Don’t ask an introvert if he’s OK!

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Why do people ask introverts, “Are you OK?” just because we aren’t yammering on all the time? Who are these people who’ve appointed themselves the facial expression police? About seven years ago I faced this issue several times a week! I’d be at my desk, deep in thought, maybe trying to figure out a complex formula, then someone would walk by and says calls my name, shattering my thoughts. I’d tear myself away from my calculation and focus on their face, getting ready to respond, then here it would come: “Are you OK?”

To me, if I’m not in tears or screaming or otherwise outside the norm of calm office behavior, why would anyone imply that I had the incorrect expression on my face? “Are you OK?” is what you’d say to someone who’s stumbling, weaving, or having a seizure, not to a deep-in-thought coworker who’s intently staring at her screen. One time years ago I really hurt the feelings of a super nice guy who asked, “Are you OK?” because in response I whirled around and snapped, “Yes! Are YOU OK?”

I guess “Are you OK?” is the current way to ask, “Why didn’t you respond the way I want?” because I see it all the time now, even on TV. When someone gets a short answer from another person, instead of wondering if the person is busy, doesn’t like them, or is otherwise preoccupied, they immediately ask, “Are you OK?” thus implying that the other person is the one with a problem. The other person must not be OK or he/she would have responded enthusiastically to any and all comments!

Now that I’m much more aware of introverts and extroverts, I react to “Are you OK” in a lot more appropriate manner for the workplace! I always say pleasantly, “Yes! How are you?” and then continue to make pleasant chitchat. Soon enough, the friendly person will go on her merry way and I can get back to my thoughts.

Photo credit: DrJimiGlide

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104 Comments

  1. I agree that asking “Are you okay?” is a bit dramatic and full of assumptions…I think there are much better and polite ways to ask how is it going, or to show concern in general. For example, “is everything allright? You seem preoccupied…” This sounds much more caring, don’t you agree?
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  2. I’m an introvert who has experienced some of this, but I’ve also spent a lot of time around extraverts. I have come to the conclusion that things like this (the pointing out when someone is “too quiet,” or telling people to smile, or interrupting someone who is obviously busy) aren’t happening because the person doing them is an extravert; they’re happening because the person doing them has poor social skills. (Could it be that many introverts actually have above average social skills, contrary to popular belief? Or maybe I’m just biased here.)

    So, I don’t think it’s because people are extraverts; I think it’s because some people may not be the best at reading social cues or working out social behaviors (and they don’t realize how awkward it is to have to answer the question, “Why are you so quiet?”). I guess introverts must be particularly hard to read, because I can’t count how many times people have played “guess what she’s thinking” with my facial expressions and every one of their guesses has been wrong.

    Anyway, great blog. It’s like you’re saying all the things I’m afraid to say.

  3. I just found this site recently and it’s so great to know that there are other people who have experienced so many of the same things I have. I’ve really enjoyed reading the posts and can really relate.

    About the comments people make about facial expression….I used to experience this when I was in college…I remember walking down a hallway and someone, I believe it was a staff member, coming the other way stopped me and said “You look like you just lost your best friend!” …huh? I had no idea how my facial expression looked, but after a few other similar incidents with similar comments (ie. “you need to smile more”), which were very hurtful at the time, I decided I needed to make the conscious effort to constantly wear a “half-smile” on my face all the time. I figured that if what I thought was a relatively expressionless look, actually looked like I was frowning, to others…then, as strange as it felt at first, if I wore that “half-smile” all the time, maybe I would look “normal” to other people, and maybe it would stop these comments. I remember even practicing and evaluating how this looked in the mirror…making sure it was just enough to counteract the “frowning look” I apparently otherwise had, without making me look crazy…lol! It did help, silly as it sounds. That was over 20 years ago. Funny the things we will do!

    • I so relate to this. I find that turning the question back on the questioner – ‘Yes. And are YOU OK?’ works best. Hopefully it will help them reflect on how pointless their initial question was. Especially if they’re a shop assistant. ‘Can I help you?’ would be more useful!

      Karen, I spent my whole childhood being told to ‘cheer up’ by well meaning relatives and was always totally baffled by it. The only conclusion I drew was that my facial expression was not pleasing to others – I didn’t practice an acceptable ‘look’ but maybe I would have been more successful in life if I had!

  4. I Googled the phrase, “Are you okay introvert” because it has to be the most infuriating question. I get it every single day for not smiling enough or talking enough and it only makes me resist doing those social activities all the more.

    I just found out today about the phrase “introvert” and it’s opened up my world. After 27 years I FINALLY have a name to put to my personality, and my life as a whole. Nobody around me understands it completely, but my wife has been great about trying.

    I almost feel like I wrote this post myself as my response is frequently the, “Yes, are YOU okay?” It feels so invasive and offensive to ask if someone is okay when nothing is wrong because it’s like someone is saying, “You look really messed up, tell me all about it” when nothing at all is wrong.

    Thank you for the post. =]

  5. While I was in high school I developed quite the reputation for being a snappy little so-and-so and the infamous ‘Are you okay?’ – or inquries of that nature – were often the catalyst for me lashing out and that asker. At the time people assumed I was just a little catty and I figured that I was a cranky person at heart, as I knew that lashing out wasn’t the acceptable response.

    Now, years on, I know that such responses have an enormous amount to do with being an introvert. I’m pleased to read your story and those of the many comments on this particular post. I too try and respond in more positive ways these days! :)

    Anita x

  6. I actually just had this happen to me yesterday when I went to Olive Garden to pick up a to-go order. There were about six workers chit chatting behind the welcoming station and I tentatively greeted them because I didn’t want to intrude too much on their conversation. When they all finally turned to look at me, I told one of them my name so I could pay for my order. As I dug into my purse for my wallet, one of the women looked at me asked, “Are you okay?” I smiled and politely responded with a “Yes, Im fine,” but inside I was extremely aggravated. Why would she, a stranger, ask if I was okay? What right did she have to even be asking that question of someone she doesn’t even know. Did she ask that because I didn’t make any small talk? Didn’t have the correct expression on my face? Or was it possibly because I came alone? Just because I not talking doesn’t mean that I’m sad or upset. I’m just waiting for you to do your job and hand me my order!

  7. (Kierra) — Because that women is stupid and there are many stupids like that who like to make fun of others for no reason.They always interfere in others business.The joke is, people who do that are not perfect in anyway.

  8. Yes, introverts may be hard to communicate and get along with, but they need to be respected with whatever they want. Thank you so much!

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  11. I’ve often found that I seem to send false signals about my current temperament. I’m told I look sad, etc. I even once had some salesperson at a mall approach me by asking “Why are you so sad?” “I’m not sad.” “You look sad.” Then before too long they jumped into their sales spiel. I’m still unsure of what to make of that.

    Here’s a case of “are you okay?” being taken to a whole other level:

    There was an incident in junior high involving some well meaning but foolish girls. It was before school started and I was standing near my first class waiting for the bell. Nearby there was another boy just minding his own business. Then out of nowhere these girls came out and started going after this kid demanding to know what he did to me. Both of us were like “What?!” One of the girls then asked me what he had done. I said nothing. Her response was “Don’t lie to me!” Fortunately this didn’t go on for very long.

    On the one hand it’s nice to know that there are people who care. On the other hand…

  12. Often times the person is simply trying to acknowledge your emotional state/safety/comfort as something worthy of their attention. It can be a display of respect, acknowledging you as a member of one of their social circles, or even as a fellow human being versus an inanimate object. Hell, maybe they actually could do something to help and this is an opportunity to bond or make a new friend.

    Most likely, they feel good when someone asks after their own well-being, and assume that it would make you feel good too.

    I can understand being annoyed, but the way that some of you seem to be assigning malicious intent/incompetence to the people asking the question is ridiculous.

    • I agree with the Extrovert here. There are always two sides of the knife. I am an E too and I admit I have asked that horrible question in past (not to strangers but intro-bf and friends), of course we all look from our own perspective (as do introverts) and for us it is a nice gesture to ask someone if they’re ok because we like to help, be needed, acknowledged and if someone asks us that we feel merry that someone takes interest in us and shows concern – even when nothing is wrong per se.

      I can imagine that as introverts are opposites of us it is not as nice for them as for us. And even worse when strangers do it. Of course not all people are ‘educated’ in the differences between I and E – needs, wants, processing of things of each.

      Try not to think it is something wrong with your face, your expression or your behavior. It is people, who don’t think before speaking, trying to be nice (as terrible as this sounds). And it might not ruin your day if you realize it is not ill-intentions and nail it with something like “I am great, thanks *wink*” :)

      People try to be good and nice because people are selfish in a way and do good deeds in order to make themselves feel good and fulfilled. Can’t blame anyone for the way we are, or?

  13. I always get asked this question. You would think that everyone around you is smiling from ear to ear, but the majority (whether introverts or extroverts) aren’t smiling either, so I find it strange that “I” am the one to get asked that question. By the way, perhaps on some level these people are looking for approval…they want to know why you aren’t giving them the feedback they are wanting and it makes them uncomfortable. I see frowning people wherever I go, not once do I ask this lame question, as it’s none of my business , (nor do I care) what some random stranger is thinking or feeling.

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