realise that there is more than one way of being and that both are completely natural and normal personality types.

            Also, social media is both a help and a hindrance, because as well as helping to educate people about introversion, it also glamourises extroversion at the same time and has pushed it even further into being seen as the ‘ideal’. So it’s a double-edged sword unfortunately.

            We absolutely do need to keep talking about it and remind extroverts that those two words describe two different ‘personality’ types and are NOT synonyms for ‘shy’ and ‘outgoing’ but rather define how a person derives their energy. This seems to be the hardest concept for them to grasp.

            But if and when this does sink in, they also need to realise that both types have their different strengths and that being/acting like an extrovert is not how everyone ‘should’ be. Especially as personality type is an innate trait in exactly the same way height or eye and hair colour are.

            And like you say, we ARE gloriously different and extroverts need to accept that our way is just as wonderful to us, as their way is to them!

            My apologies for rambling! ;-D

        • Susan Steele says:

          No apologies necessary! I completely agree with everything you said. I originally started this blog because I was horrified when I read the dictionary definition of introvert. You’re right — we need to be talking about this much earlier in life and kids need to be taught that if they are quiet and prefer to go a little slowly sometimes, that there’s nothing wrong with that.

          I think it will take a long time to change perceptions. But there’s still lots of work to do!

  5. I really enjoyed this article Susan. The more I understand about being an introvert, being hardwired differently, and behaving in some situations – the more comfortable I am in my own skin. It is nice not to feel alone. Going to send to some of my extrovert friends. The more we understand how we communicate the better the experience we can all have!

    • Susan Steele says:

      Thank you — glad you enjoyed it. As you noticed, this isn’t about trashing extroverts. It’s just understanding how we’re different so we can all get along. :)

  6. Oh if only all the extroverts of the world could read this! I can identify with this very strongly as I heard the question, “Are you all right?”, soooo many times from my ex-wife and her extrovert friends and family. In the end I would would usually just get out of the room or the building to save myself. I totally agree with your introvert thought process and that #8 might well morph into, “Oh why bother.”

    • Susan Steele says:

      I know extroverts mean well when they ask that question — it’s just that I think they don’t realize how often we hear it and how depressing it gets after awhile. ;)

    • Jennifer says:

      I couldn’t agree more with this question and re-questioning if i was okay once someone has asked this…Only one person really ever done this to me, shes British for 2 years when i went to school with her, and always in the morning. My thoughts were I just woke up, of course im okay nothings went wrong in my day yet. I used to not relate this question to being introverted but now i understand ( iv been calling it a British thing for a year now :P), I love the girl to pieces and I laugh now all the time about it. I use to ask her how she was instead of giving her the question that boiled my blood for a few months until i realized she meant 0 harm.

      • Susan Steele says:

        Exactly — they don’t mean any harm. That question is always asked with the best of intentions. I think extroverts just don’t realize how much we hear it.

  7. Yes! Nicely put! It would be very helpful if more people could read and understand this message. You’ve captured it very nicely – my thought process often goes like that. And sometimes, by the time I’ve reached #8, the conversation has moved on to another subject so there’s no point in saying the thought at all.

  8. Jonathan says:

    Great insight, coming from an introvert. I especially appreciate your comment about how making wrong assumptions about quietness can really put a dent in the confidence of a child. As a young man wanting kids in the future, I want to let them grow up happy and secure with themselves, and you’ve definitely given me some insight into raising an introvert. Hopefully I can find a similar article to help me understand extroverts a little better.

    • Susan Steele says:

      Thanks, Jonathon. I think you hit the nail on the head about making wrong assumptions about quiet. Too many people tend to think that means there’s something wrong. But for some people, it’s just natural.

  9. introvertedwanderer says:

    “We aren’t upset. Or angry. Or depressed. Or scared. Or nervous.”

    And sometimes we actually are these things. a few years ago, I experienced moderate depression, and was often quiet not only because that’s how I usually am, but also because of depression. I often wanted to just be left alone, unless I was in a rare good mood.

    “It’s not a reflection on you. I know some extroverts who seem to think that introverts being quiet means something is wrong with them (the extroverts). ”

    Sometimes, it actually is the case that an introvert just doesn’t like the extrovert in question, and is trying to avoid interaction by being quiet. I think this can lead to even more drama though because a lot of extroverts already view introverts as being quiet as a default, so even if the introvert is feeling negatively about the extrovert, the extrovert just thinks that the introvert is being quiet because that’s how he or she always is, so there is no problem, even though there might very well be a major problem that the introvert has with an extrovert.
    With extroverts, it is often more likely that they will use quietness toward others as punishment and it’s more obvious with them, since a lot of them are usually more demonstrative and willing to talk to any and everyone. I’ve experienced drama that I really didn’t want to experience with an extreme extrovert because I ended up quietly loathing her personality, tried to keep quiet around her, but ended up lashing out at her one day at a job, because she interrupted a conversation I was having, which was a tendency of hers, and I just lashed out at her without thinking. I only stayed at that job for like a month after that, because I didn’t want to deal with the tension since I still had to see her for some of my work shifts, and she was using silence as punishment. w I actually quite frankly didn’t really care about her silence, but because I didn’t know every aspect of the job,, while she was more experienced, it just proved to be a bad situation since I didn’t like her but needed help every once in a while, which she withheld as punishment, so I decided to leave the job.

Trackbacks

  1. […] I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t have as good of a time as my friends. Then, I came across an open letter to extroverts about why introverts are so quiet and why it’s okay when they […]

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