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.