They told me I was qualified for the job, but I was too quiet.
“You’re not vocal enough,” the hiring manager told me. “People will walk all over you.”
The company I worked at posted a new job opening. It was a level above my job position at the time. I was qualified for this job; at least I thought I was. I had interviewed with several folks over two weeks. At the end of the interview cycle, I met with the hiring manager.
“Look,” he said. “You have the requisite skills. Everyone likes you, but this role requires a bit of brashness, and you’re just too quiet. You need to work on that to get to the next level.”
Quiet. You don’t want that label in a culture that prizes the extrovertive, talkative and charismatic.
The quiet guy gets revenge
The hiring manager hadn’t suggested I seek treatment for my quietude, but I could read between the lines. I didn’t get that job just then, but I did get it a year later.
The guy they had ultimately hired was a bit too brash with his speech. He said some things early on in his tenure that pissed off a lot of people. Nobody wanted to work with him, and so he had trouble getting things done.
He left for another job and they handed it to me.
Quietness is not a disease
If it were such a detriment to survival, we would not have made the evolutionary cut.
In retrospect, a part of me always embraced my true self. I always rooted for the man or woman in the movie who played the role of the quiet number two. They weren’t talkative or charismatic. They quietly sat in the passenger seat and pulled the strings or advised the man in charge. When the shit hit the fan, they survived unscathed.
I always identified with that guy — the one in the shadows who secretly ruled the world — rather than the larger than life protagonist.
Our talkative counterparts sometimes think of us as social misfits wondering if a magic pill exists to cure our lack of verbalization. They sometimes suggest we seek therapy while they reel off a list of symptoms.
“I ask you questions, and you don’t answer right away. You tell me you need to think about it first.”
It’s called thinking before speaking. Try it.
“You’re not assertive enough.”
They confuse quietness with sheepishness. They’re two different things.
“Nobody ever knows what you think or believe.”
Discretion and subtlety can be an advantage.
Our culture may not celebrate quiet people, but we have advantages over the outgoing talkies. We think before we speak. We may speak fewer words, but they’re more thoughtful.
A former mentor of mine who appreciated my economy with words said it best.
“You can’t say anything stupid if you say nothing at all.”
How to survive in a world of unrestrained extroversion
Despite our advantages, you still need to survive in a world dominated by the outgoing. People will interpret your quietness as a weakness.
Like my job interview several years ago, sometimes you only need patience, and allow things to play out in your favor. In tactical situations, that may not be a viable option.
You need tools to deal with those situations without betraying who you are.
Let’s suppose you’re in a conversation with a group of people. Someone poses a question. It’s one of those questions where everyone expects your input. The other folks in your group fire off a quick answer, but you need to think about it first. Your instinct might push you to remain silent or say something so that people won’t think you’re weird. Don’t tell me you haven’t done before.
Instead, tell people in your group your approach to answering or commenting on questions and issues where you haven’t formed an opinion.
“I need to think about it a bit more before I answer. Don’t take my silence for disinterest or apathy.”
Use your own words if that doesn’t fit your style, but sometimes we forget that people can’t read our minds. Let them know you’re thinking about it. If someone demands an immediate answer, give the same answer but word it differently.
“I’d like to give it more thought before I come to a conclusion. Continue your conversation, and I’ll chime in when ready.”
You can change the wording according to the situation. Most people will accept this. Some won’t, but you don’t have to please everyone.
Have you ever sat in a meeting and listened to people ask pointless questions or make nonsensical comments to give the impression they’re adding value? It’s infuriating, isn’t it?
What does a quiet person do? If you have something insightful to add, you speak. If not, remain silent. Unfortunately, in a work environment, your superiors interpret that as apathy or disinterest.
Here’s the deal. You need to play the game they expect you to play. Of course, if you’re the one in charge, then you can do whatever you want. But if you’re in a meeting with superiors, you need to act in a way that satisfies their expectations.
In this situation, you need to act against your inclination and make that comment or ask that question. I know. It’s annoying, but that’s how the game is played.
This situation is the most challenging. A quiet person can give the impression they’re not interested or not engaged. If your partner is the kind of person who speaks to hear themselves talk, they won’t understand your thoughtful approach to conversation.
This solution will sound awkward, but it works. Be upfront early on and remind your partner that you often don’t respond right away. Sometimes you need to think and consider before you speak.
Give your partner a heads up when those situations arise. I find it challenging to share my thoughts, but verbalizing them shows your partner you listened to them.
“I hear you. Can I think about that before I answer? The issue with the pooling of resources is throwing me.”
Sharing that inner thought not only shows your considering your partner’s question or statement, it can also spark additional conversation leading to greater connection.
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