I was recently in a seminar on company law at university when the seminar tutor told me to be quiet and let others speak. He said I should “give a chance to those who needed to spend more time thinking before they answered and did not want to impulsively put their hands up”.
Anyone in that seminar or who had subsequently spoken to me about it will know how much the comment offended me. Honestly, it really hurt me. I am the type of person that will spend hours pouring over the required reading, completely throw myself into everything I do and I genuinely love the law and all of its intricacies. So his comment cut right to the core of who I am as a person and every thing I stand for.
After a couple of weeks of feeling like I could not answer questions in lectures and seminars, I realised that as with all unpleasant situations, there was something that I could learn from it. Instead of being petty, I could use the experience to better myself!
So here is some advice for all my fellow extroverts and overly keen students:
Talk less, smile more
Bonus points for anyone who noticed the “Hamilton” reference in the title! Talk less, smile more – this is what Aaron Burr advises Alexander Hamilton to do in the hit-musical.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that you should not talk at all. I do not think you should have to lessen yourself to make others feel comfortable. But it does not always have to be you talking all the time.
This is not about being less, it’s about being strategic. Do not think of it as hiding your light under a bushel, it’s more like upgrading to super efficient LED light bulbs that automatically adjust to the setting.
I actually really enjoy silence but I’ve written before on how I find awkward silences uncomfortable. So naturally, when a seminar tutor asks a question and they are met with a sea of blank stares and I know the answer – I feel as though I have to speak.
But in reality, I don’t. It does not not always have to be you. It does not always have to be me. This is the stark reality of life – it is a hard lesson but it is beneficial to learn.
Sometimes, it can actually be really good to take a step back and let others do the work. Often when you are the one who always takes on a leadership role and are answering the questions, others are able to learn from you. But what do you gain? Yes, of course explaining things to others can help to consolidate knowledge.
However, you miss out on the insight others might bring. We all think in different ways and sometimes other people can add value to a certain topic. Look at it this way – if you already know 10 things, person A adds 3 things and person B adds 2 more things – you now know 15 things! But if you are the one speaking all the time – you are constantly giving and never receiving.
For example, if you give away the 10 things you know but no-one else speaks and you don’t learn anything from others. Then person A now knows 13 things and person B now knows 12 things but you still only have your 10! So don’t be surprised if people around you start doing better than you if you are not taking the time to learn from them.
“Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom.” – Francis Bacon
In addition, talking less can lead to people valuing your input more. When people get used to you always answering all the time then it can get taken for granted. Be it by your peers or your lecturers. Have you ever been in a situation where someone who usually does not speak adds a seemingly minute angle on something and everyone starts raving about it? Yep, sucks doesn’t it?
For example, in that same seminar another student was asked for an answer to a question and they told the seminar tutor that they had not done any of the work and had just come to absorb knowledge. And the seminar tutor offered him cookies and said he liked his response!
It’s basic economics – it’s about supply and demand. If there is endless supply of you and you are constantly offering your opinions then no-one will seek it out but if you speak less then it will generally have more weight.
“Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence” – Leonardo Da Vinci
So if you make sure everything you say is gold dust then invariably you will be able to add more value to all situations you are in. Make sure every contribution is of quality. We live in a society that equates speaking a lot with a lack of thought. In reality, I probably overthink everything I do and if I feel as though I have not conducted myself in the appropriate way or said the right thing then it can haunt me for months.
But recently in society, “extroverts” have been demonised and traits that are associated with this group of people are sometimes made to look like a negative thing. There is a new wave of appreciation for introverts, which is actually a positive thing, it’s about time people who prefer to be quiet got their chance to shine! However, this should not come at a cost to people who are just not like that. Celebrating the excellence of those who don’t like to talk should not come at the expense of making assumptions about those who do like to talk. It’s not one or the other.
TOP TIP: So this is something I started doing at the beginning of second year – I have a “word quota”. No, I am not suggesting you count your words- that would be ridiculous. But I do try to mentally judge the proportion of time I am spending talking and after a while a little voice in my head will say: “you have reached your quota” in a somewhat Gandalf-like “you shall not pass” type of voice. And then that’s it- I will stop talking and spend the rest of the time listening.
Just because other people do not know that you know the answer does not make you any less intelligent. Sometimes, I will even write the answer down on a piece of paper or internally whisper it in my head and then smile inwardly if I get it right. The fact no-one knows you would have gotten it right does not take anything away from you!
“Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.” – Plato
As a very enthusiastic person, when it’s a topic I am passionate about (which is most things!) it’s easy to get carried away. But when you get used to keeping track on how much you are speaking then it gets more intuitive.
Of course, all of this advice is contextual and you have to learn to judge each situation on an individual basis. There are times where you do need to show off your skill to get ahead and it might even be necessary to talk a lot. And in reality, most seminar tutors in the past have loved me as they usually find it nice that somebody has done the reading and has formed an opinion. But not everyone will like that! And that is not something you should take personally – just something you need to learn to adapt to.
Ultimately, university is a microcosm of what it will be like in the “real world”. There will be people who think confident or extroverted people are too full on or are arrogant. You will encounter people like this in the work place, they might be your colleagues or even your boss. You might find people like this in your friendship circles.
Sometimes you will need to justify yourself when people make unfair character judgements. Like when my seminar tutor spoke to me in a overtly harsh and mocking tone, I called him out for being rude. I am not saying we should all become passive and lay down whilst people walk all over us.
However, not everything has to be fight and you need to learn to play the game. Sometimes you just need to talk less and smile more! Perhaps if Alexander Hamilton had learnt to be a bit more strategic with this earlier on his career it wouldn’t have ended so…abruptly.
It’s just me, Dammy, talking less but always smiling