What Not to Say to an Introvert

An introvert talks with a friend

Even if it’s well-intentioned, comments like these come across as telling us that we’re not doing enough to conform to an extrovert-centric world. 

In an extroverted world, sometimes there’s a perception that introverts’ personalities need to be “fixed” in order to thrive. We may be “too quiet” or “stay home too much” for other people’s tastes. But for us, our comfort zone is the only one that matters.

Most introverts have probably heard at least one of the below phrases in their lifetime. Hint: We don’t like hearing any of them. Even if it’s well-intentioned, we don’t take it as advice or even constructive criticism. It comes across as someone essentially telling us that we’re not doing enough to conform to an extrovert-centric world

Below are nine things not to say to an introvert, plus some thoughts on what to say or do instead. The list of “should” sentences an introvert hears is already too long. Let’s change that.

9 Things Not to Say to an Introvert

1. “You’re so quiet.”

Ah, a classic: “You’re so quiet.” Introverts, count the number of times you’ve been told this in your lifetime. I’ll wait. 

We know we’re quiet. And we don’t have a problem with it, but clearly the person saying it does in some way. Sure, they could be stating a fact without a negative opinion behind it. But unless you are genuinely framing it as a compliment (for example, “I like how you’re so calm and quiet when there’s chaos”), don’t say it. 

The next time someone tells me I’m quiet in a way that’s probably not intended as a compliment, I’ll reply with “Thank you,” then enjoy watching the other person’s facial expression. 

2. “Be more assertive.”

While it’s easier to joke about being told we’re “quiet” because we hear it so often, this one cuts right to the bone for me. Do not say this to an introvert. We already struggle to keep up in an extroverted world. Pointing out something that you perceive as a weakness is going to do nothing for our confidence. 

Introverts are assertive in our own ways. For example, instead of shouting for a room to quiet down, we can wait silently for the group to stop chattering, staring everyone down like a strict teacher. Or instead of bringing up an important point in a large meeting, we’ll discreetly approach the right individual who can make the change we want.

So instead of saying “be more assertive,” try to connect with and back up your introverted friend or colleague and offer encouragement if they’re in a situation where they might need support. And recognize that assertiveness comes in many forms. 

3. “Speak up more.”

Sometimes, this one goes hand-in-hand with “be more assertive.” But… what if we don’t want to “speak up”? What if we don’t see a need to say anything?

It’s one thing to ask someone to “speak up” if they’re talking quietly to a large auditorium without a microphone. But in a meeting? In conversation? In class? We like being the quiet one in the room, taking everything in. If we have a point, we’ll make it. 

Instead of saying “speak up,” ask the introvert a question to get their input (just don’t put us on the spot when you do it — that freaks us out!).

4. Any words that interrupt us (since we’ve put a lot of thought into what we’re going to say).

This seems obvious, but it happens all the time. Just please don’t interrupt anyone in general, introvert or extrovert. But being interrupted can be especially grating for introverts.

Before speaking, introverts tend to put thought into what we want to say, and sometimes have been waiting for the right moment in the conversation to share our point or story. If you interrupt us after we start speaking, you’ve just devalued everything we were about to say. It’s the verbal equivalent of slapping us in the face.   

On a personal note, this is the absolute worst thing anyone can do to me in a conversation, meeting, etc., and I’ve experienced it too many times to count. And if you’re still wondering why we don’t “speak up more” or aren’t “more assertive,” there’s probably a correlation here for some introverts, myself included.

I have no alternatives to offer here, so I’ll just say it again: Please don’t interrupt people. Listen to what they have to say. And if you keep interrupting, the introvert may decide to interrupt whatever friendship you had with a good old-fashioned door slam. We don’t need that kind of negativity in our lives.

5. “You’re so boring.”

Okay, so I realize that no mature adult would seriously say, “You’re so boring” to another human being. But even in jest, it can be hurtful to an introvert. Why, exactly, are we boring? Because we don’t want to go out on a Friday or Saturday night? If that’s someone’s definition of boring, then it’s definitely more their problem than ours. 

We’re secure enough in ourselves to not cave in to peer pressure and do something we don’t want to do. As teenagers, we probably dealt with that enough; we’re over it. But that doesn’t mean it won’t sting — or at least annoy us.

What to say or do instead? As above with “be more assertive,” a better strategy is to be an actual friend and make low-key plans with the introvert in your life. Or give them the space to enjoy their own low-key plans without you. A simple, “Cool, have fun,” will suffice.

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6. “Aren’t you lonely?”

No, I honestly just like being alone. Alone time is critical. Whether an introvert lives alone, prefers to be single, or just decides to take a solo vacation or spend a long weekend at home by themselves, it’s our much-needed recharge time.

As a rule, we are not lonely just because we like alone time. Introverts may get lonely occasionally — we’re only human — but we might feel just as lonely in a crowd of people we don’t know as we do by ourselves. 

So when an introvert says they live alone or like being single, instead of saying, “Aren’t you lonely?” how about something like: “Nice. What do you like to do for fun?”

7. “Be more outgoing.”

“Be more outgoing” is also known as “You’re too reserved.” Why do I need to be more outgoing? It benefits exactly zero people. Introverts, raise your hand if you’ve been told this almost as much as “You’re so quiet.”

Keep those hands raised if you’ve also tried to be “more outgoing” and it backfired. When I was told this as a shy 12-year-old and subsequently attempted to be “more outgoing,” it came off as fake and obnoxious. So, no, I don’t recommend saying this to introverts. Speaking for myself, I can already be awkward sometimes in social situations. Let’s not make things more awkward.

Again, comments like this are a product of being in an extrovert-centric world. Instead, how about we create environments where introverts feel safe and comfortable being ourselves? (Starting with not saying any of the phrases on this list to introverts!) 

8. “Job qualification: Extroverted.”

On that note of “environments where introverts feel safe and comfortable”: Introverts, run far, far away if you see “extroverted” on a job posting. That’s a red flag for any introvert, even one who is highly qualified for a particular position. Chances are, it’s not an introvert-friendly work environment. 

Plenty of introverts thrive in jobs typically considered “extroverted” (i.e., anything dealing with people on a regular basis). And plenty of extroverts thrive in jobs typically considered “introverted” (i.e., anything that requires working independently for long stretches of time with minimal person-to-person contact). So let’s just drop the word “extroverted” from job postings altogether. Hiring managers, didn’t you mean to use more descriptive adjectives, like “friendly” or “courteous”?

9. “You’re not ____ enough.”

Last but not least, insert any extrovert-focused adjective here — words discussed above like “assertive” or “outgoing” fit. Other words, like “social,” “talkative,” or “extroverted,” might also end up in this sentence.

We’re enough already, thank you very much. Let’s focus on what introverts are, rather than what they are not. We can be introspective, sensitive, thoughtful, creative, observant… and the list goes on. Instead of being critical of introverts for not fitting into the image of an “extrovert” as an ideal to achieve, let’s appreciate everything that introverts bring to the table.

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