Wednesday 12 September 2018

Can I have a quiet word? 7 Things Quiet People Wished You Knew on ‘Quiet Day’.

Hey there, can I have a word? 

Today (Sept 12th) is National Quiet Day, a day during which we’re encouraged to take a break from the over-stimulation of modern life. To tune out, turn down and switch off.

And if this is about having one day a year where you can focus on listening, reflecting and just being, rather than speaking, then, hey, I’m all for it.

But what about those of us who are quiet for the remaining 364 days of the year?

I’ve been considered, and called, ‘shy’ and ‘quiet’ all my life and, along the way I’ve come to understand that many louder, more gregarious folks, either simply don’t know how to deal with us, or else they’d rather we change everything about our nature, to suit some bubbly, outgoing ideal. 

(How do I know this? Because they’re not shy in telling us precisely that!)

And so I’m taking today’s pause amid the incessant chatter as an opportunity to speak (in hushed tones, naturally) about some of the ways in which my comrades in quiet and I are often misunderstood.

See how many you recognise ...

7 Things Quiet People Wished
You Knew on ‘Quiet Day’.

1. We're not spending all of our quiet time silently judging you.

I mean, yeah, sometimes we are. Obviously. And never more so when you publicly point out how quiet we are (see No.2 below).

But, most of our time, whether we’re sitting quietly during a group conversation, a meeting, or at a party, we’re generally not silently observing you and picking apart everything you say, do, or are.

I have a friend who used to say quiet people made her nervous, mainly because she didn’t know what we were thinking. So I guess it’s not much of a leap for chatty types to fill in the blanks and decide that we’re probably observing them, judging them, quietly plotting their downfall. 

Yet, in my experience, quietness more often goes hand in hand with a loud inner critic.

We’re keenly aware that, while we’re perfectly happy being quiet, we’re somehow failing to meet the expectations of a society that insists we need to contribute, join in, come 'out of our shells', make conversation.

Our inner critics know we’re expected to be able to do this thing they call small talk (the worst kind of talk, and a lot of talk is bad) and trust me, if there’s anyone in that room we’re judging harshly, it’s most likely to be ourselves

So, while we’re quiet externally, internally our inner monologues are loudly cajoling, debating, and assessing whether we should be trying harder at the decibel range of a hostage negotiator hollering to be heard over a thunderstorm.

2. Mentioning how quiet we are won’t make us any louder.

In fact, it will likely achieve the opposite.

It’s the moment in a social gathering that quiet people dread, when someone, either just thinking aloud, or perhaps considering themselves to be uniquely insightful, comes right out and baldly states: “Aren’t you quiet?”

If you’ve done this, shall I let you in on a secret? It’s not exactly news to us that we’re not the chattiest of Cathies in the room. We know this. 

And now congratulations! You’ve worked it out too. Woo hoo!

Now what? How do expect us to respond?

  • If we say a plain ‘No’, we’ll seem deluded because, patently, we are quiet. 
  • If we say an embellished ‘No’, such as - “No, actually, I’m not all that quiet really, you should hear me natter when I’m with someone I actually like.” – we’ll appear rude.
  • Ruder still to retaliate with “And aren’t you a complete gobshite?”
But, equally, if we admit a plain ‘yep’, but then continue on in our silence, we’ll appear facetious.

The last time this happened to me was in a tea break at a workshop, where someone pointed out my lack of contributions so far and wanted to know if I was OK. As well intentioned as it was, it made me feel under scrutiny, and for the remainder of the day the notion that I was now marked out as ‘Quiet’, sealed my mouth shut tighter than an introvert’s smile when someone unexpectedly joins them for lunch.

We really can’t win when you point this out about us. We’re backed into a conversational corner with duct tape slapped over our mouths.
Worse still, this often happens in company, where there are other people’s ears pricking up, watching how we respond, which only serves to increase our discomfort and embarrassment making relaxed, natural interaction almost impossible.

3. Quiet people don’t live in a shell that you’d like us to come out of.

I wish I had ten minutes peace for every time someone decided I needed to ‘come out of my shell.’

Rarely, if ever in our western society, do we hear it suggested of loud, gregarious, people that:
  • “Oh, bless them, they just need to realise how inappropriately loud they are being, and go back into their shell”. 
Preferably a soundproofed one.

This is especially hard when we’re children, being constantly told that we’re not contributing enough (particularly in school). And as young adults where we’re trying to find a way to be in a world that constantly asks us to go against our nature, rather than consider accepting us as we are, for the skills and qualities we can quietly offer.

At 42 I know that this quiet person‘s body and mind is who I am, where I live. It’s not temporary shell-like accomodation. I’m not moving out of it any time soon. 

And yet, imagine this, I’ve still managed to get through life, maintain a long-term relationship, get jobs, make friends, express myself, and follow my creativity. Who’d have thought? Certainly not the teachers who were obsessed with me changing.

If your concern for us is real then you can help by not being so blunt and confrontational about our natural personality traits. Stop embarrassing us in front of others, stop pointing out what you consider to be our weakness. And if you really do care about what we have to say, then offer us a safe environment in which we can do that.

In general though, you're going to have to trust us that we’re not hiding from you. We’ve shown you who we are many times, but you keep denying it, telling us we just need to be a little bit different.

Stop trying to change us, improve us, coax us out. 

There is no shell.

We’re just quiet slugs, plain and simple. Not snails who you’d like to see evicted.

4. We’ve been led to believe we’re ‘less than’.  

Quiet people are often made to feel that they’re just not getting this whole life thing right.
Early on in my first ‘proper’ job a member of staff attempted to explain why she didn’t think I’d fit in in with their school as they had lots of ‘big personalities’ there.

The implication being that, in contrast, my personality was small.


In ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking’ (one of the key works on this subject) Susan Cain explores how the West's education and employment systems are set up in such a way that louder, more outgoing people, are offered the chance to shine (even from the basics like a focus on group discussions in classrooms or using open plan offices), while quieter people are overlooked or considered lacking in what it takes to succeed.

We may already have our own reasons for being quieter than others (be that introversion, shyness, confidence issues, being on the Autistic spectrum, being a HSP [highly sensitive person]) and so on. But team those with an awareness that we’re also being judged and found wanting by a structure that prizes outgoing personalities over ours and ask yourself … how likely is it that we’ll feel comfortable enough to communicate more

For the record, me and my not-big personality for stuck at that job, where I managed to not only find some ... but to to then work to my strengths as a quiet practitioner. In between other duties I deliberately set out to champion overlooked kids hosting various groups and activities for those who liked to read, for the shy quiet ones, for the Gifted & Talented.

By the time I left teachers were talking about:
  • my ability to “sit quietly and talk with the children”, 
  • my ability to keep a child on track while keeping my voice low,
  • my calming influence, and so on. 
Despite not being the loudest candidates, us quiet types do have gifts to offer. Who knows, maybe sometimes it takes a quiet adult to help a quiet child. And even a noisy child.

And nothing about that is ‘small’.

 5. We love it when we find friends who 'get' us, without wanting to change us!

Just as we’re underestimated in the world of work, negotiating friendships when you’re on the quieter side can be tricky too.

A few years back now a group of my friends had been away for a weekend, and this particular time for some reason or other, I hadn’t gone with them. On their return they voluntarily offered up the information that they’d missed me.

And I was shocked. Genuinely. Because who could miss little old me? 
  • Me, and my ‘small’ personality.
  • Me, inside my shell.
  • Me, who is ‘less than’.
  • Me, a vacuum where a personality should be.
What even was there to miss?

Clearly I’d internalised all the things I’d heard about quiet people and applied them to my role in this friendship. 

Fortunately for me, my friends hadn’t internalised anything. And knowing that they call a spade a spade, I knew they weren’t lying, had no reason to, and were simply letting me know I’d been missed. And, let me tell you, you can’t buy that kind of confidence boost!

Us quiet types can honestly come to believe that we have little impact on the world, and feel no one would notice if we just didn't turn up one day.  But let me, and the friends who missed me, serve as objective evidence that we're wrong! 

6. We may not always talk, but we don't want you to stop calling!

Even when we’re confident that our friends actually do like having us around, it can still be tough for a quiet person (particularly an introvert like me) to maintain friendships.

Sometimes we simply don’t fancy meeting up. It’s nothing personal. We might like the time to ourselves instead. We might not be up for company. During our time off we might find it easier to just dive into a book, or Netflix, or bed.

My friends now know that, when I do go away for long weekends with them, there will still be times when I just absent myself, take a long shower, mooch around outside with my camera, curl up with a book. Be together, but apart. And it seems to work OK for us.

So, if you can find it in your chattery, nattery, bubbly and outgoing hearts to just cut us some slack, to keep inviting us to join you, even if we don’t always take you up on it … we’ll love you forever.

Please don’t stop asking. It really isn’t you, it’s us.

(If it was you, you’d know. We may be quiet, but that doesn’t mean we’re good at hiding it when we don’t like someone!)

And finally ... for us quiet types ... 

7. Sometimes it’s a numbers game.

It’s not always true that quiet people just don't like to talk; we can often be found gabbing away in specific circumstances. 

When I was little - the same tiny Julie who was told she needed to talk more in class - was referred to a ‘Little Miss Chatterbox’ at home. And I personally like to think that I can talk to anyone, with the emphasis on the 'one'. 

Because there’s the rub: the numbers.

Quiet people, especially introverts, may only really struggle to talk in a group situation where all of those additional personalities can heighten our long held anxieties about our own.

Personally I don’t love trying to get a word in while sitting in a large group and I have to brace myself for any attention that me opening my mouth can bring down on me.  So, the fewer people watching me speak the better, and in a one-to-one situation, with no audience, I'm in my element.

  • Take for example, the time, in that same school I mentioned already, where - one-to-one - I could handle the domineering headteacher without batting an eyelid (in fact, one time his secretary later asked me what I’d been saying to him to make him laugh so hard!) 
  • Or more recently, during the novel writing course I attended I got to have four separate meetings (two on the phone, two in person) with a Literary Agent. 

Me, Quiet Julie Kirk, and the London Literary Agent. 

Me, Off-work-sick-with-anxiety Julie Kirk and the London Literary Agent. Chatting. About my work. Like that's a thing that happens to people like me.

In all honesty, I couldn’t actually manage to share my work with my peers back in the workshops, but with the agent (which maybe should have been scarier?) I was perfectly fine because it was just me and her.

Working to my strengths and taking on only the aspects I could manage at the time - without berating myself for not taking on everything - was an act of defiance, and self care.

And I hope a quiet person reading this thinks ‘Oh, I now there’s something I could do!’. Because even if we can’t do the group thing … it shouldn't mean we automatically miss out on the entire experience.

Talking to the agent was a key part of the course wherein, after that, the cohort got whittled down from 20 to 8, to move on to the second round. And quiet Julie Kirk got through.

Moral of the story: make sure to grab any opportunities you get to shine in your natural setting! They don’t come along every day!

However, maybe somewhat perversely, on the the flip side of our reluctance to speak in front of a couple of other people … quiet types don’t always share the wider population’s terror of public speaking.

Groups are unruly, raucous things, where you never know who should or will speak next, and you have to gauge when's the best time for you to pipe up and make yourself heard.

But, in the past I’ve given a eulogy in a packed church, where more gregarious family members, confessed they’d never have been able to do it. Yet the key for me there had been having complete control of the situation. Delivering a speech you've written, in church, while standing on an altar, alone, well in that situation … you’ve kind of got the upper hand.  Aint nobody gobby enough to dare talk over the top of you there!

So maybe the majority of the time we'll battle to get a word in but, give us a clearly defined face-to-face meeting, a microphone, and even access to Instagram Stories … and you might soon be trying to find ways to get us to shut up!


Right then, your turn, speak:
  • Which of my 7 points had you nodding in recognition?
  • What annoying things have people said to you about your quiet nature? 
  • Dare you admit that you've said them to someone else?
  • Or is there anything else that you - as a quiet person - wished the louder population understood about you?
Speak now or ... you know what they're like ... the gasbags over there will only get in first! 

Thanks for pausing to chat today. 



  1. Another thought provoking post! My worst nightmare situation? Put in a room full of people and then hear the words, 'so we'll all stand up one at a time and tell everyone a little bit about ourselves'. Doesn't matter if they are people I know or total strangers! When I'm in a group situation I deflect attention on me by asking a question of someone who clearly doesn't mind talking. That usually gives you quite a lot of time as once they get started, they're keen to keep going! People must think I'm a really good listener ;-)
    My niece had an experience at uni where everyone had to stand up and say something and when she was unwilling the tutor said 'come on, you're an Essex girl, you must love the sound of your own voice'. Needless to say, this did not help her shyness and after that she felt that people were constantly expecting her to be like something out of TOWIE.
    So, let's hear it for the quiet people - just leave us to be how we want to be, you're never going to change us and why should we change anyway - we are who we are!
    Happy Quiet Day!

  2. I am an introvert. I hate group activities, my idea of hell is a group holiday. I also used to be an FE teacher, no problem talking to a group, meeting new students and all that teaching entails. Because there I was in control. I àm, I guess, quiet in public and happy that way.i am a contradiction.

  3. Thank you for sharing this, Julie!! I'm one of those quiet people. :)

  4. I loved number 3! Brilliant :). If anyone says to me that I am quiet, I smile, look them straight in the eye, and say "Just calm. I like being calm." It usually - I was going to say 'quietens' them! - but seems to discomfit them a little and they quickly change the subject. A very enjoyable post. And splendid news to hear you're in the chosen eight!

  5. PS The worst literary example of non-acceptance of the quieter person's way of being is Roger Hargreaves'children's book 'Mr. Quiet'. All the worst stereotypes. His solution is to send Mr. Quiet (who lives in Noisyland) to Happyland where - having confessed he's 'not very good at holding down a job - he is given the post of librarian. It's near the top of my pile of Books For Burning ...

  6. Yes! Thank you! I hate it when people tell me I'm quiet. As if I didn't know. And nothing makes me crazier than incessant blathering about nothing!!!! Remember that maxim? "It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt". Ha. I guess a lot of chatty people have never heard it.


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