August 25, 2009

Since I began receiving feedback (probably the same time I started receiving report cards, say, kindergarten), I’ve gotten the same criticism. I need to speak up more, state my opinions more, be more assertive. It’s not a surprise anymore. It never really was, but after 20 years, it gets a little bit tiring. The thing is, I’m just not that kind of person, especially not at work.

I don’t think it’s necessarily hindered my progress in any way. I did good work at school; I do good work now. Obviously, it is unclear if I had been more outspoken whether I could have done better. So I wonder if it’s something that I should more actively work on. Any time I’ve gotten feedback, I make the goal to speak up in my next meeting or in general. And pretty much every time, it doesn’t happen. Of course, that’s just disappointing to everyone. But is it actually worthwhile for me to change this part of my personality just because others think I should?

Sometimes I think yes. As a personal opinion, I love talkative, friendly people. These are the kind of people who strike up conversation while standing in line or sitting on a plane. But it’s not the awkward kind of conversation, it’s the normal interesting kind of conversation. And because I love them, I always wanted to be like them just a little bit.

But then I think no. The reason I love these people is because they talk and I don’t. I can listen and respond, and they do their thing. But if I was one of them, would we complement each other as well? Or would it be overkill, like when two Type A personalities get together? Maybe I just need to accept who I am and work with what I’ve got.

It would definitely be a big step on my journey to becoming more approachable though. That’s gotta count for something.



  1. There’s a common(but wrong) school of thought that equates people who are quiet and passive as apathetic and non-team players. Whereas in reality, the majority of the time these people just have a personality that makes them internal thinkers(as oppose to more talkative people who are external thinkers).

    Human Resources courses these days(or so I hear from the few HR folks I’ve talked with) usually make an effort to address both of these personality types. Rather than trying to conform one personality to another, they emphasize more on what each type brings to the team.

    For example, in a brainstorming exercise the external thinkers tend to be the ones that bring new and exciting ideas to the table, because they’re always vocalizing their thoughts. However as a result, they generally have a hard time absorbing the ideas of the people around them, because they’re caught up in expressing what they have to say. Internal thinkers on the other hand are the ones that’s quietly listening and pulling in everyone’s opinions and making critical judgments on which idea is the best. They’re the ones that can give you a con/pro list at the end of meeting on which idea is the best.

    There’s been several trial studies showing that in a group problem solving situation, teams with both types of personality usually comes out ahead in both accuracy and speed over teams that consist of only one type of personality.

    • This is good news to hear! I can definitely see why a team of both types of people would do well. I wonder though, in terms of leadership, if there’s a difference between internal and external thinkers.

      • Actually, what I’ve heard is that people who are good leaders are generally people that are able to recognize these traits in the people around them, and then adapt themselves depending on what the existing group lacks. I.e. be passive when they’re with a people that are talkative, and engage when they’re with people that like to internalize things.

  2. As someone who’s been on both sides of that, (introverted until HS) – I think there are +/- to each side. On the one hand, it’s bloody annoying to have people constantly describe you, to your face, as “quiet”. I know I’m quiet because I’m not talking. (This is, of course, different from “you’re being quiet tonight” or saying it because you don’t know the person) On the other hand, being talkative means you have to harden yourself enough to not get too fazed when you say something “odd” and someone calls you on it. Otherwise you’ll just shut up and not talk any more.

    Perhaps the few people who have told you that you need to participate more aren’t comfortable holding up their end of the conversation? So they feel like you’re not playing by the rules. That’s why you tend to work so well with people who want a listener rather than a spirited conversation. In those cases they need someone to listen and you’re providing that need.

    There wasn’t room to say this above without unduly interrupting the flow of the paragraph, but it IS possible to change – if you see that as something you want. I did and I know for a fact that’s how I netted my wife. So it worked as a net positive for me. But I’m not saying everyone needs to make the switchover.

    • I think you point out my exact problem. At work and with strangers, I’m way quiet because I’m a little worried about saying something weird or random. But with my friends, I do a lot of talking because I’m totally comfortable saying anything.

      Can I ask – how exactly did you go about changing? Was it just a decision you made and then went with it? Or did you take small steps and work up to it?

      • When I went to HS, my family had just moved from another state. Since no one knew me there I figured it was a chance to remake myself without people knowing an “old” me. Then I mostly just got involved in lots of clubs and worked up a large group of acquaintances and a small group of close friends. I’ll have to think about it a bit more to see if there’s more to it than that, but that’s how I remember it.

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