Being quiet doesn’t mean the “light isn’t on up there.” On the contrary, our introvert minds are most active when we’re quiet.
If you poll a bunch of introverts about what question extroverts ask them the most, what do you think they would say? Most introverts would probably agree it’s something like this: “You’re so quiet. Is anything wrong?” Or, “You’re so quiet. Are you angry?”
And, as an introvert myself, it’s really hard to not sigh my lungs out when I’m asked these questions. I want to shout, “Will you please just let me be?!”
So now that we have that frustration over with … let’s discuss being “quiet.” Because, as introverts, being quiet doesn’t mean the light isn’t on up there. On the contrary, we’re most active when we’re quiet. All the thinking, observing, planning, handling, processing — it all happens when we’re “quiet.”
Often, unbeknownst to others, a whole world is being formed in our introvert brains. And “quiet” means different things in different situations.
At Work, ‘Quiet’ May Mean Thinking of Solutions to Problems
Ever worked in an environment where you didn’t feel 100 percent at ease? Yeah, we probably all have experienced this at some point. If you’re an introvert, you probably tend to go quiet. On the outside, at least …
A few months after graduating college, I got a job at a place I really liked. It was the type of job not many of my fellow students would be lucky enough to land, and this one was right up my alley. So I started full of enthusiasm, ready to soak everything up and happy that I would be among like-minded people.
The company had downsized a lot in the last few years, so the remaining colleagues were bitter, didn’t trust management, and only put on a happy face in front of clients. It was soul-sucking, to say the least.
I wasn’t able to bond with any of them (expect for one guy from the stockroom; he was hilarious) and lunch breaks were torturous. So I went quiet. Instead, I observed and thought a lot (which we introverts excel at!).
I learned quickly that one colleague often talked about the boss behind his back; some people were so bitter that they were almost unable to make the “happy” products we were selling; and that interpersonal relationships in the company were so strained that something would go very wrong, very soon.
So I made some suggestions: I planted some seeds about having the right people in the right place; I suggested organizing weekly meetings with the whole team so we at least knew what everyone was working on; I took it upon myself to fix the website and clean up the entrance area; I carefully communicated my worries about there not being a manager; and I designed a whole social media plan to get almost free advertising and a better connection to the clientele.
In the end, everything played out the way I had anticipated: Not with me there (because of more budget cuts), but once the company got over the financial hurdle, they started to grow again. They utilized the things I’d suggested, put them into action, and it worked.
So, although I’d been “quiet,” my mind was far from it — and my thoughts paid off.
With Friends, ‘Quiet’ May Mean Absorbing Everything in My Head
I’m notoriously quiet among new friends, while I’m silly and even loud among old ones and friends who “get” me. (And then there’s the in-between friends for whom I turn my silliness down a few notches, because they would freak out.) With new(ish) friends, or potential friends, I mostly stay quiet. I’ll add to the conversation when required and throw some silliness into the group to see how they’ll react, but other than that, I have a lot of time to listen, watch, and sense the atmosphere.
After a few minutes of this, I’ll typically know the rough outline of the group “structure.” I’ll know who tends to initiate plans; I’ll know who has doubts about said plans but won’t voice their concerns; I’ll notice the one who’s already mentally prepping and arranging the practical stuff; and I’ll be able to point out the one(s) who’ll be late on the day of and won’t be part of the preparations (but who will have brought an inflatable crocodile, even if the plans don’t involve water). I’ll see people quietly struggling with unknown insecurities, make a mental note, and try to find out more about them in the course of the next get-togethers (in a non-creepy way, I promise).
Although I’m not always 100 percent spot-on with my observations, I try to use my natural introvert instincts in a good way. On the most basic level, it helps me to get a feel of the group and find my place in it. I’ll get a better idea of their sense of humor and their favorite (and least favorite) topics to discuss. But it also serves a deeper purpose. I’ve very often put myself in the awkward position of raising doubt about certain plans — like if someone chooses a restaurant that I know not everyone will be able to afford — so others wouldn’t have to.
I also make mental notes of tiny occurrences and snippets of information, especially regarding the quieter types. A few years ago, a friend brought up some health problems her sister had, who was also in that friend group. The group asked about it and the sister looked relieved and supported, even though she hadn’t volunteered the information herself. Two years later, I remembered to ask her about it. Other people said they had wanted to bring it up, too, but always forgot. Once again, she felt supported and thanked me later for remembering. If you can count on us introverts for anything, you can count on our reliability and thoughtfulness.
So, yes, I might be quiet, but I’m so busy in my head. While other people are talking, I’m feeling things out. I’m part of the conversation, just not actively. And once I feel at ease, I’ll join ya and you’ll probably wish I’d shut up once in a while! But until then, please let me be.
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Around Family, ‘Quiet’ May Mean I’m Feeling Dismissed… or Drained of Energy
In the company of my own family, I’m usually quite chatty … except in certain instances, like when conversations are about things I don’t care about or know nothing about. Or when I feel offended, ignored, or like people don’t find my contributions interesting (this probably feels very familiar to my fellow introverts).
Since I’m the youngest of our bunch, even though I’ve been an adult for quite some time now, I still regularly feel like the baby of the family. When my older brother or sister makes an impatient gesture at me, I feel the same way I did when I was a child. I also quickly feel like I’ve been talking too long when someone looks at their phone, and I feel irrationally offended when they dismiss a point I’m making.
So I go quiet.
Other times, I’m quiet when I’m getting to know new people in the family, like when I met my in-laws. I mean, they start off as being strangers to you while being in a family setting (celebrating Christmas together for the first time, for example). You don’t know each other at first, but there’s immediately a huge weight on the relationship you’re about to build. So obviously, you go quiet, being a true introvert and not wanting to say the wrong thing. (This will — hopefully — be a lifelong relationship, after all.)
At this point, more than a decade later, my in-laws are a good, confusing mixture of becoming family, and giving me the opportunity to be myself (out loud) … while also still being in-laws who don’t really get me while I don’t really get them. So I still go quiet when I’m not sure about a situation or when I just don’t have the social energy to navigate this tricky relationship. And that’s perfectly OK. Don’t you agree?