How many of you reading this worry about being seen as ‘quiet’ when going into social situations or meeting new people? That fear, what if I can’t think of anything to say. Ever been among a group of people or a mingling-type environment and had that thought in the back of your head ‘what if people notice I’m quiet’, ‘say something’, ‘they’re going to think I’m boring’! This is a big one for a lot of people. The idea that being quiet, unable to think of things to say is a big social faux-pas, that’s what we’ll explore today.
Reasons for being quiet
There are a couple of main reasons one maybe quiet or say little in a social situation that are important to be aware of.
- Genuinely not having anything much to contribute or chip-in with at that moment
- Being too self-conscious and anxious to think of things to say (other things here)
- Being distracted and not paying attention (can be related to the above), this case, missing out on talking points
- Self-censorship (e.g. can’t say that, too boring, too obvious, too out of the blue etc.)
- The thought that people around are looking & noticing it*
Regardless of the reason, during those moments you’re quite it’s possible for self-consciousness to creep in & feel anxious about people thinking you’re quite. The fear of being seen as quiet can be a source of the anxiety that leads the mind to go blank & makes it harder to come up with things to say; ‘I’m not saying anything, they’re going to think I’m boring, weird, anti-social, yikes’. This is a common problem. The good news is that anything that can be done to reduce self-consciousness will also reduce the mind going blank, and make it easier for you to be yourself in social situations.
The layers of beliefs about quietness
If you’re plagued with anxiety about people thinking you’re quiet, it’s likely that some of the following beliefs apply
- That people around you are looking at you and checking how quiet and talkative you are
- That if people notice they’ll think badly of it; e.g. weird, boring, not worth knowing
- That if people were to comment, they mean something bad by it
- That if people do give you a hard time about it, they’re ‘right’
Commonly-feared negative outcomes of coming across as quiet; underlying beliefs
Beliefs regarding what people will think if said thing happens;
- People think that being quiet is weird
- People think quiet people are boring
- you’re unfriendly
- You’re anti-social
- Find you bad company
We’ll be looking at underlying beliefs later. For now we’ll concentrate on reducing self-consciousness.
Quietness & self-consciousness
All self consciousness revolves around two layers, these correspond with the first set of beliefs & layers;
- Our focus of attention; re the thing you fear people noticing & being judged for
- Our thinking; re What you think people will think or are thinking
Both of these are very important for self-consciousness
RE The thing you fear people noticing; our focus of attention
People who are socially-anxious often imagine that the thing they fear people noticing is more conspicuous and noticeable than it is & to imagine themselves standing out like a sore thumb, & to focus on it. Quite often, this is exaggerated. In the case of quietness; ‘I can’t think of anything to say’ imagining yourself standing out like a sore thumb or looking like the most awkward person in the room, coming across as ‘quiet’ which leads you to imagining and thinking things such as all the terrible things people would think if they noticed. Are you really standing out as much as you think?
RE what you fear people thinking; our thinking
Not only might we be worried about people thinking badly if they notice the thing, what happens with social anxiety is that you may start to imagine people around you are thinking badly even if they’re not. In the case of quietness, you might be afraid the people will think you’re boring, anti-social, weird and so forth. What can happen in social anxiety is that during those moments you are quiet you may start to imagine people around you are thinking these things (mind-reading) when in reality they might not be. Also you may start to imagine all the terrible outcomes that would happen if they were to think that (catastrophizing). Ever felt like that? Are people thinking as badly as you imagine they are? It’s important to identify & question such thinking.
The spiral of self-consciousness
Both of these make you feel more anxious and uncomfortable and makes the thing you don’t want people to notice (in this case quietness) worse. Chances are, if you’ve had thoughts such as the above in social situations when that has happened, it makes you feel anxious, & more quiet. A loop can start whereby you get more anxious, you focus on it more, think about it more, get more anxious and so on. Here’s social anxiety’s dirty little trick; the more anxious you’re feeling in a social situation, a) the more you imagine you stand out and b) the more DARK your thinking becomes, the more catastrophic it becomes. The anxiety gets worse.
In addition, during moments of anxiety you may start to get other upsetting thoughts popping into your head such as ‘I suck socially’, ‘I’m crap at making friends’, no-one else ever feels like this’. OMG it’s unbearable! Will the ground swallow me up! So, what can we do to prevent and interrupt this evil little loop?
Part 1; Reducing self-consciousness in the moment
What’s most likely; more helpful thoughts
Maybe it’s most likely that;
- People around you are not even noticing you being quiet as much as you think, after all, do you go round monitoring people around you?
- Even if someone has noticed you not saying much, it’s not likely any decent person will think badly of it or not as badly as you’re thinking
- If anyone was to comment it’s likely they don’t mean anything bad by it
- If anyone has a problem with it, it’s more about them than it is about you. What they think is not your responsibility
Get to know your reasons for quietness
As mentioned above there are many reasons we can end up quiet in social situations, the above list is to help you identify yours. If the conversation is genuinely about something you can’t contribute to at that moment in time, it’s OK to be quite.
Get out of your head
Focus on the conversation around you rather than focusing on how you’re not talking as much as everyone else. A big part of the reason we might be quiet as mentioned above is not properly listening & missing out on opportunities to chip in.
Part 2; Longer term approaches
Identify other sources of anxiety that might be relevant
As mentioned above a major reason for quietness is being distracted. In those situations where it happens are there other sources of social anxiety present? For example do you worry about people noticing nervousness or blushing?
Identify any ‘safety behaviours’ that might be relevant
There is a high likelihood that during those moments you’ve been quiet and your head is filled with thought that people will think you’re weird etc., you may have gone out of your way to avoid quietness at all costs. Things such as;
- Asking too many questions
- Talking lots of stuff about yourself
- Shoe-horning your good qualities
- Drinking more alcohol
Whilst these things can make you feel like you’ve escaped being seen as ‘quiet’, in the long term they do nothing but keep the underlying beliefs intact, in that they prevent you from having evidence to see that being quiet isn’t necessarily as bad as you think.
Identify what sorts of people this is worse among
Chances are you feel more worried and anxious around certain types of people than others. It’s likely that the types of people you see as likely to be unforgiving are those you feel most anxious around.
Question unhelpful beliefs
Somewhere along the line, it’s likely you’ve picked-up the belief that coming across as shy or quiet is awful, unlikable & is something unforgivable. It’s helpful to examine these beliefs and where they originate from.
Learn some strategies to deal with unwanted outcomes and negative judgements
You’ll find that you’ll care significantly less about what people think of you if you know some ways to handle negative judgements and bad outcomes should they occur.
That’s quite a lot about ‘quietness anxiety’. As we can see we’ve divided it up into short term approaches that you can use use in social situations, & longer term approaches. Longer term ones highlighted lower down are strategies that can help reduce the amount that you care of what people think of you whilst the ones further up are useful for reducing your focus even if you care about what people think of you. There is a great degree of correspondence with the various layers of fear. Just to recap, the layers are a) things you fear people thinking of you b) the consequences or outcome of this & c) what the outcome means to you. The upper part is largely concerned with the upper points, whilst the longer term strategies concern what such an outcome means to you.