What’s wrong with being quiet?

Something that has always bothered me is the idea that there is something wrong with being a quiet person. This is obvious in the fact that loud and extroverted people are often complimented and congratulated on having such a big, entertaining personalities, whereas people like myself spend their entire life being told “you need to speak more.”  I would never dream of telling a chatty person, “you need to shut up,” and as quite an introverted person, I have often wondered why we don’t receive the same level of acceptance in social situations as our talkative counterparts, instead having to put up with comments such as “you’re very quiet aren’t you?” in a patronising tone, as if suffering from an awful, terminal disease.

For me this started at school, every parents evening, every end of year report – “Christopher doesn’t participate enough in class discussion,” “Christopher needs to put his hand up more in class.” Whilst I understand that school is where children learn a large proportion of their social skills, I take issue with the fact that class participation is sometimes used to determine marks. It puts those of us who are of a quieter disposition at an automatic disadvantage. So what if ten year old me didn’t volunteer to read aloud his book report on “Holes” by Louis Sachar? He still wrote the book report, and it was bloody good.

It’s often assumed that quiet people really want to be talkative but lack the confidence or social skills to turn things around. This may well be true in some cases but personally, I know that I’m quite happy being a man of few words. That is, until someone makes a point of me not talking much and tries to awkwardly force me “out of my shell.” This leads to an even more uncomfortable situation where I feel like I’m being showered in compliments with fake enthusiasm for “finding my voice,” as if this so-called new found confidence to take a more active role in discussion and conversation is fragile and needs to be nurtured and encouraged, like some kind of clumsy toddler taking their first steps.

Another common assumption is that quiet people don’t have any social skills. Sometimes people think we stay quiet because we have no sense of humour or if we attempt a witty or flirtatious comment it will result in someone slapping a restraining order on us, but actually, we know what is appropriate and what isn’t, just as well as talkative people. This is also reflected in film and television, the stereotypical, socially-awkward nerd who undervalues himself, has no hope of female attention and is the target of the cool kid’s jokes. In reality, a completely self-confident person can be just as introverted as one who is completely lacking in self-confidence.

Many people are inclined to think that being quiet is a sign of wanting to be alone, staying in and avoiding social events, but it has been said that extroverts gain energy from socialising and introverts use their energy when socialising. That doesn’t mean we don’t like going out with our friends, it just means that sometimes we like a break from it, even if when we do venture out we enjoy the company of everyone there and have a great time. In some ways, you could even go as far as saying that being quiet can be looked at as a social strength.  Quieter people can sometimes come across as more approachable and less intimidating when compared to someone who seems to be loud and outspoken.

One thing that we can be one hundred percent sure of is that everyone is different, but you can’t tell much about someone based on their frequency of speech. There’s nothing wrong with being quiet, in the same way that being an extrovert is not, or should not be, a problem either. You’re completely normal and your quiet (or loud) disposition is an important part of your personality.

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