What NOT to say to an introvert

“You are quiet.” This is a loaded statement for introverts, which is sure to get our backs up.   Why, you might ask?  For one, you are pointing out the obvious.  It’s kind of like telling a black person he is black (can I say that?).

Yes, I’m quiet … and you’re loud … and Rome is the capital of Italy – what’s your point? Click to tweet.

Also, telling us we’re quiet makes us feel self-conscious.  Lets explore the different ways an introvert might interpret this statement:

  • You’re not talking enough. It’s really weird.
  • You’re making me feel uncomfortable.
  • Say something, moron!
  • I have no idea how to relate to you so I’m going to point it out in what I think is a polite way.

Introverted people have heard these dreaded three words countless times in their lives. Guaranteed.  And often they are delivered with an undertone of what the hell is wrong with you?

Even if you mean no harm, saying this will push a very big introvert button.  So, before you push that button, consider how your introvert might react:

  • She will feel self-conscious and clam up.
  • She will be annoyed and pull away.
  • She will be angry and you might have the rare opportunity of seeing an introvert lose her temper (this would require an extra malicious delivery).

To be honest, I’m really not sure what response people expect from this statement.

We won’t take it as a compliment; we won’t be intrigued and impressed by your groundbreaking insights; and we’re definitely not going to launch into a soliloquy about why we are so quiet.

Generally, introverts don’t know how to respond when people tell us we are quiet.  Ummm … Thanks?  I know?

If you don’t know what else to say to an introvert, here are some preferred alternatives:

  • This plant is really green.
  • I like marshmallows. How about you?
  • Umm … cough, cough … (extended awkward silence) …
  • So … how you doin’?
  • I feel awkward.  I don’t know what to talk about.

That last one actually is a valid option.  Personally, I really appreciate it when people cut through the crap and say how they truly feel.  Most introverts are relieved when you skip the small talk and delve into more personal topics.  Just don’t go overboard and tell us your life story over the crab dip.

42 Comments

  1. I keep remembering a particlular time when my two extrovert friends introduced me to another extrovert friend and the three chatted about something out of my jurisdiction. Then the friend of my friends stopped talking and pointed out to me that I was quiet.

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    • Talk about putting you on the spot! That is the worst. Do you remember what your response was?

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      • I always softy say “yes” and smile. To me saying I’m quiet is similar to noticing I’m tall or have brown eyes. I don’t take offense and I’m generally amused that they say it as if to inform me of a trait of mine, of which I may not be aware. lol

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        • That is probably the best way to respond. Thanks for sharing Teddi. 🙂

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          • Or perhaps, “Does that bother you?” Is a good response.

      • I know! 🙂 I think I gave her a “deer in headlights” look, while one of my friends answered for me that I get overwhelmed when a bunch of people are talking.

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        • Thank you for sharing Earl. I definitely know that “lost” feeling. It can be so difficult navigating a new culture and always being with people who don’t understand you. And I love what you said in the last line. Yes, they won’t understand unless we express ourselves and stand firm in our convictions! 🙂

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  2. Michaela you’re such a good writer! Love this post. How true 🙂

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    • Thanks you 🙂 I’m glad you liked it! It feels great to know that people can relate to what I’ve written.

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  3. “That last one actually is a valid option. Personally, I really appreciate it when people cut through the crap and say how they truly feel. Most introverts are relieved when you skip the small talk and delve into more personal topics. Just don’t go overboard and tell us your life story over the crab dip.”

    YES! I really love how you’ve described this. Often article writers seem to mistake this for us wanting all conversations to be about intelligent things or the meaning of life and the universe or something, which couldn’t be less true for me. But if someone says “I feel awkward. I don’t know what to talk about” I’d be like “I KNOW! Me too!” 😀 (Unless they said it like it was my fault.) And thanks for the caveat about that not meaning I want the other person’s life story.

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  4. I am reminded of ‘Silent, but’ by Tsubjo Shigeji

    I may be silent, but
    I’m thinking.
    I may not talk, but
    Don’t mistake me for a wall.

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    • Beautiful. Thank you for sharing, Jeremy.

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  5. “This plant is really green”.

    I love that.

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    • 😀 Thanks Vicki!

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    • Ou yes, “The green plant” is the very best! A great article, Michaela. As ever 😉

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      • Haha, thanks Jana! 🙂

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  6. I have a friend, or rather an acquaintance, who constantly tells me that I look so sad and asks why, and tries to cheer me up. I often have the urge to tell him something like “That’s how my face looks like, man. Nothing is wrong with me, I’m just THINKING, but maybe you don’t know what it means.” I even tried to explain the introvert/extravert thing to him, but he didn’t seem to understand. Well, his loss.
    Also. If someone approached me and said “This plant is really green” I would probably burst out laughing and actually started talking to them 😀 “I feel awkward and don’t know what to say” would also work, it’s an excellent start to have a “what’s introversion” talk 😉

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    • Hi Dana, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. Very well stated 🙂 . Haha yeah, maybe “this plant is really green” should become the new pick-up line for introverts.

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  7. I’ve been on the receiving end of “you’re so quiet” or “are you always this quiet?” far too many times to count. Including at most of my places of work. I’ve never understood why people think it’s ok to say this to me… or what they expect to happen. I wouldn’t go up to someone and say “wow, you’re really annoying” or “are you always this loud?”. Pretty sure this would be considered rude. But somehow the same rules don’t apply to someone who’s quiet. If the goal is to get me to open up to you, it certainly won’t work. Most likely I will avoid you from now on because you’ve made me extremely uncomfortable. I used to get defensive and say that I’m not always quiet or something like that. Now I tend to just smile and say yes (although what I’d really like to say is not so polite). Thanks for speaking up about this!

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    • Hi Danielle, thanks for sharing your experiences with this! Yes, I usually default to responding with a simple “yes” as well (often accompanied by a constipated smile).

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    • I love how this happens when you’re surrounded by about 10 people, and then suddenly it’s quiet and ALL eyes are on you, waiting expectantly for your answer.
      Me: blush/stammer/blush/stammer

      I wonder what people would do if we responded to “You’re so quiet” by simply saying “And…??”

      It sounds rather rude, but I just might try it someday, if the “asker” is someone I don’t really know and will probably never see again.

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      • If you do, be sure to let us know how it goes!

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  8. As an extrovert, it is very interesting to see the point of view of introverts. The truth is, I never really had an introverted friend, and now that my best friend is one, it is often awkward and thats’s why I decided to look this topic up. I have to admit to making the mistake of asking my friend if she was alright a couple of times while she was silent, but the truth is, I had no idea how to act around people like that. For me, being quiet, is like you are mad or sad. I understand the point of view of you guys and I truly respect it, but it’s hard for us to understand too, and that’s why you should tell your friends how you actually feel. If my friend had told me way before all that you guys are saying, I would understand that nothing is wrong and everything would be better for the friendship. It’s impossible for me to guess unless you said it, while I’m here, freaking out, not understanding what’s going on. At least, now I know how to treat my friend right.

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    • Thank you so much for sharing your extrovert perspective, Laura. It’s very true that we introverts can’t expect people to be able to read our minds. That’s why I’m a strong advocate for spreading the word about introversion so that there are fewer misunderstandings 😉 .

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  9. Thank you for posting! I’ve always had to put up with people saying this to me, and it still tends to make me angry. However, it helps to know that there are people out there who understand. 🙂 I love the entire blog, btw! Just stumbled across it.

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    • Thanks Joanna 🙂 There are lots of us innies out there who completely understand!

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  10. “This plant is really green.” I love that. It’s thought-provoking and shows the ability to observe like I believe so many of us do. Way better alternative to filling empty silence with unnecessary blabber.

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  11. Why are you so quiet is a question that i am always asked in school or why do you look angry or sad. These are questions that i have come to hate. I am currently in college and i remember during my orientation week i had teachers and students telling me to be chatty or to stop being too quiet and rude by reading books but the truth is and was that i would prefer my books to speaking to people. Not only this but my school reports are filled with Pony is too quiet and she needs to start looking interested in her work.
    Everyday i have someone asking me on the hallway whether i am okay? They ask it as if i have a problem. It has reached an extent whereby i have had people telling me to smile at them. Being an introvert is ver challenging but i am glad that i share similar frustrations with other people. Thanks for the post.

    Reply
    • Pony,

      That was me in high school and college. CONSTANTLY being told to smile more, talk more, have a better attitude, look more interested. It got so bad I was going to hire an actor to play me, or rather, to play a more social version of myself.

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  12. i once tried to talk with my new veeeeeryy introverted freind. 😀 LOL. i was the one who talked first. 😀 “why don’t cockroaches fart?” then we both laughed and suddenly we were like the coolest gang ever!

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  13. I really love this. I’ve always thought that something was wrong with me. I would try my best to mix with people, make new friends and all that. Even my coursemates do not understand me. One of my friends even insulted me about being an introvert. Anyway, this is great!

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    • Hi Benedicta. I’m so happy that you can relate. It’s unfortunate that your friend insulted you about being an introvert. As you can see, you’re not alone! Glad to have you as part of the innie community. 😉

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  14. I’ve always hated being quiet, and to have it pointed out is the worst feeling. Like you say, it’s said as if there’s something wrong: “he’s quiet.” Like it’s a disease or something. I do enjoy being social and chatting, just not as much as an extravert. We are great listeners though, and I love to listen to interesting people.

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    • Thanks for sharing that, Dolph. There’s nothing wrong with being quiet! Just not enough positive reinforcement for quiet sensitive souls in our society. xo

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  15. I’m truly an introvert that sometimes masquerades as an extrovert, but lately I have found myself quieter and quieter in groups. I have had people say to me that I must not be feeling well since I was so quiet. The truth is, I find their opinions ignorant and offensive but I just don’t have the energy anymore to speak up. It isn’t worth it. They just want to hear themselves talk. My opinions won’t change them. I have to decompress a whole day after being in a large group. If I were very honest when someone asked my why am I so quiet , I would tell them because if I spoke up, I would be telling you what an idiot I thought you are. Do I sound bitter lol?

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  16. One time at church a lady (who’d known me for like two seconds) pointed out that I was “very shy and quiet.” I looked up and said, “Really? Thanks! I had no idea!” The lady looked at my mom and said, “Teenagers.” My mom said I wasn’t a teenager. (I look young, but I’m 21). After that the rude lady didn’t know what to say so she just walked away. HAHA.

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    • I love it. So funny how she could imply that you were the one being rude when she had so explicitly put you on the spot.

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    • Sounds like what I wanted to say to all my ex wife’s friends.

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  17. As an introvert… It’s difficult, especially in my household. I often get mistaken for being “Bipolar” and “Mean” but really I just need to recharge my batteries. I get badgered when I’m quiet and want to be alone in my own thoughts. I have the hardest time in the world explaining to people what an introvert is and why I am the way I am. I find myself in tears often when I feel misunderstood and try to explain to people that I just want to be left alone to regain balance in my energy….. It’s hard being am introvert but I think if more people actually read and did their research about people like us, life wouldn’t be so difficult. I just want people to understand and not pass judgment on me for being the way I am. 😞😞😞😞

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  18. Where were you 35 years ago? It’s ok, I pretty much know the answer to that one. My father was an extrovert, so was my sister, so was most of the population of New York where I found myself in my VERY introverted 20’s unaware of my personality type, unaware of how to act in a city of very outgoing people and unaware that I was on the verge of a very large nervous breakdown which would lead to a few decades of therapy at the hands of a therapist who thought introversion was a psychological aberration.

    Better late than never I guess. Your newsletter and writing helps explain most of my former life if not all of it. One of my mother’s favorite phrases was “oh Brian, why can’t you just make pleasant chit-chat and not get so deep all the time?” And everyone else’s comment was the usual “oh Brian, you’re so quiet.”

    Really wish I had been born later and was coming of age right now, would have saved a lot of time and angst. But even now we seem to be in the age of personality where extroverts still reign supreme and introverts have to explain themselves all the time. I told someone recently at a company party where I decided to stick to the sidelines during a group function (directed painting I think it was which was a direct offense to my aesthetic sensibilities as well as pushing my social stamina to the limits) that I prefer to observe from a distance. This person ACTUALLY gave me a high five instead of treating my decision with disdain since apparently she was of the introvert persuasion also even though her husband, president of the firm and curator of the party as well as a bona fide extrovert heartily partook in this social exercise. This decision I made only came after many years and hours of psychological reinforcement. I doubt I would have been able to make this decision a decade ago.

    Anyway Michaela, keep up the good work. You are a life saver.

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  19. Yes, this was most difficult for
    me in high school because I was incredibly shy and an introvert. I hated the way people would ask when there was so many other people around and I got bullied for being quiet. I am happy that introversion is becoming more well known. I am less shy now but still an introvert and also still feel some resentment to the people who state with a judgemental tone, “you’re so quiet”. I used to go red and stay silent but now I just say, “I’ll speak when I have something to say.”

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  20. Such an excellent post Michaela. You’re quiet , and to that I reply ‘yes I am’ and I’m met with eye rolls, and barely disguised snickering. What I don’t say (but am thinking), is ‘I might talk a bit if I could get a word in edgeways!’;) Extroverts do tend to hog the conversation!

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