"She is so quiet, I didn't think she was smart until she aced the first test in my class."Here is what I would like people to say instead in these situations:
"She is so quiet, I didn't know she was smart until she aced the first test in my class."quiet ≠ not smart
I don't mean to get all victim-y here about being quiet, but quiet people have historically been viewed with suspicion because it may not be obvious what we are thinking (plotting) and/or because we make loquacious people uncomfortable and/or because we may appear unfriendly or strange. Also, with more talkative people, you have a better idea of what's on their mind, and you can be reasonably confident that they are not about to go shoot up a shopping mall .
Just the other day, I was thinking about the (for me) related issues of being quiet and being really bad at random social chit-chat and, in fact, I had just told someone that I had great difficulty making coherent, normal, pleasant conversation about the weather. Very soon after that, I was on the phone with a Funding Agency Program Director who wanted to talk about the weather. I started to panic. I looked out the window: what was the weather and what could I possibly say about it? I made stuff up. I was very relieved when we moved on to talk about Science and Money.
I wrote about Being Quiet in 2008 (Does She Have Teeth?) and won't repeat the main points here. I just want to say, briefly and softly, the following:
- However difficult it is to make idle chit-chat about weather and sports, it is important to speak up when you have something to say. If you Google 'quiet people', you will easily find references to the fact that Clarence Thomas hasn't spoken in oral arguments in the Supreme Court in many years. I don't recommend that approach unless you are on a panel/committee that has no real purpose and with no real consequences for anyone.
- I was recently talking to an extremely quiet person, and I must admit (somewhat hypocritically) that I found it a chore. I kept asking myself "Was I ever that quiet?" Maybe I was. And if I was, what would I have liked the person talking to me to do about it? Just keep talking to fill the time allotted for our 'conversation', lapse into silence also, ask direct questions? I tried a combination of monologue and questions.
- My quietness was recently a pseudo-issue in a particular professional context, but it was swatted down when a colleague used my favorite pro-quiet defense: "Yes, she's quiet, but when she has something to say, she says it, and people listen." I would amend that to say that some people listen, sometimes, but I like this statement anyway because it makes quietness seem like an empowering characteristic.
 Wisdom, Conventional