Many introverts tend to speak slowly. We need time to process our thoughts before we speak. We pause. We think. Perhaps we pause again. Sometimes we can’t find the right words until after the conversation has ended. Then we kick ourselves, and wish we always knew what to say like fast-talking extroverts.
The most frustrating aspect of our slow response time is the assumption that we are actually “slow” – as in stupid. It never feels good to know that someone is underestimating your intelligence. I’ve been there. It sucks. I know I’m not a dummy just because I can’t come up with long-winded answers to random questions off the top of my head. But it still bugs me that others don’t recognize that.
Fortunately, like most introverts, I can talk at length about topics that I care deeply about. It’s easy to think of what to say next when the subject is a passion that is always fresh in your mind. Otherwise, the hamster just likes to take his sweet time. “This conversation is going nowhere, anyway,” he says,”might as well take our time.”
But sometimes we really, desperately do want to keep up with the conversation, even if the hamster in our head is taking a coffee break. We want to be able to fire off a quick and convincing answer on the spot. We think it would be just peachy if we could know exactly what to say at exactly the right time. Instead –
Nothing. So, what should you do when you sense that others assume you are stupid because of your slow speaking ways?
First of all, DON’T do this
Don’t try to prove yourself. You’re above that. If you constantly feel the need to prove yourself – whether at work, in a relationship, or with friends – it’s a bad sign. As Susan Cain says: “Everyone shines, given the right lighting. For some, it’s a Broadway spotlight, for others, a lamplit desk.”
If you feel like you’re struggling to convince others of your worthiness, perhaps it’s time to find some more flattering lighting.
Try this trick
People assume that outgoing individuals are smarter than they are, simply because they speak with confidence. You can reap the benefits of this knowledge without actually being outgoing. The trick is to speak decisively even if you’re not really saying anything.
If you don’t know what to say, there are a few concise responses that you can provide:
“I don’t know the answer to that question. I’d have to think about it.”
“So, what your saying is [insert summary of what they said].”
“That’s interesting. You make a great point.”
Whichever generic response you choose, as long as you say it with a lot of confidence, people will accept that you are intelligent, but you are choosing not to elaborate at this time. The third response is also great because everyone wants to feel validated. Seriously, everyone.
If it’s really important that you think and talk fast during an interaction, it’s a good idea to prepare ahead of time. Preparation could involve:
- role play exercises with a friend (this works well when getting ready for an interview)
- reading up on current events
- creeping people’s Facebook profiles to find out their interests (oh, come on, we all do it)
- exercising and getting enough sleep so your brain is fresh
Most importantly, don’t feel bad about your need to slow down and think before you speak. As Abraham Lincoln put it, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt”.
This might sound strange, but I find that media training can also be helpful for managing my introversion when participating in fast conversations. I went through a bit of this recently, and found that a lot of the key concepts, such as using bridging statements to keep your interview message on track, and using hook statements to respond quickly before elaborating on a point, are also quite helpful in everyday conversation.
It might be a little awkward to treat every conversation like a media interview, but for those times when you need an extra edge, it helps 🙂
Now I want to do some research of media training!
I like the third option when I don’t know what to say, except I would probably have to say something more like: ”That’s interesting, I see your point.” because it’s not often I actually agree with the conversation topic, hence my silence!
I tend to compensate for my tendency for speaking slow and infrequent speaking with a well developed lexiconn, as a result I am more likely to be criticized for using big words.
That’s interesting, Adam. I definitely don’t have that problem. My vocabulary shrinks during everyday conversation.
My problem is that I get self-conscious and flustered when someone is staring at me waiting for an answer, and then my mind goes blank.
Yes, I’ve had that problem before too, Lys. It’s okay to have those mind-going-blank moments.
My problem is I do have a real country drawl, I have a good grasp of english but people seem to assume I’m a redneck or an idiot etc etc. pisses me off quite a bit hence thats why I’m a bit of a loner
Don’t think what others are thinking about you.
How do you know they perceive you like that? Did they tell you? Don’t listen to the lies your telling yourself
I don’t know how to respond to this article. 😉
Well then dont and you did just that
I love the image of a hamster in my head!
OK – so maybe this is an introvert thing too… when I was younger (still sometimes now), I used to rehearse tonnes of conversations before having them, purely because I knew I was going to be slow to come up with replies etc in face to face banter, or on the phone. It’s ridiculous of course, because conversations are dynamic, so you have no idea how they are going to evolve, and if parts of them did match what I’d practiced, I almost NEVER ended up being as articulate as in my rehearsal anyway. Is this something that’s more common in introverts than extroverts?
I’d often find myself rehearsing conversations when they’re done, wishing that I responded in a much better way if only I had the time to think deeper about it. I’d sometimes even find myself speaking my responses out loud, and some people even my friends would find it weird.
Hah yeah same here.. without the saying it out loud part :p
What’s weird is that I was quite an extrovert when I was younger (I’m 22 now)..
I mostly prefer to sit quietly listening to the banter than be a part of it..
I’d be interested to talk to someone who understands what I’m going through right now
Sounds like your analysing into this a bit much. Don’t listen to the lies your telling yourself
I can relate to this article. I frequently have problems with verbal conversations, mostly drawing blanks. For instance, like you, I constantly forget words when I’m trying to describe something and I feel it makes me look dumb. I know I’m not and those close know I’m not.
I find that texting or emailing someone is the easiest way for me to communicate because I can think about how/what to say.
Thanks for sharing!
I tend to hyper-analyze the validity of the thoughts people express in conversation. I find that these “long-winded” responses are usually filled with logical fallacies and inaccurate statements. I guess part of my problem is that I find it unnecessary to provide an inaccurate, long-winded answer when an accurate but concise one will do. It takes time to develop a complete thought before you speak. Somewhat ironically, most people seem to mistake my hesitancy for stupidity:(
Coming across this article is like a God sent, I’d always felt like something was wrong with me but that is not true. The article pinpointed everything that I’ve been dealing with for the past 10 years, wow I can’t believe I just said that. I appreciate you for this, thank you. I will be approaching things with a new perspective on life.
This article hit home for me. I’ve always thought I was a misfit because people couldn’t quite understand my thought process. To make matters worse I speak in a slow and calm voice it’s monotone in other words. People mistaken how I process my thoughts as being mentally challenged, but I always knew I wasn’t. I took the Myers briggs test and came out as an INTJ. The test hit home for me because I’m not really emotionally expressive as well although I feel them deeply. I also hate shallow conversations, it makes me cringe, but I learned to become adaptable. Great article.
Oh yes, my Mum used to say that when people first meet me they may think im intellectually challenged, I know this isn’t true, I scored near top marks in all subjects during school years form Math-Art, when I studied. Its also quite an insight to see/feel how most people are towards someone they think has no use to them, instead of trying to help, most dismiss me without giving two shits. I know I don’t even need the help but I just get to see how the less intelligent are treated, mostly ignored id say.
Thank you, I really needed to hear this. Knowing that others are dealing with similar things is really helpful . A few years ago I dated a guy that said he thought I was stupid upon meeting me. His family is very intelligent and talked on matters that I wasn’t interested in so often times I stayed quiet. That comment deeply wounded me but brought up deep seated issues around feeling unintelligent. When around other extroverts, I do feel flustered and forgetful, coming across as slow. I know I am not but living in a culture that highly values extroverted ways has felt debilitating at times.
Everything said here describes my experiences perfectly. My mind tends to freeze up when I’m put on the spot to speak quickly in impromptu situations(not as much though in one on one situations) . It seems like i get lost under the pressure of social situations(especially ones where any type of social etiquette is required). Its hard for me to make definitive statements confidently about subjects i haven’t thoroughly researched. Lol that sort of rules out most statements to most people because the average person doesn’t want to talk about the subjects on which i am most knowledgeable. However, if I’m comfortable around several really close family or friends i can’t loosen up more.
I ask them to repeat what they say, i will also ask them again, usually they get the message and it also give me time to think.
I feel for the less than flattering accounts you wonderful fellow-infj members portray your speaking acumen. Please do not worry lovely people because it is your heart which will speak your voice, your mind which will convey your message and your soul which will ground you as to who you are. Beyond that, the problem ( what problem I ask ) is entirely in the hands of others.
I love this article, Michaela. I never thought that people who speak fast were smarter than those who didn’t, though I’ve long known the others don’t think that. They think we’re slow. I also really appreciated the points you brought out the advice you’ve given. And I really like the poem that you wrote in your email to us. It’s very true. Thanks again for the advice
Wow I actually like my silence because I always come up with a convincing answer that is well summarized and people pay attention because they know I talk in a low composed tone and I am very brief in my speech.
‘I loved your ‘slow is the answer’ poem…
Great article, Michaela. I have found Toastmasters very helpful in speeding up my responses when called to speak on my feet. It is a skill that can be mastered or at least improved.
My problem isn’t that people think I’m stupid, but I’ve been told I’m boring. My mother once scolded me for being dull. Actually, at the time I was very depressed since I was grieving the loss of my father and sister who had died tragically a couple of years earlier.My mother was very talkative but I thought she was extremely boring because she never talked about anything of substance.
Also, my boyfriend when I was a Freshman in college broke up with me because I wasn’t exciting enough for him. He told me I was “perfect” but not exactly the life of the party type.
My younger sister once said mockingly when I was about to say something. ” Hold the presses everyone. Norma is going to say something”
These remarks are all incredibly painfull.
My beef is with people who think they’re being reassuring by telling me to just “accept” my flaws and that they love me for who I am.
That’s cute and all but it also tells me that the person doesn’t believe I am capable of improvement. You’d still say you “love me the way I am” if I were a bumbling mess of an idiot. It’s not that encouraging knowing.
If you’re here because you’re frustrated and tired of people parsing you as “slow” or mentally lacking because it takes you longer to do some things, you’re completely valid. It’s okay to want to improve your processing speed. People seem to think that “slowness” has some sort of trade off for another talent. Look, being faster won’t take away those talents. You can be fast and smart if you work at it. Practice mental math. Practice speed word games with friends. Speed reading. Whatever you want.
You are allowed to express discontent and improve any area of your life that you see fit to.