Co-workers think she won’t talk

Q. This is something I am really tired of. I have always been reserved and introverted, but I am a friendly, smiling person. Today at work (I work in a public place) I made eye contact with a patron and smiled,. She said to me, “Do you talk?” This is the same question I heard as an 8 -year old, a 15- year-old, and a 21-year old, and now at 28! I responded with “Yes, I talk” and then motioned to show that there had been nobody around me and said, “I have nobody to talk to at the moment.”

Why do people feel that this will make you more likely to suddenly become a chatterbox? Here’s the kicker: I am a chatterbox! Once I’m on the phone with a friend or in the company of my boyfriend or parents, I am constantly talking. I’m not a loudmouth in public, constantly spewing my opinion or making conversation with every single person I come across. Is there an even better response I could give to people who say these things?


J. M., Williston Park, N.Y.

A. Perception is everything. It seems that how you see yourself is different than how others see you. While I’m not sure what your role is in working in “a public place,” I am suspicious that from the point of view of other people, there’s an expectation of a verbal interaction. When you look the person in the eye and smile, but don’t say anything, the patron’s perception is, “Why didn’t you greet me or respond to me?” The patron verbalized that perception with the question, “Do you talk?” Your perception is that you have appropriately acknowledged the person, by looking them in the eye and smiling.
Interestingly, this doesn’t seem to happen when you are with friends or family, so it is a work related issue, or perhaps an issue related to interacting with strangers.
You ask if there’s a better response. I’m not sure a pithy comeback is the answer. I think the answer is to prevent situations like this from happening. That means making an effort not only to look a person in the eye and smile, but also to interact verbally. “Hello, may I help you?” or even a “Good morning/afternoon” may be all it takes. It may be uncomfortable for you at first. You may even feel self-conscious. But it’s better to feel a little self-conscious than to have people complain to a superior about your perceived lack of friendliness or responsiveness.

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