“Why so quiet?” “You’re too sensitive.” “Come on, lighten up!”, “Smile! It might never happen!” Through phrases like these, many of us learn before we’ve even toddled our way out of nappies that being chatty and outgoing is our golden ticket to a successful, happy life – whether it comes naturally to us or not. Western culture in particular seems to heap praise on the gregarious, outspoken, ‘life-of-the-party’ types, while often overlooking the contributions of those more keen on observation, deep thinking and quieter pursuits. Susan Cain (author of ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking’) calls this preference for talkativeness and assertiveness the ‘Extrovert Ideal’.
But what should we do if we’re among the people who don’t fit this ‘ideal’? Buckle up, ignore our own preferences and push ourselves to enjoy attention and talk more? If that age-old thought sends a jolt of nerves up your spine then listen up… because it’s time we valued the quieter more thoughtful people and celebrated the many strengths that come with them. The world needs gentle thinkers as much as it needs fearless leaders – so let’s celebrate the gifts the sensitive and the introspective among us have to offer.
1. Five positives of not being the loudest person in the room.
While we’re all complex and evolving beings, research shows that many qualities often go together. And if you’ve more of an observer than a talker and enjoy your peace and quiet, you’ve probably got the following strengths:
Ability to focus
Quieter types often enjoy being completely absorbed in a mentally stimulating project and can maintain their focus for long periods of time without getting restless.
Keen observational skills
They’re also good at noticing small details and subtleties and processing a lot of information, which makes them great at in-depth learning and coming up with novel solutions to problems.
Awareness of risks
The more cautious style of people who like to observe before they ‘jump in’ means they’re less prone to accidents and mistakes.
Those of us who enjoy our times of solitude tend to spend a lot of time looking inwardly and are often blessed with a vivid imagination and a rich inner life.
Those who prefer to nurture a few close friendships over making numerous casual connections, often demonstrate great empathy and listening skills, which leads to very meaningful and long-lasting relationships.
2. Create a life more suited to your needs
While gregarious individuals are energised by a busy social schedule, more introspective types require quiet downtime to recharge. But even in a world enamoured with networking and team building and dinner parties, those of us who thrive in calmer conditions can take steps to carve out restorative pockets of peace and calm in their day.
At the workplace
Many of our colleagues and our boss may well be the kind of people who love constant interaction – and they may not have considered that some of us feel more productive and do their best work in different conditions. It’s worth proposing adjustments, whether it’s moving our work station to a more quiet corner in the office, focusing on tasks that are best suited to our talents, or even working from home once in a while.
Socialising on our terms
If we’ve internalised the message that socialising is better than solitary activities, our inner monologue may involve a lot of ‘shoulds’ when it comes to deciding how we spend our time and energy. But acknowledging that our needs are different to that of a social butterfly but no less valid can help us make decisions better suited to our preferences – like arranging to meet a friend over a coffee instead of agreeing to a big night out.
3. Raising confident children
Kids, just like adults, are more confident when they feel accepted the way they are. And as parents we can help our thoughtful and gentle children to feel as valued as their more outgoing and energetic peers.
Diverse role models
At first glance, history books and popular culture seem to be populated with dynamic movers and shakers not afraid to speak their mind. But if we look closer, we see many introverted influencers from Rosa Parks (whose quiet tenacity made her a civil rights legend) to the actress Emma Watson (whose passion for empowering women and girls lead to her appointment as the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador). We can help our kids value their unique strengths by exposing them to varied role models and showing them that there are many ways to live, succeed and change the world.
It can be tempting to keep coaxing a child who hasn’t joined in a game or arrange frequent play dates to help them make more friends. Encouragement can be helpful, especially in a new situation – but we also want to trust our kids and give them enough space to socialise in their own preferred way. Perhaps they want to observe for a little while before they choose whom they’d like to play with, and maybe they prefer one special friend or even playing alone over joining a loud group of kids.
And ultimately, the best gift we can give our children (and ourselves and anyone else for that matter) is to love them fiercely just the way they are.1