The Grumpy Introvert on When to Stay Quiet and When to Get Mouthy

Dear Readers, we had two interesting questions this week that fit together in that yin-yang black-and-white cookie kind of way—

[Ed. Note: What now?]

[G.I.: That was less than a complete sentence. Chill.]

—from one reader who wants more airtime with her friends, and one reader who likes being quiet, thankyouverymuch. So, since I’m the Big Boss Lady—

[Ed. Note: You’re not, actually.]

[G.I.: Fine. I’m the Medium Boss Lady. Hush.]

[Ed. Note: … ]

—I’ve decided to answer these two together this week, an exploration of how to advocate for quiet: whether it’s your own or the (blessed) quiet of an overly chatty companion.

Dear Grumpy,

I cannot tell you how many people I have in my life, friends whom I love, who WILL NOT SHUT UP. A friend spent the weekend with me a while back, and I’m telling you, she talked every waking minute. She left not knowing a single thing that was going on with me. I know introverts are terrific listeners, but how can we get through to friends the notion that we deserve to be heard as well?

Sincerely,

Shut Up Already, Guys

Dear Shut Up Already,

Well, heck. That came through loud and clear on this end. That’s a good sign that your voice is still working. I smell hope! So you’ve got a yadda-yadda yammering champ as a close friend. You are clearly a very patient individual. I’m guessing this friend has been around for a while and you do get something out of this connection—or you wouldn’t be bothering to write me about the uneven quality of your communication.

I’m also guessing she’s an extrovert. Many extroverts seem to possess the enviable quality of blurting out everything that crosses their minds, never overthinking the direction of the conversation. I’ve known a few extroverts who think this is what conversation IS. You think it as you say it, and maybe the other person nods or murmurs “mm-hm.” Repeat. Sometimes, they are having so much fun with this, they forget to come up for air.

My mother has an adorable extrovert way of telling me everything, then asking me five questions in a row, then answering those questions (which were presumably for me) with guesses about answers.

Mom: [after 17 minutes of a non-stop monologue] …and THAT’S why I refuse to buy that brand of kielbasa again. Thank God there’s a new butcher in town. So, what are you and the girls doing for dinner?

Me: Well, I—

Mom: Tacos again?

Me: No, we—

Mom: Oh, I bet you went to the diner, didn’t you?

Me: Actually, we were just going to buy—

Mom: I’d meet you, but I’ve got that River Revitalization Committee meeting. I told you about that, right?

Me: Yes, you—

Mom: I’ve got a coupon for the diner, do you want it? I just love their fish and chips.

Me: …

It can be really, really tricky to get a word in edgewise. You didn’t mention if you tried, during the course of the weekend, to be heard by your friend. It sounds more like you just went with the flow and didn’t pull out a megaphone to shout, “LET ME TELL YOU ALL ABOUT THE NEW POTTED SUCCULENT I JUST GOT.”

If not, why not? I don’t mean you need to have an actual megaphone on hand, but grousing in silent resentment is never a good approach in any relationship. Trust me on this.

Often, we introverts struggle to find the right words when we need them, so the best thing we can do is practice in advance. Make a mental list you can refer to when you’ve been listening and listening and need to cut in, for your own sanity.

Here are some sample phrases that might come in handy:

“Hey, I’ve loved hearing about X and Y in your life. That reminds me, I’ve really been wanting to tell you about Z.”

That affirms the chatty soul and, at the same time, lets them know they are important to you and you really want to share your life with them. Win-win! (It may also help if you hand them a drink or a snack when you say this to keep their mouths busy.)

Another straight-up way to address it?

“I love your energy. But sometimes you’ve got so much to say, I’m not sure how to jump in when we’re talking. I don’t want to interrupt, but I want to let you know what’s been going on in my life too.”

A friend who cares about you will immediately shift gears and put the focus on you if you let them know (gently) that you need a little more breathing room to share your thoughts in the convo. But if there’s that one friend who just doesn’t get the hint and who keeps railroading over your words, well, I think it might be okay to minimize quality time with that friend. Sometimes our louder friends don’t realize how much space they’re taking up conversation-wise. The ones who love us will be grateful for the reminder to slow down and listen.

Best,

Grumpy

Dear Grumpy,

I work in an office setting. I feel most of the time that my quietness is often seen as shyness or snobbishness. My boss has even described me as shy! But I have known for years now that it’s not that I’m shy, I am an introvert. How do I explain to people, colleagues, and others I deal with on a day-to-day basis that I am not shy? I don’t enjoy a great deal of attention in a large group setting, and I am not the person to have as a public speaker. I am competent and confident in what I say but am petrified at all those eyes upon me. Please help!

Yours Truly,

Not Shy, Just Introverted

Dear Not Shy,

The way I see it, you have two options.

Option One: Install a large banner over your desk that reads, “NOT SHY, JUST AN INTROVERT.” And pass out balloons and business cards that read, “Not a public speaker. Try somebody else.”

Option Two: Just keep on doing your thing. Warmly and confidently. You know you’re not snobby, right? So, make a point at work to make eye contact and check in on colleagues in friendly fashion. Endure a little water cooler banter or by-the-microwave chuckling. At group meetings, be honest about your discomfort. A simple “I hate public speaking, so bear with me” to preface the thoughts you’ve been asked to contribute will make everyone in the room be on your side.

Or take the opportunity to tell folks that although you identify as an introvert, you love hearing their ideas and that you’ll need to think on yours and write them down to share with the group later. Introvert education! Let people know there’s a difference between shyness and introversion. It might be fun for the company to discuss introverted vs. extroverted ways of interacting in the office. And who doesn’t like a good personality test quickie?

The point is, Not Shy, the way to explain you’re not shy, just introverted is to do just that. The next time your boss describes you as shy, politely refuse that label, explain that you’re an introvert, and describe how you see the difference. Every office has a mix, so I can’t imagine you’re the only one. Many workplaces skew favorably toward extrovert interactions, such as group meetings and group projects and presentations, unaware that the introverts in the crowd are writhing in misery.

Be bold, take a deep breath, and speak up already. Name your truth. You get to define yourself—not your boss.

Introverts, Rise Up!

Grumpy

The Grumpy Introvert (otherwise known as Jennifer Mattern) is smarter than your average border collie, stronger than your morning coffee, and impervious to Comic Sans and all other forms of forced cheer. She has been an annoying know-it-all since the tender age of 8, when she first began correcting her teachers’ misspellings and offering copious amounts of unsolicited advice to her parents.

Have a question for the Grumpy Introvert? Write to her at [email protected]!

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  • Mon

    I have an extremely extroverted friend and she’s slightly (or muchly at a times) hyper. She chats away at 500mph and I can sit there and hmm-mm until I crack it with “Tam, can you shut up so I can talk”. She thinks I’m funny and I get one sentence in before she replies in 500mph again. I have slowly learnt that the difficult part is not to say something but to stay on topic as she bounces from topic to topic, and even though I am actually a really chatty introvert (to the point of making myself tired of my chatting) and I can’t keep up with her. But she eventually does calm down when the novelty of us wears off. 🙂

  • Jamie Jakubik

    I have the opposite problem with a friend. I have known someone since high school (15 years!!) I have grown and learned a lot about myself in recent years. I feel like she is still kind of the same person who she’s always been and I don’t connect with her on any real level anymore. It’s all small talk which is draining. I try to engage deeper conversations but it always falls flat. What’s a good remedy for that type of situation?

    • Iris Blake

      Let it go! You’ve changed, she hasn’t that’s all. If you aren’t into the same old same old, move on to who & what inspires you.

      • JadePenguin

        I don’t think Jamie was asking how to manipulate the friend, or at least didn’t use that word.

        I can think of a few possibilities. Maybe the friend is interested in different types of deeper conversation. Maybe someone’s betrayed her trust in the past and she doesn’t trust talking about such things (well, since you’ve known her 15 years this is unlikely). Maybe her life is very average and nothing too interesting ever happens – you could offer to travel somewhere very different or try an activity that might shake up her routine. If all else fails, maybe she’s just the sort of person who’s very chilled and content about an ordinary life. In that case I’d say let go if the connection’s no longer there. People grow and sometimes people grow apart. It can be hard if you don’t have many other friends but you should be able to find them through whatever it is you’re doing now 🙂

  • A time and place for both with hopefully the wisdom to choose wisely!

  • Dr Mike

    So much easier for men:

    Extroverted Man: Blah, blah, blah . . .
    Introverted Man: Will you shut up for a minute and let me say something?
    Extroverted Man: Sure, man! Sorry, I wasn’t really saying anything anyway.

    End of problem.

    • This is kind of my approach too.

    • Mon

      I was just about to type that out. 🙂

  • Lora

    Wow! You were describing me and my friend from college in the that first part! Over the past several years, I have discovered that I just have to interrupt her while she’s talking if I really want to get a word in edgewise! I like the idea of giving her a drink or something to eat, but since both she and I really need to lose some weight, that’s probably not so good. I never thought of myself as being very patient, but I guess in this case I must be!

    • JadePenguin

      Yep, I’ve had to force myself to interrupt people too. Something I was always taught was rude, but in some cultures is completely normal!

  • Elizabeth Westra

    Are introverted adults the shy children of their early years? I was considered shy during my childhood and teen years, and i still have some of same traits, but now I would call it more introversion. Is there a connection? Do any shy children ever grow up to become extroverted adults?

  • Sarah Jo Burch

    So much empathy for Shut Up Already! I instituted a system with my very extroverted husband – he talks, and as I have thoughts I hold up a finger. That’s his sign to not move on to a new topic (which he does, frequently and seamlessly) without listening first, and at three fingers (at the most) he has to pause, whether he’s finished or not. It felt really dumb at first, but it actually helps.

    • Karen DeBonis

      Sarah – this is a great technique!

    • JadePenguin

      Nice! What I sometimes do is pretend to start speaking even if someone else is, then stop and wait. Usually they get the hint, finish their sentence and hand over to me. Not always though – people can be very blind/deaf to signals that someone else wants to say something 🙁

  • 今天办公室里几个男女在讨论用避孕套的好处和坏处,男方坚决抵制避孕套,女方大力支持使用避孕套,双方各持一词不分伯仲,这时我们办公室一个大姐问我平日用套套吗?我说:我……我…我都是包皮打个结。当时讨论就结束了。