I think most people would tell you that one of the defining traits of introverts is that they are quiet. It’s even the name of one of the most popular introvert books — Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. This also happens to be the book that first got me started on studying and embracing introversion, and it’s still one of my favorite books.
But in the midst of this “quiet revolution” that’s pushing for greater acceptance of introversion, we might get the idea that all introverts are characterized by being soft-spoken people who rarely talk. However, that’s not entirely accurate and that’s not what really what Susan Cain meant when she named her book Quiet.
Confusing Introversion and Shyness
One of the most common mistakes regarding introversion is to assume it’s the same thing as shyness. But introversion is simply a description of how about 50% of the population’s brains are “hardwired.” It’s a preference for the inner world and a need to recharge in solitude. Shyness, on the other hand, is related to social anxiety.
Social anxiety and/or shyness can affect both introverts and extroverts. It does tend to make people more quiet and less eager to socialize, which is why it’s often confused with introversion. It also plays a role in why so many people assume that introverts are scared of people and have trouble speaking up around others. For more on this topic, check out my post “Introverts Need People Too: A Closer Look At Introversion and Social Anxiety.”
How Much We Talk
In general, introverts do tend to be more quiet than extroverts. We’re less likely to speak up in meetings or raise our voices to insist we be heard. We spend more time on inward contemplation, which typically doesn’t involve much talking (though if it does, rest assured that people who talk to themselves are smart — not crazy). We may also avoid conversations if we feel our social energy is running low.
But if you get an introvert started talking about something they’re passionate about, then they can talk for hours. And it’ll come complete with excited voice, hand gestures, and perhaps even talking over other people in their eagerness to speak about the thing. Just get me started on gender roles in 18th century literature or anything Star Wars or what the different Greek words for love teach us about God and you might be surprised by how not-quiet this introvert can get.
Fear of Pubic Speaking
According to most studies, public speaking is people’s number one fear. Death is number two. And while I don’t have statistics on this, I imagine this holds true whether these people are Introverts or Extroverts.
“When faced with standing up in front of a group, we break into a sweat because we are afraid of rejection. And at a primal level, the fear is so great because we are not merely afraid of being embarrassed, or judged. We are afraid of being rejected from the social group, ostracized and left to defend ourselves all on our own.” — “The Thing We Fear More Than Death” by Glenn Croston Ph.D.
While we might think that introverts don’t like public speaking because they’d rather be quiet and not draw attention to themselves, it seems that this fear is actually related to the risk of social shaming and rejection. That explains why it affects extroverts as well.
Introverts Process Differently
Introverts take longer to process things than extroverts. It has to do with how our brains are designed. This means that it’s harder for us to respond quickly in conversations. In general, an introvert needs more time to process what they’re hearing and what they want to say than an extrovert does.
In conversations, this often means that an introvert spends more time being quiet because it takes a while for their brain to decide what they want to say. If we’re talking about a topic we know well we can enter the conversation more often, but if it’s something that we need to ponder then we’ll stay quiet until we have something to say.
So are introverts quiet? It depends on the situation and on the introvert. We tend to be more quiet than extroverts as a general rule, but under the right circumstances we can chatter about something for hours. Put an introvert in a situation or conversation where their unique skills and knowledge has a chance to shine and they can even be the life of a party.
Introverts will spend more time in their heads and more time alone than a typical extrovert. But they aren’t always going to be quiet or withdrawn, especially introverts who don’t struggle with shyness/social anxiety. Some introverts even become quite comfortable with public speaking. So while it’s true that introverts tend to be more quiet, the idea that all introverts are inherently and consistently quiet is one of the myths surrounding personality types.
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