“Doing well but needs more confidence”. Anyone else remember this from old school reports? For me, it was the same in singing exams, during my Masters and at drama school as well. Being a very quiet person didn’t even get me points for being quietly confident.
I tried to give them what they seemed to need. But this elusive word stamped on my records would come again and again. And it confirmed for all future teachers that I needed, you guessed it, more confidence. Somehow I hadn’t managed to attain it yet.
Quiet people often learn how to fake it. Perception is everything and looking like a successful, confident person is half the battle. In drama school, I gave every appearance of being a together human. Shoulders back, wide smile, louder voice. I aimed my body towards those I was speaking to, I quelled fidgeting hands.
But it was never enough and pretending was exhausting. That familiar refrain would always come: more confidence, more confidence, more confidence. The more we’re told something the more we internalize it.
It wasn’t until much later that I recognised certain facts about quiet people (and accepted that I am one). We have plenty of confidence. It’s just that others don’t always see it.
Ever been told you’re too quiet?
It’s annoying isn’t? And kind of like telling a person who talks a lot to shut up.
We all have a baseline for noise level that varies throughout our lives. And when someone else says you’re too quiet, it just means that you fall below that person’s level.
They’re probably extroverts.
It’s just a comparison. To them, it follows that you must need to boost your confidence, to be pushed forward. Made to speak up.
Introverts like listening, learning and engaging. According to research, quiet people are better at making decisions on the whole. Whereas extroverted types often find internal reflective processes make them uneasy.
It’s not surprising that extroverts prefer thinking out loud, talking through a decision or seeking the opinions of others. It’s a very open way of being and relies on communication and external stimulus. However, the fact that introverts don’t often need this kind of help shows innate confidence in their abilities.
But we don’t often credit the good things we know about ourselves.
Loud does not mean confident
Those teachers who said I was too quiet had an idea of what a confident person looked like and I wasn’t it. They were listening out for the loud, boisterous ones, the first to speak.
Remember those kids who stood on the sidelines and observed games rather than jumping right in? That was me. I bet you were similar. I guess we didn’t do ourselves any favours. And yet, I knew in my small, quiet way what feeling confident meant.
But in a world geared towards the more outgoing, it’s hard to feel anything but stress. Especially when everyone is telling you to be something…else. The problem is that we’ve muddled volume with confidence. Forcing 25-40% of the population to go against their natural instincts isn’t a good idea for anyone.
As a matter of fact, extroverts are not the even the majority, that title goes to ambiverts. Introverts and extroverts are both minorities at extreme ends of a scale. The rest are somewhere in the middle.
In the same way, we all have differing levels of confidence depending on the day or the situation. None of us is confident all the time and there’s a whole host of reasons why a person may be quiet. Not least, being on the autism spectrum and ‘camouflaging’ that fact. Neurodiversity in women often gets misdiagnosed. This struggle to fit typical social patterns and expectations can cause severe mental health issues.
Labelling traits and characteristics like they’re black and white doesn’t help. A very quiet person goes in the introvert/low confidence box. While those who need others to regain their energy levels go in the noisy party box. I’m guessing you can work out where I’d be.
Some facts about quiet people.
Brits train from birth to talk about the weather and offer cups of tea. Even those of us who are quiet, know how to talk. Even if we don’t feel the need. And the lack of anything to contribute is generally more to do with the subject matter than confidence. It’s the value of these ‘little nothings’ quiet people question.
Has anybody figured out the point of small talk yet?
The fact is, if you’re one of life’s quiet people, then some of the following will be familiar to you:
- People who say, “I’ve never heard you talk this much!”. Funny what happens when others stop talking.
- People will tell you you’re quiet and that you should have more confidence. And yet saying, “my goodness, you’re a windbag” is rude.
See also telling someone who talks a lot that they should be less confident.
- Someone, somewhere will have told you, “You’re a dark horse, aren’t’ you?!” or “it’s always the quiet ones” (knowing look included).
This is often said in reference to something interesting you do or have achieved. In fact, any expert knowledge that quiet people have is in some way a surprise.
Not ‘selling’ our skills 24/7 doesn’t mean we are not quietly confident in them.
- You may think a quiet person is shy, reserved, or uninterested. A lot of those times we’re casting about for something to say so we don’t appear uninteresting. Stillness can also come off as aloof or unapproachable.
- Introverts, in general, do not need more confidence because they are introverts.
- The fact that shy people are quiet does not mean all quiet people are shy.
- We often get told we’re good listeners, which is true. Being interested in others means being truly interested in them. But we often wish others wouldn’t fill that silence.
- Conversation can be exhausting, especially small talk. See above.
- Introverts think their way through things and then speak. While extroverts like to work things out by talking about them.
- Shouting in pubs is not entertaining.
Quiet people are not shy
I’ve never been afraid to look someone in the eye and speak my mind. The fact is, quiet people can often be good at confrontation in a calm way. But calm is not enough. In a sea of noise, if we’re not shouting, we’re told we better start if we want to be heard. We need to be louder. We need more confidence to compete.
Our parents’ and grandparents’ generations were brought up to be ‘seen and not heard’. Also, being too loud in public is disconcerting and at certain times a (largely ignored) violation of the law.
Noise is pollution.
Yet when it comes to individuals, outgoing and bubbly– code for extrovert- is the expected minimum. This is after all, what confidence looks like.
We must be engaging, outward-facing and passionate about communicating. Check out any job description and you’ll see a million versions of the same song repeated ad infinitum.
In truth, quieter people are creatives and communicators. It’s why we write and act, sing, dance and paint. These are not just internal expressions of creativity, but a way of reaching out and engaging with the world. These expressions are our offerings. If we were shy or lacked confidence we wouldn’t be doing this.
It’s in the details
In drama school everything was about being bigger, taking up space in the room or in a scene. Yet it’s the smallest things. The micro emotions, gestures and mannerisms that can turn lines on a page into a person.
Lots of stressed-out introverts in acting school, let me tell you.
Although it does prepare you for auditions where you have to pretend a beanbag is a child you need to get it into a fake car. Without lifting it. The beanbag, not the car. Fun times.
The power of my acting alone could not lift that beanbag.
It may sound trite, but we are who we are and no amount of faking it is going to change that.
Yes, there is a certain level of extroversion expected when it comes to self-promotion. Words like high-energy, active and dynamic are thrown around as synonyms for the type of person who succeeds.
Everybody wants a show.
But this is at best a pretence for an introvert. We’re ready to crawl back into bed in exhaustion a few hours later. So while we may have to exert ourselves to greet a loud world, more confidence isn’t going to do it.
Making connections in little ways is a lot more valuable in the long run. Through listening to others- taking in the details, -you can find out what they need and help them. And that’s networking in a nutshell. It’s not about us. Do your best work and go your own way, quietly confident in what you bring to the table and good things will follow. Finding like-minded people to work with is half the battle.
Group work is not for everyone
“Let’s start by getting in groups…”.
For quiet people, that right there is one of the most hated sentences in the English language.
A peppy workshop leader spilling energy from every pore introduces a ‘fun’ activity. And the hearts of quiet people everywhere sink.
The same can be found up and down the country in schools and meetings at work. The prescribed way of getting the best out of people is to make them face each other and throw out ideas. Spontaneity.
It’s not a productive way of working for introverts or extroverts. There is evidence to suggest that brainstorming in a group doesn’t work anyway. Those of us who are more internal thinkers know we won’t be at our best. Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking goes into wonderful affirming detail on this subject.
Also, see this interview where she explains the fact that shyness is a fear of negative judgement. Not to be confused with quiet people, who prefer a lower level of stimulation.
The first person to speak in a group, indeed, the person who has all the answers may just be brave enough to voice them. Or they may need to.
We’ve been taught to believe that successful people set the tone. That craving for success can drive behaviour. Some people need that attention or have something to prove while others feel the need to assert dominance and take control. Generally, Soft-spoken or quiet people are easy targets.
The next time you can’t get a word in, see if you can spot the tell-tale signs. The desire to display knowledge and understanding is often a sign of insecurity. As is filling every silence.
But we don’t have to be like that. We can decide not to enter into a competition to see who can raise their hand the highest.
Being quietly confident
You may have more confidence than you think, even If you’re soft-spoken. The natural sound of your voice doesn’t make you a pushover. When people label you feminine, small, or soft-spoken, it’s hard for others to read authority. It’s also easy to lose sight of the confidence you do have when someone louder is telling you that you are less so. But we can still be our authentic selves, quietly confident in our achievements, skills and talents. Leaning into your natural reflectiveness can be powerful and freeing. It’s not a weakness. It’s an incredible strength.
In fact, some of the most eloquent people I’ve ever met have been soft-spoken. Quietly imparted nuggets of wisdom, from women of poise and self-possession, confident in their abilities. The great Valerie Colgan; voice and phonetics coach Susan White; Sara Tasker, author of Hashtag Authentic and creator of the hashtag of the same name on Instagram to name a few. It’s been my great privilege to learn from these warm, genuine, artistic women. Each spellbinding in her own way and able to command a room. Each authentic. And after all, isn’t that what we all want?
Anyone can lack confidence and anyone can gain it. But like any mood, it can come and go. Also, no one is 100% confident all the time, they’d probably have a lot of other issues if they were.
Listening is a lot more interesting than being the loudest person in the room. After all, who are you going to connect with more, the person that talked all night or the one that remembered you and what you spoke about?
In the meantime…
The real secret to more confidence?
Stop trying to please and stop caring. Easy to say I know but people will think what they think. There are some things in life you can’t control and some that don’t matter at all. On the whole, people rarely tell me I’m quiet these days. Partly because it’s rude to say that to an adult and partly because I’m more confident in my own skin. Despite being a part of a creative industry that judges by type.
Becoming more confident is a process of recognising your own value, regardless of the opinion of others.
If people still tell you how you should behave, you can always quote Plato at them:
“A wise man speaks because he has something to say. A fool speaks because he has to say something.”Plato
What do you say to people who tell you you’re too quiet or you need more confidence?
This post may contain affiliate links.