Have you ever been frustrated by another person’s inability to speak up? Perhaps you notice that another person is highly intelligent, but it feels like they are holding back or withdrawing from the situation. Do you find yourself quietly judging other people because they don’t exemplify typical leadership qualities like speaking up, being creative, or sharing their opinions? If so, you are not alone, but you might be misunderstanding the situation. If you are interested in bringing the best out of the people in your life, you might need to reevaluate the meaning and causes of other peoples’ behavior.

We often expect other people to be like us. To be willing to discuss ideas openly or speak up when there is a problem. It can be incredibly frustrating why they don’t. And when asked why these people don’t have a good explanation. If we are honest, we might even perceive them as being less capable or weak. The real issues are not that they don’t want to speak up or don’t know the answer. The truth is that they desperately want to be heard, and they might even envy your ability.

These people likely have had different life experiences, genetics, and cultural origin. It is important to understand that your ability to be vocal does not make you inherently better or worse than the more quiet folks. If you already possess this ability, perhaps it is time to develop it in other people. This would allow them the opportunity to contribute so that we can benefit from each other.

Sometimes, people don’t speak their minds because they are afraid that it will damage their self-worth. The result of this damage would be rejection, a terrifying proposition. Rejection can take many forms, including isolation, withdrawal of attention or affection, and judgments. In an effort to prevent this rejection, their minds trigger potent emotions that motivate them to remain quiet.

These emotions take the form of physical sensations and thoughts. They can be both intense or subtle. For some people, there is a tightness in their chest, tingling, or sweating. Thoughts can race, with ideas like “will everyone here think I am stupid,” “will I get fired,” “they aren’t going to talk to me,” or “what happens if he gets angry with me.” There are many different possibilities. At the heart of all these combinations are fear and anxiety, both of which stand as powerful motivations not to take the risk.

Some people might be aware that their emotional responses don’t make sense. They may think that they shouldn’t feel the way they are feeling, yet they are. Some people can be frustrated with themselves because they want to behave differently, but they feel stuck, dominated by the intense emotional experience. You might be wondering if these people know better, why do they lack clarity or get stuck?

Trauma might be the answer. During formative years many people are traumatized by painful rejections. These can be less intense events like being bullied or made fun of by classmates. It can be more severe, perhaps being abandoned during a divorce or being physically abused. These painful experiences teach people that if they express themselves, they may be punished by the world. Whether this is true or not isn’t relevant because what matters is how we all learn and the associations we make.

These formative experiences impact perceptions in later life and cause people to see danger where it doesn’t exist. The mind is trying to protect itself from emotional injuries. For all of us, our bodies experience emotional pain like physical pain. Additionally, rejection is dangerous because we are social creatures and need to be accepted to get by in our society.

The memories of the past inform perceptions of the present. For all people, when we perceive danger, our emotional responses are triggered, motivating us to do whatever we need to survive. Consequently, some people don’t say what is on their minds because they don’t want to get hurt.

Armed with this information, we can place ourselves in the shoes of another person. This type of empathy can reduce our levels of frustration and judgment of other people. This new perspective can help us to be supportive in meaningful ways. It would be unrealistic to expect that we will change the way we see other people overnight. But familiarizing ourselves with the motivations behind certain types of behavior is the first step in developing empathy.