The questions “why are you so shy” and “why are you so quiet” make me angry. They feel like criticism.
This is what I hear when a person asks “why are you so shy”:
I don’t understand the difference between introversion and shyness.
Instead of trying to find out about you, I’m going to label you.
You’re that label I’ve chosen for you until proven otherwise.
You shouldn’t be shy.
It’s bad to be shy.
I’ve put you in the spotlight, and now you have to explain yourself.
“Why are you so shy” and “why are you so quiet” aren’t the only questions that put me on edge. It wasn’t until I started taking coaching classes that I realized it’s hard to ask any Why questions about behavior without sounding a bit critical.
When we were kids we used to love asking Why questions. And our lack of knowledge about the world meant we were able to ask them innocently, even though they weren’t always interpreted as innocent.
But at some point, during the course of growing up, we started to see connections and make assumptions. We started asking fewer and fewer innocent questions about people’s appearance or behavior. We also realized that our questions might be taken the wrong way. For instance, a child might ask “Why is your belly so big?” but very few adults would. But even though there are very few adults who would ask a direct question about body weight there are plenty of adults who ask Why questions about behavior, like “Why don’t you want to go to the party?”
This isn’t to say us grownups aren’t curious or don’t want to understand, but very often the main purpose of a Why question is to figure out how the other person fits in with our preconceived notions. And most of the time when someone asks a question with the purpose of passing judgement, we can hear it. By the way, I don’t want it to sound like this is only something extroverts do, introverts also ask Why questions from a judgemental frame of mind.
But let’s say you ask “Why don’t you want to go to the party” without any preconceived notions or judgemental tone of voice, does that mean the other person will know you’re asking an innocent question? Nope. Introverts are tired of hearing judgement-laced Why questions about our temperament, and it’s very possible we will jump to conclusions, get defensive, and hear judgement when none exists.
Does this mean introverts always get defensive when asked a question about their personality? No, not necessarily. If there’s no trace of judgement in your voice, and if the other person trusts you and sees you as a nonjudgemental person, they may not get defensive.
But just because a person might not get defensive about a question doesn’t mean they would appreciate being asked. Some people need to know a person very well before they’re ok with being asked personal questions. This applies to both introverts and extroverts.
So, assuming all signs point to YES – you don’t have preconceived notions about the other person’s behavior, they trust you, and they don’t mind sharing person information, then sure, go for it. See what happens. They may be happy you asked. But please, if they seem taken aback or defensive then don’t push the subject.
Alternatives to asking Why, if the other other person seems up to discussing themselves:
Would you say you’re an introvert?
What’s an introvert?
How has being an introvert affected you?
What are your thoughts about personality and behavior?
What do you like about being an introvert?
Do you prefer other kinds of communication over talking?
What do you love to do?
What if you really want to understand introversion but aren’t in a position to ask without making the other person angry? READ ABOUT IT. I’ve listed several resources here.
Most people want to genuinely be understood, but it’s not always appropriate to ask a question, and some ways of asking are better than others.