Silence is a very powerful tool in the hands of an introvert. I actually believe that whoever created silence had introverts in mind. I initially wanted to write this article to describe signs that an introvert does not like someone and the first sign I thought of was silence. I then became conflicted because an introvert’s silence can have many interpretations. Perhaps equal to words, if not more than, we use silence to communicate so much about our state of being.
Here are some interpretations of an introvert’s silence:
1. Shyness – though not often the case (I dare say)
I start with shyness because it is often the first interpretation people have of our silence, but I can assure you, it is hardly ever the case. From my lived experience of being an introvert, I am going to deduce that introverts are as prone to being shy as the next person. It just so happens that silence is, again, a useful tool in our hands and we use it even when we are shy.
2. Intentional Observation – this is big for an introvert
New situations, new circumstances, new territories and sometimes new people – our default mode is to observe before we interact. This is often interpreted as being aloof, shy or reserved. While reserved is maybe not far from it, the real reason we are being silent or kept to ourselves in these situations is that we are observing. We need to be armed with information and we need to be sure of what we are doing before we do it. This may take a while, but it’s necessary. I for one get incredibly anxious when I am thrown into the deep end of a new situation and expected to just mingle and interact.
3. Lack of interest – when we don’t like someone
This is what I was thinking about when I began writing this article. How to tell when an introvert does not like you? One way we show you is by being silent in your presence and unwilling to interact. This can also be linked to being reserved. When we don’t like or trust you, we become silent as soon as you join our company. This is, however, very contextual as, again, our silence may also mean many other things.
4. Removing ourselves from a situation – similar to showing a lack of interest
This also goes for people we used to like. When once we used to like a person and were very interactive with them, then all of a sudden we become silent around them, it’s likely because we no longer like, trust and want to interact with them. Our sudden silence is our way of saying we have washed our hands off that person/situation.
5. Avoiding confrontation – although not because we are shy
You know when you can just tell a certain person is trouble and you should avoid them? Being silent around them is one way to achieve that. I actually believe as introverts we are more attuned to our intuition than the next person. All the time we spend being silent allows us to listen to our inner thoughts. So, sometimes we can just tell when we need to avoid interacting with certain people. I know I even look away (avoid eye contact) or engage myself in other activities if I have to.
6. Unwinding, re-energising – another big one for us introverts
If one can explain the difference between introverts and extroverts as a difference in energy levels, then the need for periods of silence and loneliness will become clear. As introverts, we are like battery-powered machines that recharge through silence and loneliness. I remember when I used to live in a somewhat communal house years ago and I had a job that required me to interact a lot with people. I had to become anti-social to my house-mates to keep up at work. I would not even greet them to avoid the greeting turning into some small talk.
7. A show of interest
I know this may seem confusing, but sometimes when I like someone and really want to attract them, I put on my best behaviour of silence. Silence is safe for us. It’s our safety net. We know our behaviour is controlled when we are silent.
8. Contemplation – perhaps this is universal
I mean, how else does one engage in deep thought than by being silent? Okay, maybe we introverts engage more in deep thought than the next person. Again, it’s all the times we spend being silent. Our inner thoughts speak and we have come to enjoy listening to them.
As an introvert, I am often described as being reserved. While I may be reserved as a person or in certain situations, I am not an introvert because I am reserved (although I may be reserved because I am an introvert). Being reserved is refusing or being unwilling to interact. Like being quiet, it is a communication tool. It has many interpretations and some of them include the situations mentioned above, like avoiding confrontation, observing and not liking someone. As introverts, we also use silence in situations where we are being reserved.
10. Sadness – I guess not much of a shocker
When I was in high school, my mother had a friend who would ask why I was angry or sad every time she came to our house. She would not explain why she was asking and I would take offense at her questions. I only realised some years later that she asked because she would often find me sitting quietly alone. While we do become quiet when we are sad or angry, I want to make the distinction that our silence is not always a sign of sadness or anger. Sometimes we are being quietly happy or at peace. It is also somewhat insulting to ask us why we are sad or angry when we are silent. For me, it is actually insulting to ask why I am being quiet at all. (Allow me to be quiet in peace.)
The moral of this story is that never assume anything about an introvert’s silence. Silence is a multi-purpose tool in an introvert’s hands and it just so happens that whenever we introverts think of making a statement, we think of using silence, which often works, at least for me.