When I started this blog almost three years ago, it was called “The Confident Introvert.” I chose that name because I think there is a perception that many introverts are not confident. After all, we’re still often defined as anti-social, shy loners – and that doesn’t sound very confident, does it? I think introverts can be – and are – just as confident as extroverts. So why that inaccurate perception?
It’s the difference between what confidence feels like and what confidence looks like. Anyone can say, “I feel confident.” But only the speaker will know if it’s really true or not. An observer will decide if someone else is confident based on their behavior.
In our extrovert-centric culture, there’s a generally accepted view of confidence. It’s bold action, decisive body language and lots of talking. We know it when we see it. And when we don’t see what we expect to find, we wonder if confidence is missing.
Which is where most introverts run into difficulty. Our outward behavior doesn’t look like what most people think confidence looks like.
Words – Let’s face it. We do not talk as much as extroverts. Extroverts tend to think out loud. Introverts prefer to let a thought out into the world only if it’s been thoroughly inspected and tested for flaws. Talking – and being able to fill silence, which seems to make so many people uncomfortable – is a way for people to determine if someone is confident. If you’re not talking, you’re shy or quiet – and therefore not confident.
Body language – Because we are so internally focused, our body language can sometimes suggest to others that something is wrong or off. I can’t tell you how many times someone has told me they thought I was angry or unhappy when in fact I was feeling quite the opposite. My serious face happens when I’m listening or observing or analyzing.
Especially in public situations, we tend to conserve energy for the important task of dealing with people. So we don’t stride into a room, walk up to a stranger, thrust out a hand and start talking. Our slower, less expansive body language tends to look like timidity and fear to others.
Thoughts vs. Actions – Introverts think. A lot. And almost all of it happens inside our head, which of course no one can see. I sometimes think if our skulls were transparent and people could see all the activity going on in our heads, it would simply astound them.
We have such a bias toward action that inaction is seen as a negative. It’s okay to want to sit back and think about a problem or an issue before reacting to it. Extroverts will solve a problem by immediately trying different solutions; an introvert will think through every possible solution before actually picking one. Neither is right or wrong; they are just different.
Finally, I think there’s a factor that actually gives introverts an edge when it comes to confidence. We have such a deeply rooted, internal belief system that we don’t need any external validation. We don’t need accolades and applause (though they are certainly nice to have!). But our introspection and self-knowledge tell us all we need to know.
While others may not see our confidence, that doesn’t mean it’s missing. Remember that your sense of confidence doesn’t come from what others think – it comes from what you think.
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