How to Encourage Quiet People to Speak Up

A grey and white rabbit covering its eyes with its paws. Google analytics keeps showing me visitors who found this blog by searching for phrases like “how to get quiet people to speak up.” It seems like a good discussion topic, so let’s jump into it!

As a quiet person, I’ve been on the receiving end of many helpful and not-so-helpful attempts to get me to be more talkative.

I choose to believe this happens because some people are fascinated by us quiet folks and wish they knew more about how our minds work and what we’re thinking about.

Occasionally, I meet someone who is even quieter than I am, and that is exactly how I respond to them. So it only makes sense that others would have that same reaction.

While I obviously can’t guarantee that every quiet person on Earth will respond positively to all of these techniques, I can say they work on me and that I’ve had success when trying them with quiet friends and acquaintances as well.

Give Them Time to Warm Up

White man peering at bald statue that looks a lot like him.
Only time will tell if this works for statues, too. 😉

Disclaimer: not every quiet person is shy, and not every shy person is quiet.

As someone who is both, however, I find that I become much more talkative once I’ve gotten to know someone better.

One, it means that I’ll already have some idea of what we have in common. Two, it also means that I’ll have a good indication of which topics, if any, others prefer not to discuss.

No, I’m not talking about anything controversial or widely known to be a sensitive topic here. It’s more an issue of knowing that friend X loves to talk about photography but has zero interest in anything related to team sports (or vice versa).

Leave Space in the Conversation

A snapshot of the legs and feet of someone wearing jeans and red sneakers. They're standing next to a "welcome on board" mat on what appears to be a wooden pier. Some people excel at filling every potential moment of silence in a conversation with words.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with having this temperament, but it can make it  harder for quiet people get a word in edgewise.

If you give me ten seconds to process my thoughts, I’m much more likely to speak up. Anyone who is comfortable leaving small amounts of space in multiples portions of a conversation will be rewarded by all sorts of interesting replies from me as I come up with them.

This is by far one of the biggest things that make me feel welcome to chime in.

Ask Open-Ended Questions

two birds sitting on the rim of a water bowl. One is chirping at the other. There’s something wonderful about open-ended questions that do their best to avoid assumptions.

By that I mean, folks who assume that me being a woman means I must love fashion and makeup aren’t going to get very far with me on those particular topics because I know almost nothing about them!

If they ask what I enjoy doing in my free time instead, we could have a long, fruitful conversation about the best books to read when you’re in any number of unusual circumstances, interesting things I’ve seen on nature walks, and why astronomy is such a fascinating branch of science.

Keep the Group Small

If possible, choose a smaller group of people to talk to instead of a larger one. I find it much easier to chime in when a few other folks are taking turns talking than when a dozen or more people have joined the conversation.

Relevant story time! Both of my parents grew up in large families. Mom’s side of the family was especially big if you stepped back a generation or two and invited the hundreds of relatives to the massive annual reunions the oldest family members used to organize.

I cared about all of them, but, wow, was it overwhelming to step into a banquet hall and hear dozens of animated conversations happening simultaneously no matter where you walked.

There were a few talkative relatives who would invite me to chat with them and a handful of other people. They were the folks who got to hear about parts of my life that I probably wouldn’t have shared in the larger conversation circles.

If you’re a fellow quiet person, what else would you recommend?

6 Responses to How to Encourage Quiet People to Speak Up

  1. Lydia,

    These are all excellent recommendations. I veer from being the person hiding in a corner hoping no one notices me to being someone who masks my shyness by talking too much, so your disclaimer above is an important one. And I am one of those people(I believe you are too) who is introverted as well. I like being around people for a while, but often am exhausted afterwards.

    To me, your most insightful suggestion is to leave spaces in the conversation. When I’m nervous and getting to know someone, it DOES help to have a few moments (or a few days) to gather my thoughts. I also find it helpful when the person I’m getting to know offers information about her- or himself. Standard advice often tells us to show interest in others by asking questions about them, but for those of us who are quieter, that can feel like an interrogation. Tell me a family story, mention what you’ve been reading, share something you observed recently, confide that you crave or are repulsed by tofu — any simple topic that will give me a hand-hold on the conversation.

    Thank you for another truly useful post!

    Ruth

    • Aww, thank you, Ruth. Your comments always make my day.

      How did you learn to mask your shyness?

      I think you’d be a marvellous person to sit and chat with.

  2. You’re right about quiet people. Once you get to know someone that doesn’t speak much you find out they have a lot to say, just not in a crowd or group. My wife is like that, but when we’re alone it’s a different story.

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