If you’re an introvert or usually not much of a talker, you’ve probably been asked, ‘Why are you so quiet?’. You’ve also probably wondered how to respond to this question.
You might feel this question is annoying, rude or not polite, feel that you’re being judged for being quiet or silent. Or judged for simply not being in the mood to talk in a world that favours extroverts and sees quietness as weird and not normal.
Some ask the question because they are concerned you are too quiet. Or they want to have a conversation with you to get to know you. Whatever the reason, it can be challenging to come up with a response.
I’m an introvert who isn’t always talkative. When I’m around others I’m usually the listener or can’t get a word in if everyone’s talking loudly. And I’ve copped my fair share of ‘Why are you so quiet?’, coupled with the fact that I’m Chinese and some assume I fit the quiet Asian stereotype.
I personally don’t mind the question but always take a few moments to come up with a response.
How you respond can depend on who’s asking the question, where you are and context. If the question’s coming from someone you don’t know well, maybe you’re inclined to give a detached response. If you’re hanging out with friends, maybe you might respond more casually.
Here are some ways you can respond to ‘Why are you so quiet?’. Some of these responses are polite, some casual, and some more unusual.
1. ‘I’ve got nothing to say.’
Or ‘I don’t have anything to say.’ Sometimes you hear what others are saying and don’t have anything to add, or what’s being discussed is not something you’re interested in and so you can’t say much.
In situations where I am not familiar with the topic of discussion, I rather say nothing than say something and it turns out to be ignorant and offensive.
2. ‘I’m listening.’
You might be interested in what someone is talking about, so you listen. You might be listening and learning about the topic that’s intriguing to you. Or you could be trying to keep up the pace with the conversation, and if you’re an introvert, you might need some quiet to follow along.
3. ‘I’m focusing.’
Following on from listening, sometimes maybe you don’t talk much in a conversation because you’re trying to understand what is being said. After all, you have to understand what is being said before you can form an opinion, contribute your opinion and ask questions.
I’m someone who takes my time to think through what someone is talking about, trying to see different sides of a conversation and then see where I stand. Rarely do I make my mind up and have something to contribute right away.
4. ‘Why are you so loud?’
If you’re an introvert and like quietness, this can be a way of asserting your personality. If you’re annoyed by ‘Why are you so quiet?’ and are enjoying your own company, this response can subtly let the other person know how you feel.
5. ‘Don’t you like quiet or silence?’
This is another response to stand up for quietness or if you’re a talkative person who doesn’t want to talk all the time. You may be an introvert or someone wanting to enjoy quiet time reading or a quiet lunch to unwind, and could ask the person talking to you why they want a conversation – and then maybe explain you recharge by not talking.
Maybe you didn’t expect to hear ‘Why are you so quiet?’ and get caught off guard. Maybe you didn’t realise the other person was expecting you to speak up – and you’re not a fan of being put on the spot and expected to speak up. And the question is a rather ambiguous question as there are many reasons why someone may not be all that talkative.
So ‘What?’ would be a natural instinctive response, querying why the question is being asked and also where the other person is really coming from.
7. ‘I don’t want to talk about that.’
Some topics are more sensitive than others and not all topics you want to talk about. When such topics are brought up, they probably strike a chord emotionally and you rather stay quiet. Or perhaps it’s a topic you don’t want to comment on or get involved in because you’re uncomfortable with it or with the people you’re around. Being quiet could be your safety net.
8. Say nothing.
Silence is an answer in itself. With silence, nothing really can be held against you. You’re always entitled to choose to not say anything, especially when you’re around a creepy stranger or you’ve got a bad feeling about the people you’re talking to.
9. ‘I don’t know. I’m just me.’
Make no excuses for who you are. Being quiet is not a weakness. It’s often a strength in quiet disguise: perhaps you’re listening, thinking and strategising when you’re keeping quiet, or you’re protecting your energy and honouring your need for solitude.
10. ‘I’ve been raised by librarians.’
Borrowing this response, maybe for a small minority of you this is true. Maybe you spent a lot of time in libraries growing up or quietness has always been ingrained within the proud introvert in you. Maybe you just want to use this response for a laugh.
11. ‘I’m Chewbacca. I’m listening and being there for you.’
Most of the time you mean no harm by being quiet. Sometimes you are quiet because you genuinely feel the other person is important. You genuinely want to give the other person the time of the day, and do so by being attentive and listen to them. This response can be a very direct way of letting them know you care about them.
* * *
There’s no right or wrong way to answer ‘Why are you so quiet?’. Apart from where you are and who you’re with, how you answer can depend on your mood and if you’re actually up for a chat.
People have different ways of communicating and expressing themselves. For some talking isn’t their strong suit so they might be quieter. Some don’t mind talking and can talk for hours. Others might like talking but for shorter periods in quiet spaces.
Quietness encourages more contemplation and reflection, and being quiet can be due to genetics and also temperament and external influences. There’s the interesting fact that Asian students are generally quieter than their Western peers in the classroom. Research has explored ways to encourage Asian students to speak up as part of learning, and suggested their quietness is due to cultural factors. A study has also shown Asian Americans are quiet when responding to racial discrimination.
In addition, research has found compared to extroverts, introverts tend to have more brain activity in their frontal lobe regions of the brain. These regions are stimulated when doing more introspective activities such as planning and problem solving as opposed to sensory and emotional stimulation. A study also found extroverts have a more sensitive dopamine system and respond more towards external rewards compared to introverts.
In other words, sometimes being quiet and not talking all the time can’t be helped. It’s inherently ingrained in you, whether it’s due to your temperament, how you were raised, your environment or what you choose to believe in.
Growing up in a traditional-minded Chinese family, I was always taught to listen to my parents, elders and teachers. I was taught that speaking up or speaking against their opinion was disrespectful. I grew to embrace being quiet. Though over the years I do like speaking up and stating my opinion bluntly, I very much like keeping quiet most of the time and listening, trying to suss out who people are beyond the surface and their motivations.
When I’m around people who are highly expressive and talking with much energy, that wears me down quickly. If I pipe up and try to match their energy, that wears me down faster and at times is triggering to me – and I crave for quietness and retreating into the shadows.
For some of you, keeping quiet in conversation is natural. Or you could feel the need to keep quiet for your own sanity. And it’s a choice you make.
Being quiet shouldn’t be questioned. Instead being quiet and not talking all the time should be accepted, and respected.
Have you been asked, ‘Why are you so quiet?’ How did you respond?