“He who asks is a fool for five minutes, he who remains silent is a fool forever…”
– Old Chinese proverb
That quote was on the wall of my Mom’s art classroom when she taught high school students. When I’d go to her classroom after school, I’d ponder that quote. Now, as a 28 year old introvert, that quote is more relevant than ever.
Being an introvert, it can be so difficult to speak up, or to have a contrary opinion or thought, for fear that you might upset the person you’re talking to, or ask a question that may seem dumb. These are the little tiny battles that go on in my mind every day. Granted, it’s gotten much, much better with time and practice, but the battles are still there.
I talked about this recently to a friend, a fellow introvert, and asked her, Is it really that big of a deal? Having this challenge of trying to speak up? Her answer, yes, of course it’s a big deal! Relationships can degrade, miscommunications can flare, and all sorts of other issues can come about simply because it can be terrifying to speak your mind.
I recently experienced this challenge during a web design project at my job, there were a lot of little things that we were working on that were nagging at the back of my mind, but I scoffed at them, thinking my opinion didn’t matter, I was working with people smarter and more experienced than myself, so why should what I say matter? I let these concerns stay at the back of my mind, without pushing the subject, and as the project neared its end, suddenly these issues became pressing and major challenges to the project. My coworkers and myself had to do extra work, with added hours as a result of these issues.
This is a simple example and not much harm done in the long run for not having spoken up. But by not speaking up, I may have cost myself and coworkers precious time. After this experience, I stopped and questioned, why had I not spoken up about these issues the moment they nagged at my mind? Why did I let my fear of speaking up overtake me?
I again talked to my friend Tara about this, and realized that being an introvert can be inherently challenging when it comes to open dialogue and confrontations.
Being introvert is a lot like being the kid at the pool at the high dive – you’ve made your way to the top of the diving board, standing several feet above the water, and ready to jump…but you just….can’t…or at least you think you can’t…
Instead of taking the plunge right away and just jumping, you let yourself get nervous and stuck in your own head. You see your friends all around you, and worry that they might be judging your swimsuit, or you might worry about doing a bell flop, or getting a gush of water up your nose…
All of these thoughts (and that’s all these fears usually are…is thoughts!) overcome you, and you suddenly lose the nerve to dive.
This is what it can feel like for an introvert trying to speak up in an office setting, as silly as it may seem. As least that’s what it felt like for me! But the thing I realized after this experience, is you can’t always let those fears get ahold of you, and you can’t always wait for the perfect moment to take the dive!
Sometimes you just have to say screw it! I don’t care what they think (usually people are judging you a lot less than you may believe anyway), and stomp on those fears, and just open your mouth! You may stumble a bit, or stutter getting the words out at first, but if your speaking your mind right away can prevent greater problems down the line, and save time, then it is totally worth the energy of overcoming those fears 🙂
Of course, to the introvert’s behalf, sometimes it is better to take five minutes to think before responding. But in the end, life is short, and if you’ve got something on your mind, it’s better to go ahead and be a fool for five minutes, than to remain silent.
If you’d like to discuss more about this subject, or have any other suggestions for introverts in the workplace, please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading 🙂