Are you okay? You are painfully quiet and I’m getting really worried.
Says my boss, as I sat at the back of her car, waiting to be dropped off at the nearest stop where I can ride a bus or a train home. The sun had set and the streets have become busy. I had just politely declined her invitation to come and join her and her friends for dinner. She and her coworker-slash-best friend who sat in the passenger seat were talking about their night out plans as we drove from our concluded shoot with an influencer.
Of course, she probably just didn’t want me to feel bad about not even being asked to come despite hearing about all their plans. Either way, I would have never joined. I didn’t know anyone there. Just the thought of having to interact with people I don’t know gives me anxiety, besides, my energy for small talks have depleted.
I have honestly no intention of making people uncomfortable with my quietness.
I was an intern then and didn’t know I am an introvert.
Why do people assume there’s something wrong with you when you are too quiet?
I always find myself lost in thought even before I knew I am an introvert. But being lost in thought doesn’t mean I don’t pay close attention to what is happening around me. In fact, I go deeper into what is required of me. I carefully study situations to be able to, later on, provide better responses, suggestions, or solutions to problems.
However, knowing I am an introvert and realizing my strengths and my weaknesses didn’t help me with my insecurities about not being able to “intimidate” people, either during meetings or presentations or in casual gatherings. I had people tell me “you are too soft-spoken,” “you should talk more,” and “how many words have you spoken today?” I often panic whenever I think of a quick response to “any questions or suggestions?” after those words are blurted out in meetings. It doesn’t help that people who don’t know me think I am incompetent or a newbie at work, or just plain indifferent because I don’t have much to say or I am way too shy to speak.
One of the greatest advice I received from an introvert friend is to embrace my quiet soft side. She told me I don’t have to appear loud and strong to prove a point or to make people understand the story I am telling. I just have to be myself and I will be okay.
Gradually, I am coming to embrace my quiet strengths most especially at work. I have come to realize that I provide the best contributions when I can internalize the issue at hand and when I am given time and my quiet space to analyze it further. If I believe I have reached a sound suggestion, I share it and open myself up for discussions. It’s not always about the number of words you say in meetings that matter, but the deliberate actions you take after.
Of course, some people still have prejudices; they would still want “more” voice come out of my mouth and to have my presence be “more” felt. I try to not pressure myself because of these expectations. I only wish some would go the extra mile to discover and listen to where the strengths of others lie.
It’s not always about the number of words you say, but the actions you take.
I have honestly long given up on talking just for the sake of talking. I slowly am removing the burden I have previously placed upon myself on forcing to speak just so people would know “I am there.” I started to shift my focus to the kind of contributions I create and provide. My only request is for people to respect my Quiet, to let me thrive in the environment where I work best, and to stop making me feel bad about not speaking because I chose not to. I know when I do, I will have something to say worth listening to.