It is unavoidable for introverts to encounter misunderstanding in our lives. We are part of a culture where we are measured against the golden standard of the Extrovert Ideal. Just the other day, I needed my boss to sign a couple of documents so I went looking for him. I finally found him in the lunch room. He was deeply engrossed in the newspaper.
“Bob*,” I called out in a polite voice.
He kept reading.
“Bob,” I said a bit louder.
His attention was still absorbed in the newspaper.
“Bob.” This time I called louder but without shouting.
He finally looked at me and exclaimed, “Speak up!”
“I was calling your name.”
“I just heard this mumble,” he said while signing the papers I had handed him.
“I didn’t want to startle you.”
He said nothing.
I have had this kind of exchanges before. SPEAK UP! SPEAK LOUDER! YOU’RE MUMBLING! Those reproofs usually come from people who are highly verbal and loud. They used to left me under the impression that I was flawed or that it was my fault. But it was not so this time around because ever since I’ve read Susan Cain’s Quiet, I’ve come to appreciate and respect what characterizes me as an introvert. Whereas in the past I would be telling myself that I should be ashamed of my “little” voice, that day I was rather vexed by his demand to speak up.
Why is it that people like him think that there must be something wrong with those of us who don’t speak loudly? Why do they assume that to be soft spoken is a sign of fear, of lack of confidence or even of a lack of intelligence? My parents taught me to speak softly as a sign of courtesy and civility. To me, those who speak loudly don’t come across as confident or poised, instead they strike me as rather rude, coarse, self-centered and sometimes, even arrogant. They’re deaf to anybody who doesn’t match their decibels. They order; they don’t ask. There is no such a thing as “please, would you..” Being loud, somehow, gives them the right to boss around. Maybe, it is time we innies of the world should start making demands too. How would people like my boss react if I were to answer back with a STOP BARKING! or LOWER YOUR VOICE!? For a moment I fancied myself dictating how others should act and speak to me. But that’s not the innie way. I don’t need to perpetuate their “communication” style by imitating them. We introverts are usually sensitive to others. Our rebuke, if it ever is one, would be more like, “Please don’t shout. I can hear you.” I can hear you. This is our gift. Let’s not lose it.
*Name has been changed