Don’t ask an introvert if he’s OK!


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



  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?
    Leon@Ballroom dance lessons Boston´s last post ..Hello world!

    • People have been asking if someone is okay as a tactic to distract people from their behavior for at least a month or two here to imply that there is something wrong with someone who disapproves of their behavior when they are stealing, talking distastefully or doing something else they know they shouldnt be doing. I have heard that question fly around in every direction and I just want people to know that just because they ask me if I am okay doesnt mean they are going to get over on me or make me think im looney, so they can just get over that right now.

  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…

    • Honestly, guys; with all the anger, hatred, betrayal, cruelty of terror, of torture, atrocities filling our ears and scaring our eyes day in and day out across the globe do you seriously mean to tell me that simply because another human being may ask if you are okay once or twice, this is deserving of your anger and malice?
      Oh my.You poor poor thing. Did someone ask you if you were okay today? They did???
      Good grief. What is the world coming to these days?

      • Mitzi,
        May I speak plainly? As an introvert, I really do crave my space. And when someone asks me even once if I am okay, I do feel annoyed. Friends are okay to ask me, but with strangers, it is a direct violation of my personal boundaries. Unless I am clearly crying or bleeding to death, yes I do mind! But what I do is politely request that they please NOT ask me that if they continue to push.
        While I’m not trying to hurt your feelings, you sound like a really caring person who hasent good intentions, I think you need an education on how introverts think and feel. Check out the following authors: Susan Cain, Micheala Chung, and Sophia Dembling.

  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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  17. I found this site today and am appalled and saddened to see many posts/comments encouraging the notion of being aggressive, defensive, and downright rude person (as already perceive introverts). It’s hard enough being an introvert in this world without “snapping” at people for simply asking if you are okay.

    Introverts are NOT better than anyone. We are people too. Stop acting like extroverts owe you anything but common courtesy (and people really even owe anyone that). Work with each other to make things better. I’ve gotten my girlfriend books on tape that discuss introversion; I’ve sent her articles, personality quizzes/exams. Now she understands “somewhat” more than before.

    I ask for all that good and decent, please don’t ‘act a fool’ out here. We’re all in this world together; treat everyone with kindness.

    • I guess we’re looking at different comment sections, since mine doesn’t seem to have any aggressive/defensive play going on. The thing is, it’s not just people “simply asking if you are okay”. There’s no “simply” there. To me, some random asking if I’m okay for committing the crime of not being all smiles and acting like an extravert – i.e., the only territory they care to understand – is a massive insult. I don’t lie about my feelings, and while I don’t appreciate strangers asking my innermost thoughts on a whim like they have access to them, I make sure to give them full bore since they asked.

      They almost always retreat when faced with such honesty.

      It’s not “common courtesy” to me (although I don’t speak for all introverts), common courtesy would be leaving me alone if I seem busy, preoccupied, or thinking. I don’t need someone to save me from my moment of quiet as though it’s a bad thing to be reflecting alone, I don’t need people asking a question where the only acceptable answer is “never been better”, further undermining people who walk around with hurt under the surface, I don’t want strangers talking to me, asking why I don’t look interested in talking to them and making a fool of themselves at my expense. Full. Stop. It’s not kindness, it’s just vexing. If they don’t owe us anything, then why do we owe them our thoughts, or faking positive emotions for their sake?

      This is not aimed at you. This is just a testimony to why it’s so infuriating.

  18. I so understand the exasperation attached to that question – especially since it’s usually fired at me by acquaintances who don’t know me that well, which means that it’s only really polite to respond in the affirmative. It’s one of those pointless get-the-ball-rolling questions. But I think that’s all it is in most cases: someone trying to show their interest in you and get you involved in a conversation. In most cases, I think you can control how friendly or hostile the whole situation is by your response, and a bright “Yes! How are you?” is a perfect answer to a silly ‘nothing’ question.

    I’ve also had the much more unceremonious “Hey, sorry, your silence is really making me uncomfortable, so would you talk more?” a couple of times… I never know how to respond to that one politely. The first time I clammed right up, the second I shot back “And your discomfort’s invading my silence… so could you just relax a bit?” and felt instantly guilty.

    • Leena Collins on

      Don’t feel guilty. Extroverts need to learn to respect the space of others and to back off once in a while. For most of them (not all) the term “politeness” is not in their vocabulary. I myself have no guilty feelings about being rude if they don’t get it.

  19. Is this an American thing? Is it people with anxiety problems who incorrectly ask this? People of my culture of origin only ask me if I’m okay when I’m in some kind of pain. It seems very strange and overdramatic when I’m just sitting there minding my own business and someone asks that.

  20. Leena Collins on

    People ask me that all the time and I just want to punch them in the face! No, I simply REFUSE to be nice to people who don’t get it, especially after I’ve told them time and again not to ask me that! I try politely, and they’re so stupid they don’t get it. I have no trouble tearing their heads off and hurting their feelings. That question is rude and intrusive!

  21. Leena Collins on

    If I’m quiet, leave me alone and stop asking me if I’m okay, if something’s wrong, etc. Don’t tell me I look distressed. Extroverts of the planet, why don’t you learn to shut up, leave me alone, and stay out of my space! Just because I don’t act like a brainless blab is no reason to treat me like I’m sick or a victim. When I’m reading, on my phone, listening to music, or working on a puzzle, do not attempt a conversation with me. I wouldn’t do that with you, and I humbly ask that you please respect my space and my boundaries. I’m not hear to entertain you.

    • Yes. We may not be smiling, but if we are reading, we are in a blissful state! Until someone shatters it. Someone asking if we are OK! 🙂

  22. I can understand the reasoning behind your perspective, here. However, after reading through several responses, it became overtly obvious that no one is seeing the complete picture. There is another side that needs to be heard.
    What some people may not consider or be aware of is that there are types of individuals who are very sensitive to subtle changes going on around them. These changes can cause a sensitive type to feel an imbalance. Occasionally, the sensitive type has some difficulty in trying to discover the source of the imbalance, which often causes them to have anxiety or even fear until the source is discovered and equilibrium back in place. At times, the source of the imbalance can be another person- a friend, parent, whoever. So, that’s when a sensitive type may ask if the person is ok– maybe more than once, even. And, by the way, if a sensitive type asks you this, yes, they do genuinely care. However, this is usually when the sensitive person receives a crude or just down right nasty verbal assault. We all have variable perspectives and that’s okay- that’s good. What isn’t okay is when a person eviscerates another person without even attempting to try and understand where they’re coming from.

    • It’s veiled criticism designed to one-up and make them feel in control. No one has the right to dictate or micromanage how another person should look or speak. Once when told to smile I pointed out to the guy that only men ever say that and they only say it to women.

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