Tag Archives: body language

Introverted Does Not Mean Shy

A lot of people have this misconception that introversion means shy. They often say that introverted people need to come out of their shell and socialise with others at parties. Well, take a look at this video. It’s called Body Language for Introverts. You’ll notice that I have the top comment at the moment (if you go to the YouTube page for the video). I love how one person goes on a rant about how North Americans are all extroverts, and that’s what makes North America so great and powerful.  Too bad for him many major business leaders and actors are introverts.

The video gets off to a really bad start. It equates introversion to people who have social anxieties, always having trouble figuring out what to say, or a lack of confidence.  Wrong!

I was once a shy person. Being shy means the above three things. I am not shy now. I’m still introverted, though. What introversion means is that you gain energy by doing more solitary activities, while being in a social situation drains us of energy. We need more solitary time to recharge our batteries, basically.

Let’s look at these three points Vanessa Van Edwards brings up. First, we have social anxieties. Not really, no. That’s what a shy person has. I have no problem being at a social gathering with many people around me. I just prefer to talk to people I know. I’m not nervous at all.  If I’m sitting at the side being quiet, people immediately assume there’s a problem and ask me what’s wrong. Nothing’s wrong, I’m just observing. Think of it as information gathering. I’m also studying people’s behaviour, which is extremely useful when speaking to them. I use this information to adapt how I speak with them. Extroverts tend to speak to everyone the same way. Introverts learn to adapt to different people’s behaviour, and I feel we become better communicators in deep conversation.

Second, she says introverts have trouble figuring out what to say.  Well, that hesitation that introverts have at the beginning of a conversation is usually something called “thinking.” We’d rather start off saying something that’s not inane or unimportant. We’d rather not do small talk, you see.  It’s just talking about the same thing over and over again with different people. We’ve done that conversation, so let’s move on to an actual conversation, please. When we’re in a conversation that is actually about something of substance, we don’t shut up.  Really! Take this example. When doing small talk, people will often bring up the weather.  Last night, a typhoon passed by.  In regular small talk, they might say, “Be careful tonight. There’s a typhoon coming.” “Oh, it’ll be so windy and rainy. You be careful, too.” It’s not really communicating any information that’s useful. There’s nothing being said other than acknowledging that they know the same information.  But, put me into the equation, and I say, “Yes, it should be here around 6 pm this evening. The rain is supposed to be the heaviest around midnight, but not so bad. It actually won’t be a typhoon at that time. It’ll be a tropical depression.” That then goes into a rather detailed discussion on both sides about typhoons, hurricanes, tropical storms, etc. What would have normally been a rather meaningless exchange on something we already knew turned into an information exchange that was far more meaningful.  That is how introverts like to talk. And we do talk a lot.

The third point is that she says we’re not confident.  That is complete BS.  Shy people are not confident by definition. Introverts are quite confident, especially my personality type, INTJ. We’re known for being straightforward and often a bit too blunt in what we say. We’re honest, we say what we think, and we’re confident about it. We just say it in a way that has a lot of thought behind it, rather than blurting out something that we might regret.

So, people, don’t confuse introversion with shyness. They are not the same thing. Vanessa Van Edwards does not know what an introvert is.  Take this from a real introvert: we are not shy. Quiet, yes. Shy, not all of us.

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The Importance of People Watching

Any writer knows that to write fiction, you need to understand human behaviour.  What can be better than people watching?

I’ve always been a people watcher.  This doesn’t come from being a writer, this is a side effect of my introversion.  I watch many aspects, like how they walk, how they talk, body language, posture, how they interact with others, and so on.  It’s one of my strategies for dealing with others when I have to speak with them.  And I speak with many people every day in my job.  I’ve learned to adapt how I speak with others depending on what kind of person they are.  I can usually get along with anyone, even people I don’t like very much.  While others may get into arguments with that person, I seem to be able to diplomatically defuse situations.  Of course, this only works if we speak the same language.  I know when to let the person talk, and I know how to interrupt them.  A lot of this comes from years of experience in both teaching and customer service.

All of this is important for writing, because if we don’t understand how people behave, characters will end up being very unnatural and stereotypical.  When reading a serious novel, stereotypical characters turn me off.  I don’t want cookie cutter characters, I want well-rounded people. So what you need to do is not only watch how people move and behave, but also listen to conversation.  How do they say what they say?  Take notes about figures of speech, natural phrases, and how people respond in conversation.

If you can’t get out and are stuck in front of your computer, try watching some YouTube videos.  It’s best if they aren’t staged, acted, or a monologue in front of a webcam.  Look for those candid videos where someone just happens to be recording what’s happening.  You can get real behaviour and conversation that way.  Do you want to write a fight scene?  Watch a video of an actual fight in public.  For research, not entertainment, of course.  Don’t watch a movie fight scene.  Those are choreographed and not realistic.  You can also find good arguments on YouTube.  Listen to what they say.  Listen to how their language changes.  It’s quite different than their usual calm language.

There are many ways to observe people. What do you like to do?