Monday, 8 June 2015

The Quiet, The Shy and The Introverted In a Loud World Pt 1: On Feeling Inferior and How Not to Get Interrupted/Ignored

A disclaimer: extroverts and loud people are great. People who make introverts, shy and quiet people feel bad - not so great. This is a post about the latter. Please do not cry "what about the extroverts?!?" The quiet people are talking now.

I think I've finally made peace with myself for being quiet, introverted and occasionally shy. Every single school report I've ever received labelled me as "quiet" and that I should speak more in class. People like me are often put down, made to feel bad about who we are. And we can spend a long time trying to 'fix' ourselves.

For this post, I'll be using "quiet" as an umbrella term for "shy" and "introverted" as it makes the writing easier. I am aware that quiet doesn't mean the same thing as introverted and shy, though for a lot of people, like me, all three apply. They are related, but not interchangeable terms.

  • Quiet: not loud.
  • Introverted: sensitive to Dopamine. So too much external stimulation (including social stimulation) can get exhausting.
  • Shy: fear of social judgement.

On Feeling Awful About Being Quiet

"Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt"
- Abraham Lincoln

I didn't know about introverts and extroverts until I was about 15. I spent a decade and a half thinking that to be a "normal" person you had to be talkative, and there was something wrong with me because I wasn't. There's this system of shame - if you make them feel bad enough for being quiet, they'll speak and be "cured". Here's a secret:


We just feel worse as a result and withdraw further into ourselves. It can't be "cured" and it isn't something to be cured. There is nothing - nothing - wrong with you if you don't have something to say all the time.

A lot of people talk and talk without saying anything. We have powerful thoughts and powerful voices - it's a superpower. And like all great heroes, we don't need to flaunt it all the time. There is nothing restricted to us. We don't have to work like the loud people work - just in the ways that suit us best. And so, onto the big challenge:

How Not to Get Interrupted/Ignored
"For the ones who are told speak only when you are spoken to, 
And then are never spoken to, 
Speak every time you stand so you do not forget yourself "
- Anis Mojgani

We constantly are talked over, interrupted or have what we've literally just said taken and repeated to a greater reception. It still happens to me, but now I've figured out some ways to be heard/not ignored.
  • No one has the right to stop you speaking. Sometimes, people want to jump in to add a point to what you're saying. In my experience, they're apologetic and just excited, but it's down to your judgement if this is rude or not. Sometimes, people will just cut across what you're saying and keep going as if you hadn't been talking. That is definitely rude and makes you feel like what you were saying wasn't worth listening to, so:
         - Keep talking, but louder. You get to finish your point now, not after they're done talking. 
         - If that doesn't work, say "excuse me"/"I'm speaking". If they're actively ignoring you, this is a nice sassy trump card to play: "I'm sorry, did the middle of my sentence interrupt the beginning of yours?"
         - YOU are not being rude - they are.
Credit: Pinterest
  • It is not okay for people to steal your words. Call them out - say "that's what I said". Your words belong to you. And if they do it to someone else, point out that "___ just said that" because I wish someone did that for me. 
  • Breaking the wall of talk: if you can't get a word in/people keep cutting you off, say "hi/hello" loudly until they stop. They can't keep ignoring you as you're drawing attention to what they're doing. 
  • Physically indicate that you want to speak. Body language has a voice too - lean forwards, gesture with your hands as you talk, make eye contact. 
- During college and at uni, teachers discourage you holding up your hand as it's "childish", but it works as a visual flag so I still do it. 
- Once, in a group task, EVERYONE was talking and no one was listening to anyone. I gave up trying to talk and just started writing notes and a plan on the whiteboard. Soon, everyone shut up and started reading. 
  • Make yourself comfortable. Comfort leads to confidence. There is no place that you do not belong, even if others are trying to make you feel like that.
- In debates, there's a lot of fancy vocabulary and big-talk, but you don't have to mimic them. You're all here to talk, so the group might as well have a real conversation.
- Be yourself. Others may be talking a lot and very loudly, but do try and play to your strengths. For example, quiet people generally think before talking, ask questions and speak bluntly and get straight to the point (all good things).
- Wear what makes you feel like you. The advice to dress like the person you want to be is something you've probably heard of. This works for some, and for others (like me) it can just remind you of what you're not. If you have to dress up, keeping something familiar on you can feel like you're carrying a magic amulet. I might have to wear a suit, but I'm still putting on fox socks underneath.
I really do have fox socks
- Your body language doesn't just shape how others think of you - it affects how you think of yourself. Amy Cuddy explains this really well in her talk. Basically, power poses work miracles.

- Top tips from me; visualise a more comfortable/confident version of yourself (not anyone else - yourself), seeing how you would talk and hold yourself. Step into that image and it'll help you become that version of you. Also, I like to mentally draw a circle in front of me and fill it with positivity etc. Then I step into it, and carry the circle around with me.
  • No one gets to make you feel bad, including yourself. I can still get immensely stressed in classes when someone keeps talking and I haven't said a word. However, just because you're not doing monologues doesn't mean you're stupid or you have less original thoughts than the loud people. You can speak when you want, how you want and what you want, even when you're marked for class participation. Getting stressed and beating yourself up doesn't help. 
  • Speaking in class. This is tough and takes a lot of practice. For a few years, I trained myself up by giving very short answers, asking questions (even when I thought I knew the answer) or offering to read aloud, just to get used to it. 
-Teachers are generally really relieved when you speak and prevent awkward silences aka The Wall in classes. You don't have to say ground-breaking things all the time - something short to move the seminar along will do.
- The Wall in class - you know that feeling? A question's been asked but there's a constriction in the air. You can't speak right away. You have to wait, and then mumble something peppered with "um" and "yeah". Diving right into answering - even if you stutter - stops The Wall forming in the first place and makes things much easier (again, this takes practice). 
- When you do speak, sometimes they ask you to elaborate. Or worse, they ask you to answer your own question (I take English and they keep doing this). When I don't want to, I spin the elaboration request back and ask them to do it. The second - I just refuse!

It's a loud world we live in - people are constantly trying to out-shout each other. If you're not heard, it's like you don't exist. However, we don't need to be noticed by everyone - just by the people that matter. We will be heard when we want to. 

In Part 2, we'll talk about stereotypes and common experiences about quiet, shy and introverted people. 

Let me know what you think - are these tips useful to you? What's your story? Any advice?

With thanks to my friends for sharing your words and stories for this post.

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