I recently learned that around 50% of people identify as shy. It made me wonder — if so many people are shy, then why is shyness often perceived as a flaw rather than a normal aspect of human existence?
Why is every discussion of shyness focused on how to “fix” it and eliminate it at all costs?
Maybe I’m biased, but I’ve personally never understood why so many people think shyness is a negative trait — I’ve always felt a strong affinity towards shy people.
As a child, I myself was painfully shy. Every single day at school, I was bombarded with questions and comments that insinuated that shy is the worst thing you can possibly be.
Why the hell are you so quiet? It’s weird. Why don’t you just come out of your shell and be normal?
I became less shy over time (partly because I forced myself to change), so by the time high school came around, I wasn’t harassed for being “weird” anymore.
But I’m still an introvert, and I still have a major soft spot in my heart for shy people. And I’m not alone — many people feel that shy folks have an intangible appeal that other people don’t have.
So why is that? Why are shy people so damn likable?
Well, psychological research has found many reasons why shy and introverted people are widely considered likable. Here are just five of them.
1. Shy people don’t think they’re more important than others
In our culture, where self-promotion and unbridled confidence are prized above all else, being humble and unassuming isn’t exactly considered “cool.” So humility is not a trait that most Americans aspire to.
But it is a trait that most of us find very likable and attractive in others. In fact, psychologists have consistently found that both men and women rate humility as one of the most desirable traits in a partner.
And what group of people are much more likely than average to have this highly sought-after trait? Yep, shy people.
So what exactly is humility?
Here’s how Google defines it: “ a modest or low view of one’s own importance.” It’s important to remember that this cannot be equated with a lack of confidence. Humility isn’t the belief that you’re inferior to other people — it’s the wise perspective that in the grand scheme of things, you are just one little human on this pale blue dot we call Earth.
As we all are. None of us is more than one little human in a vast universe.
Shy people are in touch with this insight. They put things into perspective and bask in the knowledge that we are all just collections of dust who exist on this earth for a short while. Because of this, they don’t fall into the trap of seeing themselves as the center of the universe. And that’s really refreshing.
2. Shy people are soothing and calming to be around
Don’t ever feel the need to pretend when you’re around me. If you don’t feel like talking, don’t talk. It doesn’t make me like you any less. In fact, it makes me feel even closer to you knowing that we can be real with each other and just not say anything sometimes.
This is what one of my closest friends, a shy person, recently said to me. And it meant a lot to me.
I’ve encountered a ton of folks who like shy people because they feel like they can be “real” with them. They don’t have to do the emotional labor of acting happy and energetic when they’re not feeling it. Shy people exude come as you are vibes.
And I feel the same way. When I spend time with a shy person, I feel like I don’t have to perform. I can simply be myself, relax, and let the words flow out of my mouth when they come. I don’t have to talk just for the sake of talking. It’s rejuvenating to spend time with people who value the authenticity of interactions more than their quantity or volume.
Don’t get me wrong. I love spending time with the extroverts in my life too. But when I’m around shy people, I feel like they don’t expect me to entertain them. They usually value connection over meaningless entertainment.
3. Shy people tend to develop deeper friendships
At least half of my closest friends identify as shy introverts. I’ve noticed that in many ways, my relationships with them are more deep and intimate than with my extroverted friends.
When it comes to friendships, people of the shy or introverted persuasion tend to prioritize quality over quantity.
Time Magazine confirms this: “Introverts choose their friends wisely. They would rather have a few close, trusted friendships to invest their time and energy in, as opposed to a large network of acquaintances. This quality causes introverts to be loyal, attentive and committed friends.”
So if you’re lucky enough to be close friends with a shy or introverted person, there’s a good chance that they’ll be highly invested in you and in your friendship. They’ll want to know everything there is to know about you.
One reason for this is that shy people — and introverts in general — tend to have a richer inner world. They know themselves inside and out. They spend more time meticulously examining life and analyzing their internal experiences. So they’ve developed layers upon layers of self-knowledge, unique interests, and nuanced perspectives. And navigating their own inner depths primes them to want to explore the depths in others.
4. Shy people understand the value of silence
There’s a common myth that shy people are the way they are because they’re simply “fearful.” But this isn’t true.
The reality is that shy people are more attuned to external stimuli overall, whether it’s positive or negative. In other words, they sense sounds, smells, tastes, emotions, and other sensations more sharply than other people.
According to Science Magazine, “research indicates that shy people are more sensitive to all sorts of stimuli, not just frightening ones.” This is partly what Stephen Hawking was alluding to when he famously said that “quiet people have the loudest minds.”
So if anyone can appreciate some good old silence, it’s definitely shy people. It gives them a respite from the constant overstimulation imposed on us by the world.
And in many cultures, unlike ours, this propensity toward silence is considered a highly desirable trait. Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” explains that our cultural bias against silence and in favor of extroversion is a Western thing. As she explained in an interview, “it’s in our cultural DNA. Western society is based on Greco-Roman ideals of extroversion. We have always been to some extent a society that favors action over contemplation.”
In our culture, talking (even mindless chatter) is seen as more “active” than silence, even though silence can be more transformative.
5. Shy people tend to be very good listeners
One of the key takeaways from Dale Carnegie’s renowned book How to Win Friends and Influence People is that if you want people to like you, you’d better be a damn good listener. This is a skill that anyone can acquire with practice, but it’s one that shy people are generally more adept at.
As Time Magazine reports, “introverts process information internally. That skill allows them to hear, understand and provide carefully considered insight when they do respond.”
Although listening skills are often undervalued in American culture, they’re extremely important for establishing relationships. They’re one of the most essential social skills and a reliable predictor of likability.
Why is being a good listener so important when it comes to being likable?
Because it makes you more skilled at asking people questions that make them feel seen and important. It helps you ask the questions and say the things that will help you forge a true connection with people.
As Dale Carnegie astutely pointed out:
If you aspire to be a good conversationalist, be an attentive listener. To be interesting, be interested. Ask questions that other persons will enjoy answering. Encourage them to talk about themselves and their accomplishments. Remember that the people you are talking to are a hundred times more interested in themselves and their wants and problems than they are in you and your problems.
When you think about all the value that shy people bring into the world, it’s astonishing that anyone perceives them as pathological.
Shyness may be uncomfortable, but it’s a manifestation of something much more complex than simply “fear.” It’s difficult to eliminate the discomfort of shyness without also uprooting the beautiful elements that accompany it. Beneath the surface of shyness lies a rich inner world, a greater sensitivity to one’s environment, and a mind that’s primed to deeply connect with other souls.
And that all sounds pretty endearing to me.