‘Why are you so quiet?’ Ahh, that familiar phrase which fills me with dread whenever I hear it. If I could go back in time and relive certain scenarios where this question would crop up, my rhetoric now would be ‘but, why are you so loud?’ Looking back, it makes me wonder why it’s only the quiet ones who are quizzed for their innate personality, even at a young age. Why are we the ones reproached for being the way we are? We’re just sat here minding our own business. Being quiet is treated as a negative from the off and, by pointing it out, it really does wonders for your self-esteem. I should know…
It’s said that a third of the world’s population are introverts. And although being an introvert isn’t the same as being quiet, they do show similar character traits. For instance, our energy levels are restored by being alone rather than through social interaction and we’re less likely to initiate conversations. In fact, the lockdowns which littered the past year meant that we welcomed extroverts into our quiet world for the first time. With staying home, the new going out, I suspect introverts were better suited to coping with the ‘unprecedented’ times than our more confident and outgoing counterparts. That’s not to say introverts had it easy, but perhaps, we were able to adjust quicker because our anxiety had already prepared us for the worst happening, or maybe was that just me?
Growing up, being at university, finding your feet in the big wide world during your twenties – it all revolved all fitting in, being the most liked, the most popular, the one with the most friends, virtual or otherwise. School reports always said, ‘it would be nice to see her contribute more to class discussions’ or an appraisal at work might include ‘be more vocal about ideas.’ It’s exhausting. Pair that with being a natural introvert and navigating the world where you are told to ‘promote yourself’, ‘network’ ‘take part in everything’ just makes you want to quit it all. I’m now at an age where I doubt my personality is going to change. These comments draw attention to something which I cannot help – though self-help books may say otherwise – and imply that being quiet is undesirable and detrimental to your progression in both your career and life. PSA: that really isn’t the case.
The working world is set up to support extroverts. Society approves of them. Susan Cain wrote in her book ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’ that “Society favours a man of actions versus a man of contemplation.” So, essentially, to be successful, you must fill every silence, awkward or not. Sounds truly painful.
Open-plan offices and group brainstorms scheduled last minute are two key examples which favour the extrovert ideal. Yes, you may not have said anything in that meeting but did the one doing all the talking say anything either? Often those who shout the loudest have the littlest to say. I’d love to know if the most confident, extroverted person in the room ever gets told to ‘tone it down’ because it’s holding them back from a promotion. Somehow, I very much doubt it.
In front of the whole office, a past manager once handed me a book called ‘The Discomfort Zone’, all about (surprise, surprise) getting out of your comfort zone and being comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. I was told I couldn’t do my job because I wasn’t confident enough, loud enough, didn’t know enough and these comments chipped away at any remaining confidence I had left. Those things can’t and won’t change overnight, how-to book or not.
Fast forward to now and I’ve realised there’s power in being quiet. You observe and you listen. You become a good judge of character. You’re more aware of those around you. You think before you speak, and you make sure you’re well-informed before stating an opinion. These qualities allow for thoughtful discussions, a genuine need to understand and an interest in learning. Contrary to public opinion, introverts do have a lot to say.
It’s only now, at the age of 30, that I feel comfortable enough to say what I’m thinking and voice my opinions. Perhaps it is true that when you reach the big 3-0, you really do know yourself much better. I’ve gained confidence as I’ve got older, but I’ve also accepted I’ll never be the loudest person in the room, and you know what? That’s fine. I don’t view socialising as an extreme sport but I’m going to have to really like you if you expect me to stay out later than 9pm* (*8pm) on a weeknight.
And guess what? I’m still in the job I supposedly couldn’t do and have progressed. Watch out for the quiet ones (not as sinister as it sounds). If you need me, you know where to find me. In my comfort zone.
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