Group conversations — the nightmare of so many introverts. Too many people talking. The desire to retreat to the safety of our homes. Despite our love of meaningful one-on-one conversations, there are a number of times — to our dismay — that we’re forced to be a part of a group chat. Here are six of the struggles we introverts (especially shy introverts like me) face in group conversations, plus my advice to deal with them.
The Introvert’s Struggle With Group Conversations
1. Waiting and waiting and waiting for a chance to speak but never getting it
The conversation starts and everything is great. You listen intently, and you, being an observant introvert, notice everything, from people’s facial expressions to their body posture to their emotions.
The conversation is pretty interesting, and suddenly you realize you have something to contribute. But wait, do you speak now or later? Let’s just wait for person A to finish speaking, you tell yourself — but as soon as person A finishes, person B has already jumped in.
Okay, no problem, you tell yourself. After all, patience is a virtue, right? Let’s just wait for person B to finish. But when person B finishes, you utter just the first letter of the sentence you’ve been saving up, then you’re immediately interrupted by person C!
As an introvert, you hate interrupting others because you know from personal experience just how annoying it is to have your thoughts derailed. By the time you actually get a chance to speak, the topic has changed. Great. Just fake smile now.
Tip: Get comfortable with occasionally interrupting others. In some social contexts — like a lively group chat — interrupting isn’t seen as rude but rather just all part of the fun and energy of the interaction.
2. Not being loud enough
If you’re a quiet introvert like me, the worst part is, even if you do get an opportunity to speak (which seems to happen a mere 0.0000001% of the time!), only the person closest to you can hear what you have to say. They may listen and give a sympathetic smile because they know how hard you’re trying to include yourself in the conversation. But then your witty remark or thoughtful insight goes unnoticed by the rest of the group, and you end up starting a side conversation with just that nearby sympathetic listener.
Tip: Before dropping your thoughts, try to get everyone’s attention, even if you have to be a little louder than you normally feel comfortable being (it might seem like you’re practically screaming). There’s a 100 percent chance they’ll listen very carefully after this because you don’t talk very often.
3. Who do I look at when I’m talking?
Maybe your palms get sweaty or your heart races when you start to talk. Yes, some introverts suffer from social anxiety, but even if you don’t, you might still get nervous when speaking because it’s highly stimulating, and the introvert’s system can only take so much incoming information. You might get overwhelmed because there are so many people staring at you. And you wonder, who do you look at? Do you look at the person directly opposite you? But you want everyone to feel included. So you end up bouncing from face to face, which only serves to heighten your stimulation level, or you awkwardly stare at the wall.
Tip: When you’re nervous but have to speak, look at someone who you feel comfortable and safe around. Once you’re in the flow, try looking at one more person. It’s really okay if you don’t make eye contact with everyone. If the eye contact thing frightens you as much as it does me, don’t look directly into their eyes, rather, look at their forehead or even the wall behind them — it’ll seem like you’re looking at them, even though you’re not. It’s a win-win.
4. Zoning out
When there’s a lot of small talk going on, you might glaze over or zone out because the thoughts in your head are pulling you away on their own adventure. You’d rather think about that book you’re reading than talk about shopping, the weather, or someone’s weekend plans. Introverts may find themselves lost in a fantasy or a stream of their own compelling thoughts — and fleetingly, it can be the best feeling in the world. But then the people around you think something is wrong and ask those dreaded questions, “Are you okay? Why do you look so sad?” LOL. If they only knew.
Tip: Honestly, some zoning out is inevitable; you probably can’t entirely escape it. So when someone asks if everything’s okay, say yes! Try to let them into your sacred inner world of thoughts. Say something like, “I was just thinking about this great movie I watched the other day.” This could help create a new conversation and help you bond with the group.
5. Feeling invisible
Maybe you’ve had this experience: Everyone is talking enthusiastically and you feel excluded. If you were to merge into a wall, nobody would notice. You start planning your escape. Go to the bathroom, then find the exit. With your eyes fixed on the door, you smile sheepishly and start to feel guilty about sneaking away. Your smile automatically fades, and you return to the conversation, even though you’d rather be elsewhere.
Tip: I know it’s hard, but try striking up a conversation with the person closest to you or joining the conversation by adding an interesting point. Points like, “Did you know [insert interesting new thing you learned]?” or “Personally, I think/believe/feel [give your opinion on the topic being discussed]” work great.
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6. The worst question
The conversation has ended, suddenly people realize once again that you exist, and they ask you that question that all introverts dread: “Why were you so quiet?” You stand there and fake a half smile, a defense mechanism you learned long ago. In your head, you’re thinking, “It’s because you went on and on and didn’t let me speak,” but you don’t say anything at all.
Tip: Sometimes all you need is a pat on the back. Listening matters, too, so don’t beat yourself up. You did the best you could, and you’re growing every day.
Introverts, don’t underestimate your role in a group conversation. Even if you listen more than you speak, you are still a valuable asset — and very much needed balance in a world that never stops talking.