How “Quiet People” are Often Misread and Misunderstood

If there’s one thing to know about quiet people, it’s that your first impression of them is probably wrong. Yet, if there’s one thing that society carries with great conviction, it’s that they have quiet people sussed.

Noising Up the Quiet Ones

As a culture we are frightened of silence. We are scared of the quiet ones. We are desperate to “noise them up” (the closest I could come to the opposite of “shut them up”), or at the very least feel bad about their softer toned nature.

Many people get uncomfortable when there’s a “quiet one” in their midst. They make judging statements, shrouded with a question mark: “well you don’t say much, do you?”, and “why are you being so quiet?” as if there is some plot being hatched within the devious silence.

No one can know why you’re quiet until they get to know you. If they take the liberty of telling you you’re quiet, then they shut the door on that possibility. This has probably happened to you; where you’ve had your tendency towards space, thinking time, and the resulting external quietness, pointed out. Perhaps by a teacher, a boss, a colleague, or an acquaintance at a club or organisation.

Double Standards

The question “why are you so loud?” is rarely asked with the same kind of universal condemnation of someone who loves to talk. Gregariousness and noise, while sometimes inappropriate, are not met with the same level of discomfort for people as quietness. “Why don’t you keep some thoughts to yourself?” is seen as rude, whereas “why don’t you open up more” is quite an acceptable request.

Society assumes that it already knows why quiet people are quiet. The assessment usually boils down to one of two things…

Quiet people are either anxious or rude:

  • Shyness/Social Anxiety (you want to join the conversation but you fear making yourself a social outcast by saying something stupid)
  • Intimidation (you’re intimidated by the people around you, and shrink back because you don’t feel worthy)
  • Disinterest (you are bored and don’t care or think about anyone else but yourself)
  • Judgement (your silence is judgement about the things being said, and you believe yourself to be above these people)

But as introverts and highly sensitive people well know, reality is a lot more complex than this. Everyone experiences shyness and intimidation from time to time. We would also be lying if we said we were interested in every conversation we’ve ever been part of.

But quietness, when it stems from your natural orientation to the world, is a default way of being. It’s your starting position: to listen before speaking. Understand before voicing an opinion. Experience before expressing a response.

When introverts and highly sensitive people have their quietness pointed out, two things happen. First, it’s like saying to someone that they’re covered in skin. “Well yes”. And secondly, it gets beneath that skin, and makes them feel like there is something wrong with them. They start to question their nature, and wish they were different.

They believe they are broken and need to be fixed, so search for solutions. And in this quest they alienate themselves from themselves, tearing apart that most natural bit of themselves, which is foundational to their very being.

You don’t need a solution. You need understanding and acceptance.

Just remember that it’s the quiet ones are also the innovative and creative ones. They are the observant ones, who notice the things that others overlook. They find answers to problems that no one else can hear. And they have been responsible for creating much of the most beautiful art in human history.

Quietness is a gift in a noisy world. It’s not something to question. Only when you know a person deep down will you recognise the differences in their quietnesses. You don’t need to point it out. You may just need to be there, if they need or want to talk.

It’s not your right to make someone talk. It’s your right to hold silence until you have something worth saying.

Over to You

Have you ever had your quietness pointed out? How did it make you feel? Please leave your response in the comments below.

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