Just Because I Need Time to Respond Doesn’t Mean I’m Unintelligent

IntrovertDear.com introvert slow to speak

I’m sitting at work with my shoulders bent over papers splayed along my desk. My eyes are concentrated and immersed. When I focus on something, it’s like my entire brain dives deep into whatever ocean I’m exploring. I can’t multi-task because to do that is to keep the brain only shallowly invested so that it can easily switch from one pool to another. My brain does not do this. It is all or nothing.

As I sit there, my extremely extroverted coworker walks into my office and immediately fires a question at me. I drag my eyes up like molasses sliding from a can, and she stands there, staring at me and waiting for my answer. My brain is still swimming back from the ocean, so I am not even sure what she asked yet. As my brain finally reaches the surface and takes a deep breath, her question hits me. It is simple, and I know the answer, but I’m not there yet. My brain is still in the water, eagerly searching for the dry land of another topic. She stands there, sighing, clearly impatient at my lack of answering. So I try to give her something: “Yes, er, no—wait, yes.” She raises her eyebrows at me and snorts a small laugh.

Finally I am able to rattle off the full answer, and she walks away from my desk, giggling to herself. Because of her talkative, gossipy nature, she will probably tell everyone about what just happened: how she asked such a simple question yet I stared at her, dumbfounded.

I’ve been asked on many occasions if I have a mental or learning disorder or, more generally, what is wrong with me. To answer the question, nothing is wrong with me. I am completely ordinary and average. I did well in all my years of school, though not so much in the social aspect. But from an academic standpoint, I shined and received a scholarship to college. While in college, I made good marks and graduated with honors. Why, then, do I constantly get these muffled giggles, pointed questions, and judging looks?

My One Little ‘Problem’

There is one little “problem” that I neglected to mention. I am an introvert. An INFP personality type, to be exact. Because INFPs make up only 4 percent of the population, I have a personality that is a bit different from most people I encounter.

(What’s your personality type? Take a free personality assessment.)

I am certainly the only INFP in my workplace, so incidents like the one with my coworker happen frequently. You see, an introvert’s brain is their own personal world. We introverts spend nearly all our time there, and we are always thinking, pondering, figuring, deciding, or planning. It’s an absolute whirlwind up there, and most of us enjoy the rare moments of peace we get when our brain takes a rest.

But my coworkers and others around me see something different. They do not see the thoughts running through my brain, the padlocks being opened to pull out old memories, or the little lightning bolts that send new information to my sensors while I wait to see what it all means. The only thing they see is me sitting there with a blank expression on my face.

So, nearly every time, they jump to the very wrong conclusions. They assume I don’t understand what they’re talking about or that I’m a little slow.

I Think Before I Speak

It is true that I will most likely arrive at an answer slower than you will. But does that make me impaired? I don’t think so. I take longer to arrive at that answer because I spend time considering all angles and crafting my response before speaking. So when I do answer, I provide a thoughtful, logical, clear sentence. This is why, maybe surprisingly, introverts are great at debating and public speaking. When they have time to think about what they are going to say, they nail it.

As stated earlier, my brain takes an all or nothing approach. We introverts are thinkers, and we employ our deep-processing abilities in almost everything we do. At work, I become engrossed in whatever I am doing at the time, and to burst in and pull me out of that and to expect an immediate response is jarring and even painful for me.

At one time in history, thinking was a highly respected practice. People like John Locke made it cool. Philosophers, authors, and other deep-thinking types were revered. They still are to this day. In school, we learn about the brilliant theories and ideas they came up with when they were allowed to spend time with their own mind. Now thinking is an embarrassment. To think slowly over something, to mull, to ponder, is only proof of how “slow” you are compared to your quick-witted friends. What has happened to our society?

A Glimpse Into My Brain

Until people change their attitudes about introversion, incidents like the one with my extroverted coworker will continue to happen frequently. And if I’m being totally honest, that situation hurt me. These giggly coworkers of mine are not bad or even mean people, but they simply do not understand me because they cannot see the whole picture. They go off what they can see, which is a false representation.

And when most people observe incidents like the one I described, they do not even think about it. It is such a small occurrence that they do not even notice. But introverts, especially INFPs, definitely notice. Believe me, we notice everything.

For whoever reads this, I hope to give you a glimpse into my brain so you can start to understand the things that no one else sees. I concentrate deeply, so if you ask me something and I have to take a moment to gather my thoughts, please remain patient and do not giggle or judge me. If you do get impatient, that’s okay, because everyone gets impatient sometimes. But don’t think you will spur me on by giving me judging looks and making irritated noises. That added pressure will only slow me down. Allow me the time I need and you will get the answer you want.

Just because you can see tiny glimpses of me from the outside, do not assume that you completely know and understand me. At work, sitting at my desk, you see only one percent of me. There is a whole other ninety-nine percent that is not visible to you.

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Read this: The Science Behind Why Introverts Struggle to Put Their Thoughts Into Words

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  • Amy S says:

    I also have problems with co-workers interrupting my work and expecting immediate answers to questions that are unrelated to the task I am currently involved in completing. I find it frustrating when I am yanked away to answer a question RIGHT.THIS. MINUTE. that could have been emailed to me and then answered when I finished and moved on to other things.

    So, as you probably expect, I sometimes come across as less than thrilled as much as I try not to. Every year on my evaluation I get dinged for being unwelcoming and hard to work with because I don’t like being interrupted mid-task. There is never any effort to see if we can work on a compromise – like trying emails for simple questions – I am always told that I have to change and be more cheerful and happy when I get pulled away. Yeah, it’s super fun.

  • I thought something was wrong with me until I read this. If someone is confrontational and fires a question at me, my mind goes blank and I provide a response that is no where near what I really should say. If I had more time then I could articulate the right responses. I can also relate with Amy S re being interrupted. Nothing is wrong with focusing on one thing at a time so people need to start respecting that.

  • Debbie says:

    I’ve been told I’m an embarrassment. That really hurt. Unapproachable. But I take questions every day. Hang in there Amy. You are not alone.

  • I understand what you all mean! And please don’t think anything is wrong with you. We shouldn’t be told things like we are an embarrassment, we’re too slow, etc. We need to continue to raise awareness about different personality types so that everyone can learn to be more open and accepting of one another. God bless!

  • Jan says:

    Well said by all. People are too quick to judge and fail to realize we are all unique.

  • People can be so rude.

  • Opetsi says:

    This article is on point!

  • Jason (INFP) says:

    The giggling coworker was plain rude. Doesn’t matter your personality type, respect is necessary to contain judgment.

    That said, I work an environment where I’m on business calls with my boss all the time. He is the most dominant type of extrovert. He wants questions answered on the spot and cannot fathom why I struggle with even the most simple of questions. I have tried to explain to him, “My brain is wired to provide thorough, 110% well-thought-out responses. I cannot morally give you a response that I would consider, ‘half-assed’, even if you just want a wild guesstimate.” He understands this … a little. He will give me time to respond to him after the call. I’ll answer his question and provide even more insight: I see questions as trampolines for answers that can solve even more questions. Sometimes he values this insight, sometimes he does not. “I didn’t only give you ideas how to save development hours on this project; I gave you a blueprint to save hours in future projects as well.”

    I envy their quick-thinking and wit. I wish I could turn off my thought factory for awhile and live life on the surface on command. However, If I want some of the benefits of INFP thinking, I’ll have to settle for all of them. Add on a heaping dose of High Sensitivity, and you have a very soft kitten in a room full of porcupines!

  • You know what, Kayla? People can make this assumption, that slow to respond equals stupid, regardless of an enormous amount of evidence to the contrary.
    When I was in graduate school (in philosophy), my major professor (an introvert) was very well-known in the field, with lots of credentials. But because he was a slow, deep thinker, his more quick-witted, younger colleagues snickered at him, semi-openly. At departmental gatherings, the ideal was a fast-paced debate, and the people admired were those who could respond cleverly on the spot. To me (also an introvert) it looked like truth and goodness got dropped by the wayside in these discussions.
    At the time, I had no awareness of introversion, so I didn’t make the connections you did in your post. But I certainly did notice the disrespect.

  • Pat says:

    Story of my life. Insults, Criticisms, Jokes have all been targeted at me even though I may be doing better than them in grades, qualifications and other aspects of my life to prove differently. It is not easy hearing being called stupid or slow by persons who I have surpassed in many ways.

    But I take comfort that some of the great creations are due to the deep thoughts of introverted personalities, those such as mine. Example if Mark Zuckerberg was not an introvert Facebook would not have been created and if J. K. Rowlings was not an introvert, people and her fans would not be awed by her multi billion brand Harry Potter!!

    I try to use this as my motivation and I tell myself that one day if I use my introversion to the fullest I will have similar results as these outstanding introverts!! I encourage you all to do the same. (The greatest personalities will always have the greatest critics and the most haters!). We will just have to prepare for it!

  • Neil says:

    Great post. I hope others apart from Introverts read this to give them some insight into our group. The article reminded me of how I am at work. I hate the way that a slow but thoroughly considered response is somehow deemed as less beneficial than a quick but ill thought out riposte. The correct answer is out of fashion in favour of any answer, all because we live in a society where nobody has any time!

  • Louise says:

    Great article. I can really relate to this. I’ve always thought there was something seriously wrong with me and it has plagued me for years and really affected my confidence and self esteem. Thank you for writing this

  • Pam says:

    Likewise, I am surrounded by “E” people, ready to answer any and every question lobbed across the lobby whether or not it is preceded by my moniker. So my personal solution: if someone wants an answer from me, they can come to my desk and ask me personally, and wait while I formulate an answer. Peace to Pam! Also, in an attempt to be jovially social, I have jumped into conversations in a faux-extrovert manner and ended up humiliating persons I care about. Not good. Extroversion does not represent me as I long to be known!

  • Teresa M says:

    This article is wonderful! I love how you described your mind as an ocean. That is exactly what it feels like at times, trying to swim back to find out what was said…this is an awesome read.

  • Francisc A. says:

    But you kinda hit your own argument with the fact that introverts are best at debating. Debating usually need reaction and on-point answers fast.
    Nevertheless I understand your point, but introverts and extroverts is not a objective trait, therefore in my many years of study I have seen both introverts and extroverts go from an extreme to another depending on the context or their knowledge.

    It’s a different between being nearsighted, daydreamy and introverted. That being said, I think that tis just not represented a priority for you, to establish quick answers, when needed, therefore it’s not a skill that you developed well time.

    What is a clear trait is the fact that some people are just by default lazy in developing some skills that even if you want or not, you need. For example: Fast reaction.

    Good luck

  • Francisc A. says:

    But you kinda hit your own argument with the fact that introverts are best at debating. Debating usually needs reaction and on-point answers, fast.
    Nevertheless I understand your point, but introverts and extroverts is not a objective trait, therefore in my many years of study I have seen both introverts and extroverts go from an extreme to another depending on the context, skills or their knowledge.

    It’s a different between being nearsighted, daydreamy and introverted. That being said, I think that tis just not represented a priority for you, to establish quick answers, when needed, therefore it’s not a skill that you developed well time.

    What is a clear trait is the fact that some people are just by default lazy in developing some skills that even if you want or not, you need. For example: Fast reaction.

    Good luck

    • Q B says:

      I think you missed/forgot the mention of having enough time to think up a response. Introverts tend to be better at arguments that allow for thinking time, because they painstakingly ponder on a rebuttal for every aspect of the opposing argument before them. They don’t squander the time they have by internally ridiculing the opponent. Introverts also listen more carefully to their opponents to gather food for thought on what point they’re going to make next. Anyway, your argument on who’s better in debates is beside the point of this entire article. Readers are simply asked to be more patient with introverts when they don’t answer your question right of the bat. This article is meant to dispel any notion that introverts are “slow” and hopefully open others’ minds to what goes on in an introvert’s mind when one isn’t pressuring them to answer abrupt questions. Basically, “Don’t judge me as ‘slow’ or stupid just because my mind is different from yours.”

  • Cheryl says:

    I have this issue!! My kids will be standing beside me, tugging at my shirt, saying mom, mom, Mom, MOm, MOM!!! and I can hear them, but I am literally incapable of responding immediately when I am engaged in a task. There is a lag between what I hear and my ability to process a physical response, whether through movement or speech. I do have a diagnosed processing disorder though which further complicates my ability to put words to my thoughts. Makes for very dull conversations and drives my fast-talking, type A husband crazy.

  • Janice Darling says:

    You are asking the world to honor and respect your way of being in the world, and I do think that it is important to present all the layers of what is going on internally as an introvert, which you have done eloquently. Kudos! But please do not denigrate extroverts in the process, by tone or by word. The world absolutely needs people who can multi-task, who can think quickly on their feet, who can greet strangers with a smile and bring them into a circle of friends, who can hold many angles of thought in their mind and move among them seamlessly. Just the way we need quiet, deep thinkers, people who can lose themselves in a subject, people who can examine all angles before they speak rather than while they speak, people who can revel in solo being. There is room for everyone to be treated with respect and appreciated for the gifts they bring to us all.

    • Lilly says:

      How did she denigrate extroverts? When did she say that we don’t also need “people who can multi-task, who can think quickly on their feet,” etc.?

    • marcnorton says:

      We live in an extrovert world. There’s been plenty of evidence that it has been introverts not extroverts who have been wholly denigrated.

      All I see this writer asking for more or less is patience and understanding.

      • Janice Darling says:

        Macnorton–And that’s all I m asking for too…. A world where we ALL understand and appreciate each other.

  • Bill P says:

    Spent 10 minutes at work lost in thought while my boss tried in vain to get my attention. Only when a coworker yelled at me did I respond; “Don’t yell at me!”. She pointed out how long they were trying to get my attention. Even when not lost in thought I can’t respond immediately, need time to process. Many people aren’t willing to wait and keep asking which only adds time to my processing.