First Impressions

A few months ago, Joe and I went out for dinner with a new friend, and throughout the meal he and Joe kept up a lively conversation, while I mostly listened. This was partly due to the fact that I wasn’t feeling well, but also because I felt I didn’t really have much to say about the topics being discussed, although I enjoyed listening to the discussion.

A few weeks later, we met up with this friend again, and he sheepishly admitted that he had since visited this blog, and felt like he needed to apologize for dominating the conversation that night. I assured him that it was quite alright, and that I hadn’t felt sidelined, but had just preferred not to be so talkative. He then further admitted that at the time he had thought I was too intimidated or shy to join the conversation, but after reading my blog he realized that there had been times when I piped up about something (usually to correct Joe about some fact or other), and so was able to get my two cents in as I wished. I was pleased that this new friend now saw something about me that he hadn’t earlier. It’s not often I get the chance to make a good second impression.

It’s this anxiety about making a good first impression that I think hobbles introverts especially. We’re told from a young age that people will be judging us on how they first see us, but for introverts, it’s really not so easy for people to get to know us immediately. That may leave the impression that we’re shy, or that we’re arrogant, or that we don’t have an interesting thought in our heads. I’ve found it quite frustrating at times, and it’s become even more of an issue now that we’ve moved to a new place and are meeting a lot of new people. I want people to think that I am a smart, engaging person, but my introvert tendencies might work against that desire more often than I know.

Even knowing about this phenomenon, it still makes me wary when I read something like this introduction to a test dubbed the Talkaholic Scale:

Considerable research had determined that the more a person talks (in most cases, unless the person is an incompetent communicator or saying things that are offensive to others) the more positively that person is evaluated by others. They are more likely to be seen as a leader, as being more competent, and more positively on a variety of other person perception variables.

I know this to be true, but it still rankles. The ironic thing is that this test is actually meant to help someone realize that they talk too much (not usually a problem for me). While it acknowledges that talking a lot is often seen in a good light, the existence of this test points out that there is a downside to loquacity.

Because I’m always struggling with the opposite perception, I never gave much thought to the kind of first impression an overly talkative person might impart. I recently met someone who, when I mentioned that I wrote a blog for introverts, identified themselves strongly as an extrovert, but then went on to admit that far from expressing confidence, their talkativeness was born out of nervousness and insecurity. Since having that conversation, I’ve thought more about how my own prejudices color my first impression of other people. I think I have internalized the idea that talkativeness equals confidence more than I should have, and have missed seeing the shared vulnerability in a talkative person that might have led to friendship. It’s also interesting to think that the reverse is true, that someone might have interpreted my introversion as a form of confidence.

That gives me some hope, because I often do feel confident and at ease on the inside, even if that is not seen by others. As I learn more about my own preferred way of being in the world, I feel this even more. I can now move between silence and conversation at parties, not feeling that I need to be engaged in conversation at all times, but also more willing to talk to new friends. I’d imagine the goal might be the same for a talkative person, to know their own rhythm and to be able to find a balance between speech and silence.

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12 Responses to “First Impressions”

  1. Mark Dykeman said:

    Spectatrix:

    I’ve been scouring the web for blogs, journals, and articles related to introversion.

    Thank goodness I’ve found yours!

    It’s funny, but my tendencies towards being a listener vs. being a talker has fluctuated over the years, but it really depends on the context. I’m more outspoken at work than I ever used to be, although it’s partly due to being a manager. In my private life, I tend to prefer listening, although that depends if the conversation is interesting. Sometimes I actually get drowsy or sleepy if I find a non-work conversation boring!

    Great blog. You’re invited to check out my own:

    http://www.themightyintrovert.blogspot.com

    Cheers,

    Mark

  2. spectatrix said:

    Mark,

    It’s nice to (virtually) meet up with a fellow introvert blogger! I checked out your Web site and found a lot of great information — thanks for letting me know about it.

  3. John March said:

    Great site. In American society it is like introversion is a disease. I too have found it remarkable that the “loud talkers” are viewed in business as the leaders but in my experience it is spot on. More often than not, these folks are afflicted with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. But I am relieved that some just talk out of insecurity. My best advice to other introverts is “If you want to be interesting, be interested.” If introversion and anxiety become paralyzing, it may be time to seek some help but that is only in the extreme. Another thing I have found helpful is to communicate in writing. Like all good introverts, I am not fast on my feet and I am not good at extemporaneous speaking. So typically I will hold my comments or ask for time to reflect on the discussion and then come back with my views. Most introverts write very well so essentially you are fighting on your home field (blowhards usually can’t write). This is extremely effective Have found with job interviews. Do some research on the job, company and industry then write up your thoughts and views including opportunities you see. 1)I shows you are serious about the job 2) you will be prepared for the interview based on your study which will reduce anxiety 3) where you have problems communicating, you can shift the discussion to your paper – “Well I have really done a lot of research into th situation and I see X opportunity as I have detailed and that is why I am here today and that is why I want to work for you.” 4) The best part is that you have a leave behind. Nobody does this sort of thing. So the fact that you have a tangible marketing piece beyond your resume makes you stand out and it leaves you in a good light because you are a great writer! I have talked with CEO level executives at some of the top firms at the world and they have all been impressed by this. I didn’t always get the job but it in some cases I did. Try it out.

  4. spectatrix said:

    John,

    Thanks for sharing your experience! I think that is a great idea to prepare something written for a job interview; I’ve never thought to do that, but it makes a lot of sense.

  5. Lemon said:

    Funny I just literally stumbled on this blog today and only a few days ago I got a comment to the effect that the speaker mistook my introversion for confidence as well. In most cases I am very calm and even in cases where I really am insecure I typically do well in masking it by internalizing the situation but the fact that my demeanor in his view equated to confidence was quite surprising as you noted in your own encounter. The funny thing was that the idea that people think I don’t have insecurities made me insecure. At the time I unfortunately didn’t correct him as I was still a bit stunned and mulling over it in my head but I wish I had. In any event I have your blog bookmarked now I really enjoy it so far.

    Also in regards to corporate situations I find I don’t have much trouble responding equally against very talkative speakers. Usually I can distill a lot of what has been said and respond to the more important talking points so even if I might not put out the shear number of words I hope being able to respond to the primary points and bring some pragmatic advice to the situation can offset it.

    Also John I like your advice a lot. I think in the interview process a lot of introverts have adopted the extroverted standards of the one-on-one interview and this method plays more readily to our strengths and like you said it gives you a leave behind that makes you stand out in comparison to other applicants.

  6. nki said:

    “Looking at the world through the eyes of an introvert” This was exactly what I was thinking while deciding a title of my blog 🙂 But chancing on your blog, I’ll give my blog a rest. Meanwhile, there’s a cool Introvert community on Orkut – http://www.orkut.com/Community.aspx?cmm=37356034 Still in its infancy, but good.

    Keep up the good work! Hope to have a worldwide awareness campaign soon 🙂

  7. spectatrix said:

    Lemon,

    I think that’s great that your introversion came across as confidence to someone (even if it made you temporarily insecure) because I’m sure you have moments when you are truly secure and confident in your introversion and it’s misinterpreted as shyness. Speaking from my own experience, it’s nice to know that not everyone has a knee-jerk reaction to us quiet types. I don’t think it’s always healthy to try to hide how we feel, but the truth is that everyone has moments of both confidence and insecurity, and introverts should be allowed to show that range as well. It’s sad, but I’ve found that I can’t always wear my heart on my sleeve and still be taken seriously by some people. In those cases, momentary insecurity can be interpreted as a chronic condition, and I find that highly annoying!

    Nki,

    Great minds think alike 🙂 Thanks for the information about Orkut — I’ll be sure to check it out!

  8. Chocolatesa said:

    Thanks for writing this, I share a lot of your opinions/feelings about this. I’ll keep reading more when I have time 🙂

  9. spectatrix said:

    Chocolatesa,

    Great! Come back any time 🙂

  10. smokey said:

    i’ve just stumbled on the site. i’m grateful for the references to other sites! thanks for this place, i wanted to say. i’m an introverted woman in a good relationship with an even more introverted man. i look forward to info and seeing others’ take on things.

  11. spectatrix said:

    Smokey,

    Thanks for stopping by! I’m glad you’re finding useful information here.

  12. Amy said:

    I’m so glad I found this website. Just recently I read the book, “A Party of One, A loners manifesto” and was shocked to realize that I was a loner. I started to see a pattern in my life and realizing that I have always been but it was socially unacceptable so I just did my best to be a social person. I was always depressed and angry and emotionally exhausted but just thought I had a problem. Now that I have accepted this about myself, my life is so much easier and I spend a lot of time alone. I’ve never been happier and am so glad to know finally who I am…