Do you regularly ask yourself, “Why am I so quiet?”
There are various reasons for not speaking up around other people, some of which you might not be aware of.
The good news is — if you want to, you can change. You can learn certain techniques to easily connect with other people.
Learn why some people choose to remain quiet, why introversion can be a good and a bad thing, and how to overcome social anxiety.
For a long time, up until my late twenties, I would go silent around strangers.
For example, if I went to a party, I would inevitably end up by myself. My go-to strategy back then was eating my way through the buffet, just to look busy.
I told myself that I was not interested in socializing with random people, especially if they were loud and obnoxious. “Why should I talk to this idiot?”
And while many people are in fact not worth talking to, I must admit this was an excuse.
I was afraid of the initial phase of the conversation, the getting acquainted part. I wanted to skip to the part where we already felt comfortable around each other. Of course, this is not how it works.
The situation got worse once I moved to the States as an exchange student. Back in Germany, I didn’t stand out as much, as Germans are not exactly great socializers. But in America, everybody seemed to effortlessly connect with each other.
I remember one situation when I went to a department mixer in the German department. There were a lot of nerdy, non-threatening undergraduate students there (after all, who studies German?). And they were eager to talk to one of the few native speakers.
In this particular setting, I was hot stuff. Yet I still managed to eat my way through a large box of Dunkin’ Donuts provided by the department just so I could stay quiet. I was the only person that day who went home without having exchanged contact details with somebody.
I now shiver at the thought of what an unlikable mix of insecurity and arrogance I presented to the world, but it is what it is. It was not until several years later that I admitted I had a problem and started to systematically talk to strangers.
All of this is to say, I know what it feels like to be the one on the outside. It hurts. This article is meant to remedy that situation.
Reasons Why You Are a Quiet Person
There is not just one answer to, “Why am I so quiet?” but a number of explanations.
1. Social Anxiety
When you meet new people, there is an element of uncertainty. They don’t know you, you don’t know them.
This can feel scary. So, instead of engaging, you would rather observe.
We have all felt like this at some point. But if this is most of your social interactions, you might be suffering from social anxiety.
2. Drawing People Out
In certain situations, it can be smart to draw the other person out.
For example, when talking to a new customer, you might remain quiet to get them talking about their pain points.
Or when on a date, you might stay quiet to see what the other person starts talking about. You are gauging them.
So in this context, you are using silence as a strategic device.
3. Different Values
I remember ending up at a fraternity party, many years back. It was a rowdy crowd. As I refused to engage in sports talk and racial slurs, things started to get tense. I left before a fight broke out.
So, that’s another reason why you might fall quiet — if there is too much of a difference in values.
4. People Pleasing
Some people remain silent because they want to make the other person happy.
From their point of view, being the passive one in a conversation is making sure that the other person can take center stage.
Such behavior often goes back to patterns from early childhood. People pleasers might have had overbearing parents whom they were trying to gratify. Now, this is their go-to strategy.
5. Hiding Something
Many people go quiet when they want to hide something.
I have occasionally noticed this with people cheating on their partners. As soon as the conversation touches on incriminating subjects, they go silent.
6. Feeling Socially Inept
You might not be good in social settings. With others around, you start to act awkwardly — and you know it.
So, by staying quiet, you are trying to avoid embarrassment.
7. Status Differences
When you are surrounded by people out of your league, it is easy to feel intimated. As a result, many people will go quiet.
Vice versa, you might be uncommunicative around a certain person because you consider them beneath you.
We condemn such behavior, but it’s not necessarily bad.
If you find yourself with a group of high achievers, talking too much might be perceived as you trying to get buddy-buddy with them. They get that all the time; it’s annoying.
Likewise, it can be prudent to not waste time on people who are clearly incompetent. Your time on this planet is limited.
8. Afraid of Confrontation
You might remain quiet in a conversation because you want to avoid a confrontation. You know that if you speak up, there will be a scene.
Sometimes, this can be the right move. There is no point in wasting energy arguing with foolish people.
But there are also many instances where we chicken out of confrontations because it is the more convenient option. That you should reconsider.
Some people turn silent when they are under a lot of stress.
It can make sense. When you shut yourself off from all distractions you can redirect more energy to solving your problem.
Just be careful to not get stuck in a loop. When, after a while, you are not seeing any progress with your problem, break your silence and reach out for help.
10. Fear of Judgement
Fear of judgment is another reason why many people turn silent.
For example, some students are afraid to speak up in the classroom because other students will make fun of them.
There are two sides to this though.
There are bullies who enjoy torturing others. And there are victims who don’t realize how their helplessness invites bullying.
I am not making excuses for mobbing. I got bullied for years, and I hated it. But I am sure my smarty-pants attitude also had something to do with it.
The only thing you can control is yourself. So, either temper your idiosyncrasies. Or, stand up to the bully. Become comfortable making threats; learn a combat sport.
Either way, act. Stop being a bystander.
Suffering from depression can also be a reason why you withdraw into yourself.
When you are depressed, you have little energy to spare. Thus, you don’t engage with others to conserve energy.
Obviously, if that’s you, go see a professional.
But also pay attention to lifestyle choices. Regular bedtime patterns, eating healthy, and exercising all go a long way in treating depression.
12. Having Nothing To Say
Sometimes, you will find yourself in a conversation you have nothing to contribute to.
For example, if people around me start talking about raising children I naturally go quiet as I have nothing to say on the matter. I have never done it.
The Bias Against Introverts
As a society, we have a bias against introverts.
For starters, they form a minority. It is estimated that only 25 percent of the population are introverts, while the remaining 75 percent are extroverts.
This is further reinforced by cultural preferences. As someone who was not born in the US, it has always struck me how much emphasis is placed on extraversion.
From an early age, children are rewarded for acting outgoing. School talent shows are an expression of that, an institution rarely found outside the US.
Late-night shows are another expression of that. They celebrate the self-promoters — movie stars, politicians, business tycoons. But how many writers, philosophers, or physicists are invited to these shows? Hardly any.
The Benefits of Introversion
Society might favor extroverts, but being an introvert actually comes with many advantages. Let’s look at how introverts shine.
1. More Substance
Introverts are idea-driven. They focus on the quality of what they say.
That makes them interesting to talk to. There is no bluster, no fluff.
2. Better Observational Skills
What people say is rarely what they mean.
For example, in business negotiations, many people will claim they want A when they really want B. If you can read them correctly, this will give you an advantage.
But to catch that, you need to shut up.
Introverts know that. Instead of focusing on their output, they focus on the input, i.e., the signals they receive from the world.
3. More Self-Awareness
By remaining quiet, introverts are able to listen to what their inner voice is telling them.
For example, if you are feeling down, your inner voice might tell you that you have not been happy in your relationship recently.
Many extroverts lack this self-knowledge. They are too busy entertaining others.
4. Better Energy Distribution
All resources in life — time, energy, attention — are limited.
Introverts tend to be more aware of that fact. That is why they prefer quiet environments. They choose to not over-stimulate themselves, so they have more mental bandwidth available for the important tasks in their lives.
5. More Self-Reliance
Introverts are less reliant on other people to make them feel happy.
For example, they don’t have to be around other people at work. They can work just as productively from home.
They also don’t need to attend meet-ups in their free time to feel stimulated. They easily feel content by themselves.
How To React to Somebody Calling You Quiet
People will call you quiet for different reasons.
They might be worried about you. Or they might try to humiliate you in front of other people.
So, to respond appropriately, we must understand where the other person is coming from.
1. They Want To Show You They Care
Some people will inquire about your quietness to show that they care about you. This is a way of displaying affection, e.g., among friends.
2. They Are Worried About You
The person asking might be afraid something is bothering you. Maybe you have a bellyache and they could comfort you.
3. They Think They Might Have Offended You
“Did I say something to upset you?” Some people simply want to make sure they are still in your good graces.
4. They Think You Don’t Like Them
A people pleaser might be worried that you don’t like them. By inquiring about your silence, they are reassuring themselves.
5. They Feel Uncomfortable in Silence
There are people who cannot be silent for even a few minutes. It makes them feel uncomfortable. So, by asking you, they are trying to get a conversation going.
6. They Seek To Understand You
“Why are you so quiet? What are you thinking about?”
This one is typical for romantic relationships. The other person wants to know so they can feel emotionally closer to you.
7. They Want To Dominate You
“Oh look, he can speak.” Some people will attempt to put you on the spot, so they can exert dominance over you. It makes them feel strong.
8. They Want To Tease You
“Someone is in a broody mood today.” Occasionally, others will remark on your quietness to tease you. Their goal is to draw you out, not to hurt you.
The way you react to someone calling you quiet depends on the intent of the questioner.
If the other person is worried about you, thinks you might not like them or feels uncomfortable in silence, just reassure them.
“I am thinking about X”, “I am like that sometimes,” and even “I can be shy around new people” are all perfectly appropriate responses.
But if the other person is trying to dominate you, a more aggressive response is needed.
In such a scenario, never make excuses for yourself. Never say something like, “I’m just taking it all in.”
Don’t try to rationalize your behavior either. Don’t reply with, “I am very distracted at the moment,” even if that is true.
The confrontational person is not interested in the truth. They are trying to get a reaction out of you. By justifying yourself or rationalizing your behavior, you have now bought into their logic.
The only thing that works with a bully is to do them one better.
If they are trying to put you on the spot by asking, “Why are you so quiet?,” retort with something stronger, like “Why can you never shut up?”
However, never escalate the situation unless you can back your threats up. To be taken seriously in a confrontation, you must have the potential for physical violence. Learn to fight.
How To Stop Being Quiet
Introversion and extraversion are learned behaviors. That means if you so desire, you can learn to become more outgoing.
Note that you don’t have to. If you enjoy being the quiet one, there is no need to.
But many introverts secretly suffer from social anxiety. It is limiting their options in life, e.g., their ability to make friends or find lovers.
If that is you, you should act.
This doesn’t mean you have to renounce your introverted ways. Rather, you can learn to switch back and forth between introverted and extroverted behaviors, as the situation requires.
Sounds interesting? Let’s look at how to pull it off.
1. Never Run Out of Things To Say
A big problem for introverts is not knowing what to talk about.
The solution is to create a repertoire of ready-made topics. These topics should appeal to as broad of an audience as possible.
At the same time, you don’t want to talk about something that you have zero interest in. It will show. That’s why I never talk about team sports, for example.
Topics that I do use include:
- TV shows like Breaking Bad or The Sopranos. Many people have watched these shows, or still plan to. So they are easy, enjoyable topics for conversation.
- Books. Same schtick as before. For example, I love reading and discussing personal development books, and many other people do too.
- Traveling. I constantly travel, so it’s a favorite topic of mine. And most people are literally counting down the days until their next vacation.
I don’t force these topics on people. I will throw them into the mix and see how people react. If they pick up on them, great. If not, I’ll see if something else sticks.
2. Talk About Their Favorite Topic
Everybody’s favorite topic is themselves. We enjoy nothing more than discussing our own problems, hopes, and doubts.
So, steer the conversation toward their life. Ask them what is going on with them.
Understand that most people will not right away let you in. You must pick up on the cues.
For example, if someone mentions their boss, but there is an undertone of apprehension, follow up on that. “I feel like the relationship with your boss is a bit strained.”
Next thing you know, they are telling you about their work problems, how their boss is playing favorites, etc. You won’t be able to shut them up.
They will feel like you are the one person that gets them.
3. Give Some Encouragement
The difference between being perceived as quiet and engaging can be just a few words. Throw in a few little encouragements, and the other person will think you are a great conversationalist. Examples include:
- “That’s crazy.”
- “No way.”
- “I see.”
We don’t really care about exchanging information so much as being given the chance to tell our own story. Remember — everybody’s favorite topic is themselves.
4. Get Into Their Passion
Many people have a hobby that they love more than anything. It’s the one exciting thing in their lives, what makes them put up with their boring 9 to 5s and their stale relationships.
If you show interest in that thing, the conversation will be a hit.
Here is how such a conversation might play out between you and some guy from work:
You: “What are you up to this weekend?”
Him: “I wanted to go to a concert, but it got canceled.”
You: “Oh, that sucks. What band?”
Him: “It’s this progressive rock band from Austin, they are really hot right now. Blah blah blah.”
You: “That’s funny, I have a friend who also listens to them. How did you get into progressive rock? Do you play an instrument?”
Him: “I’ve actually been playing the drums since I was 12. I have a band; we just recorded our first demo. I will get you a copy. Blah blah blah.”
Make the conversation about what they love, and they will love you.
5. Apply the Question-Statement-Question Rule
You don’t want to ask too many questions in a row.
By asking question after question, you will eventually irritate the other person. They will feel like they are being interrogated and turn taciturn.
Instead, intersperse your questions with statements.
You: “Are you from here?” [question 1]
The other person: “No, I am from Columbus, Ohio.”
You: “The Buckeye State! I spent a weekend there once, it’s nice. [statement] What brings you to NYC?” [questions 2]
Including these statements will make the conversation flow more naturally, despite you asking a lot of questions.
6. Remember What They Said
Few people make an effort to remember details about the other person. If you are the exception to this rule, you will stand out.
There are two versions of this — the micro and the macro approach. Ideally, you want to combine them.
With the micro approach, you remember a detail in the same interaction. For example, at the 10-minute mark of the conversation, they might mention the name of the beloved family dog, Rudy, who is currently sick.
At the 30-minute mark, you might say, “I was just thinking, if you want to get a second opinion on Rudy, I know a great veterinarian.” They will be impressed with you, not so much by your offer, but by the fact that you remembered Rudy’s name.
The macro approach is to remember details from past conversations during your current conversation. The longer the interval, the better you will look. If you remember the family dog’s name two months after the first conversation, that’s impressive.
To make this easier on you, consider taking notes on conversations you had with people. This is what successful salespeople do. They understand that we desire nothing more than to be seen.
7. Don’t Stick to “Safe” People
I used to only talk to the “safe” people at social gatherings — non-threatening people, i.e., other introverts like me.
But I have always gotten the most from talking to people that I was initially hesitant to talk to, maybe because they were exceptionally attractive or maybe because they were intellectually imposing.
Not only will this be growth-inducing; but by letting your fear be your guidepost, you will also become desensitized to the awe these people exude. You’ll be able to talk to anyone.