Try and imagine a conversation where someone who is loud is told, ‘you’re a bit loud aren’t you?’ or ‘you talk too much’ within the first few minutes of meeting them. If you are quiet natured this has probably happened to you at some point in your life.
I have been called many things. Shy. Quiet. Introverted. Sometimes these are just general statements, but they can often be delivered with a clear and perceptible undertone of negativity or pity from the speaker.
Even when I was growing up I wondered why I was so quiet. I absolutely abhorred presentations in front of my class at school and university. I was happiest in my own thoughts, liked small gatherings, had a close circle of friends and didn’t like social situations where there were large numbers of people. I didn’t enjoy team sports that much either.
Even in social situations, I still prefer to hover about on the periphery of the proceedings rather than being at the centre of the action. A silent guardian, a watchful protector. The hero the party deserves, but not the one it needs right now.
For years I had felt that there was something wrong with me. Why was I like this when the majority of other men weren’t, or at least didn’t appear to be acting like they were?
It wasn’t until I read the fantastic book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain that it fell into place. I possessed the traits of introversion. They were normal and I should be comfortable with them. I had a unique set of skills that were useful and needed. There wasn’t anything wrong with me at all. I may not be able to approach strangers comfortably, deliver a presentation or think spontaneously when asked a question, but I made up for it in other ways. It was a revelation finding that out.
I was more expressive with the written word. It was part of the reason that I set up a blog and have now written for numerous publications. I had a more empathetic mind and can relate to people’s emotions a bit more. So much so, that I’ve even felt ‘secondary embarrassment’ on behalf of total strangers. I can focus on tasks for a long time when necessary. I prefer deeper conversations and meaningful topic rather than more superficial ones.
However, this doesn’t matter, as nowadays men have to exude a constant and sometimes almost over-bearing confidence. Look at the way the media portray the ideal man. Full of swagger, sure of himself, confident in all situations. He’ll get that job and that woman. He’ll ace that presentation in front of the clients from Zurich and then dine with his future in-laws. All this while looking like he just stepped straight out of a Hugo Boss catalogue.
Unfortunately, this kind of thinking seeps out into the rest of society. To be quiet now is almost to be ostracised from society. If you aren’t loud, people don’t tend to notice you’re even there. I have slipped out of meetings without any of the attendees even noticing I was gone. Most workplaces and seminars are geared for more extroverted people. They rely on clear and confident public speaking to get your opinion across.
Society doesn’t particularly value more introverted traits. When was the last time you wrote ‘quiet introspection’ or ’emphatic ability’ onto a job application? When did you ever see a corporation adding ‘self-reflection building’ or ‘quietness classes’ to a team building exercise? However, there is a multitude of ‘confidence building’ courses available, one of which also instructs you on how to build your ‘personal brand’.
Another reflection of how introversion is viewed it to look at the synonyms for the word ‘introverted’. These include reclusive, cool, withdrawn and offish. Some terms such as shy, collected, bashful and modest are a bit more neutral. Trying the same exercise with ‘extroverted’ returns positive associations: congenial, gregarious, personable, sociable, cordial and friendly.
But what is wrong with having a quiet confidence nowadays? Since when did confidence become equated with being loud or outspoken? It’s perfectly reasonable to be quiet and confident in your own mind and abilities. I don’t believe that you should try and change your personality to fit in with some vague feeling that you aren’t talkative enough or feel bad because you can’t deliver a presentation to a room full of people.
Basically, you are what you are. To an extent, everyone modifies their behaviour to fit the social environment. I’m sure even the most outlandish extrovert would tone it down for a funeral. Likewise, I’m sure introverts can manage feats of extroversion on occasion. And we need extroverts as well. They are the party masters, the organisers, the Ying to the introvert Yang.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.
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