Quiet is Not a 4-Letter Word

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A quiet woman covering her mouth with her hand. Quiet is not a 4-letter word.

Yet, some think it is. Not in the sense of “Shh…be quiet” like in a library setting or to a student speaking out of turn in class. I’m referring to quiet more as in “less talkative.” Being quiet is not bad! Yet, being quiet has a stigma that I’ve been surrounded by throughout my life.   

I look back at my sorority experience in college. At the end of each school year, “awards” were given to each sister. I say “awards” in quotes because some were serious like Highest GPA or Most Money Fundraised, however, some were sarcastic and slightly mean-spirited. The award that I was given was “Least Likely to Speak at Pass the Gavel.” Pass the Gavel was a weekly tradition that closed each weekly sorority meeting. The gavel would be passed around the room to allow everyone the chance to express their thoughts about the meeting, shout-outs, or basically anything cooking in their lives. 30 years later and I still feel the knife in my back. While I was not the most verbose, I felt as if my sorority sisters had little respect for me and for who I was. They thought I was boring. They thought I had nothing to say. They thought I had nothing to do offer. 

Here are some ways I’ve been described in professional and educational settings.

  • Not understanding what’s going on because I don’t ask questions. I understood the assignment the first time therefore no need to ask questions.
  • Not being knowledgeable about a particular subject or market. I was informed that I didn’t know enough about working in the New York City market, although I was the only one present on these calls who grew up and worked in the area.
  • I’ve been told to participate more in meetings. I speak when I have something of value to add or ask, and I recognize when I have nothing to add that would be helpful or necessary.  
  • Appear to be less of a leader and mentor. And my favorite has always been that I’m not confident in my abilities. Argh.

Sure, the mature thing is not to care what others perceive of me, but it is about more than that. Being pegged as quiet has a bit of a negative connotation. We may not make the best first impression and once we are judged in this manner, it is tough to change opinions. We quiet folks are dealt stereotypes, such as adding little value, not interesting or disinterested, boring, unqualified, not particularly smart, intimidated, not confident, aloof, weak, stand-offish, and selfish.

I take offense to these perceptions as they could not be further from the truth. Having “quiet” attached to your persona can affect all aspects of life. This is my plea for you to learn more about us.

True story, I was on a conference call where a manager mentioned she needed some extra help on a high-profile project. My name was suggested and this manager’s response was, “She’s not right for it. She is too quiet.” It took some convincing, but the quiet one was given a chance, and long story short, the quiet one was a rock star. The initial assumption was the employee was not qualified because she was quiet! What?! This manager, the employee, and the organization could have lost so much. 

Quiet, in fact, is a 5-letter word, and it offers so much more than we are given credit for.  

Quality Not Quantity

We are not uncommunicative by any means! We may never be the loudest in the room, but know that we are taking it all in. We consider all the details to understand a situation before voicing an opinion. We may also be more observant as we focus on the problem at hand and actively listen. What you will receive in return is well-thought-out. We may not be fans of the spotlight, but our contributions are also top-notch. 

Undervalued, Not Unqualified 

Hidden talents may go unnoticed because quieter folks fall under the radar. Our value may not be as evident and unfortunately, we may have to work a little harder to prove our worth. We may be looked over for assignments, opportunities, or promotions. We may only shine after many, many successes. While the result is often the same, it can take longer to recognize because we are not in your face. I’ve been lucky enough to have managers who saw beyond the quiet, however, I have also worked under many who did not.   

Introspective, Not Insecure

Silence should be indicative of digesting information before providing our input, answer, or solution. Yet since we live in a world with constant chatter, this silence can make others feel uncomfortable. Stephen Hawking said, “Quiet people have the loudest minds.” We are always thinking. Just by the nature of who we are, we notice details that others cannot or won’t see and apply those details appropriately. 

Efficient, Not Effusive

We guarantee to accomplish the same, if not more, with less effort and fanfare. We do not talk to hear our own voices, unlike others who need to say something – anything – just to be heard. Even if it’s repetitive. We are strong leaders and good at developing others for a few reasons, including recognizing strengths by observing, speaking “with” and not “to” team members, patience to listen without anticipating answers; treating people as individuals. We can let our employees shine for their achievements because we do not need to be the life of the party. 

Tranquil, Not Timid

We have a calm confident strength that shows through our accomplishments. Quiet does not equal shy, nor are we not confident. You may be grateful for the tranquility we bring to a hectic situation. We are not afraid to share thoughts and opinions when they are warranted. We are firm in our convictions but often do not need to flaunt or harp on them. And we make the best friends and confidantes. 

We’re hardly the silent type you think you know. That said, rumor has it that actions speak louder than words anyway. Get to know us and you’ll realize that we are way more than meets the eye – or in this case, the ear. 

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Melissa is a Bronx native who moved to Westchester County after she and her high school sweetheart got hitched in 1997. She and her husband live in Mount Kisco with their son Corey (2004) and daughter Mia (2007). Melissa spent many years working in Human Resources and currently works in enrollment and marketing for a child care organization. Melissa is a two-time survivor of Postpartum OCD. She initially became interested in writing to raise awareness for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders but has discovered that writing is a newfound aspect of her life that she thoroughly enjoys. Melissa is excited to write with the Westchester County Mom team and hopes you’ll enjoy her stories of the trials and tribulations of a born-n-raised city girl raising teenagers growing up here in Westchester.