“What’s wrong? You’re so quiet!”
Growing up, I’ve always received reactions like the above to my quiet demeanor. Often, I’d end up feeling pretty self-conscious and would ask myself: Does being quiet mean that there has to be something wrong with me?
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized: No, it doesn’t. And no, there’s nothing wrong with you. In the end, I told myself that the people making those comments didn’t really know me at all.
Ultimately, those misconceptions still don’t sit very well with me. I honestly think it’ll be a while until I reach a point where I’m able to just brush them off. For the time being, I think it’s important to address them head-on. Without further ado, these are the top-five misconceptions that I’ve received as a quiet person and my own, personal take on the matter.
I’ve had a lot of experiences with people who express surprise over how articulate and thoughtful I can be. There have been a handful of times that I’ve received some variation of, “Wow, you’re smart; you should talk more!”
On the one hand, it’s nice to be acknowledged for being smart. On the other hand, I can’t help wondering: What perception of me did you have beforehand that would have caused such astonishment?
After taking a linguistics class, I came up with one theory. We learned all about how what we say is a reflection of how and what we think. The words we use can therefore be incredibly revealing of how we perceive the world. Within the context of fast-paced, day-to-day interactions, it occurred to me that verbal communication is key to how well, and more importantly, how quickly, we connect with one another.
Never mind that a lot of communication is non-verbal. The fact that I don’t always express my thoughts through speech probably results in the misconception that I’m not thinking at all.
I usually encounter this misconception during major social events at school. I do love mingling. But usually, I like to break up that mingling with periods of quiet time for myself.
I don’t put a great deal of thought into those small intervals. A lot of times, however, people approach me to ask things like, “Are you OK?” or “Want to come join us? Don’t be shy!”
On two occasions, I’ve had classmates voice both their concern over how quiet I am and their desire to “protect” me (exact wording; I’m not kidding).
Don’t get me wrong: I’m grateful that people are looking out for me and are so willing to have my back. Annoyance, however, tends to be my knee-jerk reaction. If I weren’t OK, I’d probably say something. So, there’s no need to read so much into my quiet tendency; it’s just a part of who I am.
Once, I was having a really good conversation with a guy that eventually reached a natural halt. We walked in silence for a bit until he exclaimed, “I’m sorry, I’m trying to come up with something interesting to say!”
I didn’t see anything wrong with the silence, but I’ve definitely experienced what he must have been feeling. Silences can feel super awkward in conversations. I used to worry that I might come across as an uninteresting person if I’ve run out of things to say.
If you’re concerned that you’re boring the other person because s/he is quiet, there’s a good chance that the other person might be experiencing the same sentiment with regard to you. Usually, silences are expected and totally normal.
“You are so quiet,” said one boy at my college. “Are you too good for us?”
Assumption: That by not talking, I’m choosing not to participate in a conversation.
In Actuality: Though I may be quiet, that usually means that I’m listening to you. In my opinion, that’s the highest form of participation. It may not seem that I’m doing much (see number 1), but remaining quiet in order to genuinely listen is an incredibly active endeavor. While we’re talking, I’m doing my best to understand and empathize with you. I’m not arrogant if I truly value what’s being said.
7th grade. Volleyball Coach. She told my parents that she thought I needed to see a therapist because I bottled up my feelings. During one game we were losing, she yelled to me, “GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD.”
As a 12-year-old, I was confused.
I discovered that the glaring sign pointing to her conclusion was the fact that I was so quiet. But again, quiet was and is my norm. It’s seriously not a symptom of anything deeper. Needless to say, I didn’t join her volleyball team the following year.
When it comes to communication, there’s an inherent need to interpret what a person says in order to discover what s/he feels or thinks. Remaining quiet makes it harder for those interpretations to happen. That doesn’t mean you should use silence as an opportunity to create your own assumptions about a person. If you get something out of this piece, I hope it’s this: Just be careful about assuming anything at all.
Photo feature: Jemma D