How To Be Less Quiet And Contribute To Group Conversations
In a one-on-one conversation if you don't say much it usually peters out. In group discussions you have the option of hanging back and letting everyone else talk. However, if you don't say enough you may be seen as quiet.
Being quiet isn't automatically bad. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with some people being less chatty than others. Many social circles have some quieter members who everyone likes just fine. However, quietness can be a liability if you're not doing it by choice and it's interfering with your social life. If you're hanging out with a new group and want to take part in the conversation and not unintentionally be overlooked, but can't speak up because you feel too inhibited, that's a problem. This article will give some tips on how you can talk more if you struggle to chip in:
Give yourself permission to be quiet
I'll start with an overarching principle. A lot of people psych themselves out when they try to be less quiet. They put pressure on themselves to say something, and if they don't they get more and more self-conscious and hard on themselves about it, which just makes the problem worse. Take some of that burden away by permitting yourself to be quiet. If you can think of something to say, great, but if not that's okay too.
Tell yourself that you have to say something every so often
You may be seen as quiet whenever you don't chime into a conversation as much as people expect you to. To counteract this may have to talk more often than it feels like you do. One thing that I find helpful is to make an explicit rule in your head that you have to say something at least every few minutes, preferably more. It seems basic, but if you spell it out like this, it forces you to continually try to add new points to the discussion. If you aren't conscious about needing to contribute, you could default to hanging back and listening to everyone, but sometimes going ten minutes or more without uttering a word. Or you could get lost in your head and distracted by your own thoughts and daydreams.
When you're new to a group of people who all know each other, this rule especially applies. The onus is often on you to get yourself into their conversation. They'll all be comfortable with each other, and may benignly neglect to more actively include you.
If you have trouble thinking of things to say, for various reasons, you'll want to check out this article:
However, the first rule still trumps this one. If you find yourself getting more and more stressed out because you're too focused on monitoring your continually dropping 'contribution percentage', then give yourself permission to be quiet and take the pressure off yourself.
Making little contributions is better than remaining totally mute
Often in a group conversation other people will have the floor and no one expects you to completely take over and speak as much as they are. In this case you can still seem engaged by adding smaller statements. Things like:
- "Yeah, I heard the same thing."
- "Ha ha, you're right. He does do that."
- "Yeah, totally."
- "You're kidding?!"
- "No way."
- (Just laughing when it's appropriate, as opposed to being completely silent)
- (Just making little noises that show you're listening, like "Ohhhh" or "Hmmm")
You're not taking center stage and dazzling everyone with a witty story, but you're still showing you're in the middle of things. If you're more inhibited about speaking up these mini-contributions are also a good way to slowly ease yourself into saying more down the road.
Even if you're not talking, appear to be tuned into the conversation
If several friends are chatting at a pub there's a big difference between someone who's not speaking, but they're clearly attending to the discussion (by leaning in, looking at the speaker, making an effort to hear them over the background noise, nodding, and having an interested expression on their face) vs. someone who's obviously mentally checked out and in their own world, or who looks bored and like they'd rather be somewhere else. The first set of behaviors sends the message that even if they're isn't talking right that second, they're part of the conversation. Even though they're not technically saying much, people will be a lot less likely to consider them quiet. The other set of non-verbals says, "I don't care about what's happening", even if that's not what they mean to communicate.
This point is also practical in the sense that if you make an effort to tune into the conversation, you'll have less mental energy to devote to fretting about how quiet you're being. You'll also be more able to spot snippets of dialogue that could trigger a thought you could contribute.
Learn the unwritten rules of loud, lively conversations
Many people have a much easier time holding their own in smaller, orderly groups. When you add more people to the mix, and everyone starts talking at once, they have a harder time putting in their two cents. They'll default to being quiet because they don't have the skills or mindset needed to act any differently. If you haven't seen it already, I wrote an article about just this topic:
Take charge if the conversation isn't going your way
In some cases people can become the quiet one through no fault of their own, because the group is talking at length about a topic they have zero to add to. This quick related article is about how to deal with that situation:
Another time when it's good to take some initiative is if the other people are talking among themselves, and aren't actively trying to include you. Try to work your way in. There's no rule that says you politely have to wait for someone to directly address you and ask your opinion on something. I'm talking about when, say, two friends are gabbing about a movie and not turning to you to hear your take on it. Of course, you shouldn't obliviously force yourself into more personal or private discussions.
You're likely to be more quiet around certain groups than others
Someone who comes across as withdrawn and tongue tied at a family dinner may be boisterous and confident while playing video games with their friends. Quietness can be dependent on the situation. It tends to pop up if:
- You're around people who make you uncomfortable, whether because you're meeting them for the first time, because you want them to like you, or because you're normally intimidated by their type.
- As I mentioned earlier, when the discussion is generally focused on a subject you don't have much to say about (e.g., a group of people are all discussing the minutiae of a sport or TV show you don't follow at all).
- Similarly, when you're around people who all know each other well and who are carrying on a conversation full of in-jokes and references to things they've all done in the past, or to mutual friends of theirs you don't know. It can feel challenging to inject yourself into that dynamic.
- When you're with a group where everyone is particularly loud and aggressive about fighting for their time to talk. You may decide you can't compete and give up on trying to say anything.
- When you're with a group of people you feel you can't relate to. They may be enthusiastically discussing a topic you don't respect, or cracking each other up over a bunch of jokes you don't see the humor in. Here it's easy to sit back and think, "Wow, I have nothing to say to these people. Do they really find this stuff fun to talk about?"
In some cases you may be in a spot where anyone would be quiet if they were in your shoes. Each of these scenarios has different solutions, which I may have covered in this article, or in the one I linked to earlier about being able to think of more things to say.
If you do come off as quiet, do better next time
You can't win them all. It's not rare for people to be quiet occasionally, especially around a new group. For some traits it's hard to erase a first impression, but coming off as quiet isn't one of them. People instinctively understand that some of us are bit slow to warm up to new company. If you're more chatty when they see you again they'll realize you're not meek or unfriendly like they may have first assumed, and that you're actually pretty interesting to have around.
The idea of not speaking often, but making it count when you do
We've all heard of the character who doesn't speak much, but when they do say something everyone listens, because they're so profound and wise. This archetype appeals to some quiet people, because it promises that if they can become like that they won't have to talk a lot, but still be respected. I don't think it's a very practical approach.
It isn't appropriate in most contexts. If a bunch of friends are joking around in a mall's food court, they don't want one of them to be tight-lipped and sagely. They want someone who will be fun and contribute. Also, you'll probably put too much pressure on yourself if you try to make everything you say really perceptive. Hardly anyone can be clever all the time, and if you try to force it you'll look like you're trying too hard.
What can you say if someone comments that you're quiet?
It can be annoying, and sometimes demoralizing, when you someone points out that you're quiet. Many people wonder what the best way to respond is, so I wrote a short article about it: