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Olivier Niquet is a radio commentator, co-host of the daily radio show La journée (est encore jeune) on ICI Première, author, and speaker. In April 2022, he published Les rois du silence, an essay aimed at helping introverts and extroverts understand each other better. Inspired by his journey as an introvert in the media as well as in everyday life, he wants to give a voice to the quietest among us.

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Hello, Olivier. What are the reasons that motivated you to speak more openly about introversion in the media?

Olivier Niquet

“Introverts, by definition, are pretty quiet. We don’t see them much, especially in the media. When I started talking about my introversion on the radio, I received messages from people who told me, ‘Thank you for talking about us. I’m also an introvert, and I feel recognized.’ “So, I realized there was an audience for that…

I would say a market, but I didn’t write a book to make money (laughter)! As a society, we often let extroverts speak. I wanted to give a voice to people who don’t talk.”

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What is it about introversion that inhibits expression?

Olivier Niquet

“There’s a question of neuropsychology behind this that I couldn’t explain in detail. But what’s certain is that we have to differentiate between embarrassment and intro- version, because embarrassment is the fear of talking to people. I’m not necessarily afraid of talking to people. If I’m properly prepared, I’m capable of speaking in front of a room of hundreds of people without any problems. That doesn’t stress me out. But making small talk, talking about the rain and the nice weather… I can’t do that.”

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Why?

Olivier Niquet

“Often, I’d like discussions to be more meaningful, because it takes a lot of energy for me to have a discussion. Instead of staying on the surface and talking about the weather, I’d like to find a way to personalize the words. I’d like to say, ‘I saw your Instagram photo. Were you on a trip? How was it?’ But these references rarely come to mind for me in the moment… However, even if I’m not good at small talk, I recognize that it’s useful and important in society. It’s not threatening, there are no consequences to it, and we’re simply showing that we can be friendly.”

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How is your introversion received in a social context?

Olivier Niquet

“I think it can be heavy, because I’d say I’m a pretty extreme case of introversion. I have trouble keeping a discussion going. When you’re talking to someone and they don’t restart the conversation or almost don’t respond, you may get the impression that they’re not interested, when that isn’t necessarily the case.

“My girlfriend, for example, in the early years of our relationship, must have found it difficult that I didn’t say a word all evening during a dinner with her friends whom I barely knew. But in all cases, I always show I’m interested in the discussion, even if I’m not participating in it very actively. I’m not in my corner with my phone; I’m not looking elsewhere. I’m actively listening, and people recognize that. “So, while I totally accept my condition, I also try to improve myself so that it’s more pleasant for others. I do this over time without distorting myself.”

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How do you get yourself there?

Olivier Niquet

“One thing that helps a lot is figuring out how to distribute my energy on a daily basis. If I’m participating in a two- hour brainstorming meeting at work, I’ll definitely leave it feeling drained. I won’t organize a party afterward; I know that in advance. I love parties, 5-à-7s… all that. I’m not a homebody, but I know that kind of event takes a lot of energy out of me, and I need to relax the next day.”

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What is your relationship with silence?

Olivier Niquet

“I like to be alone in silence. I find it valuable and important, among other reasons because that’s when I absorb and put together the knowledge I learned during the day. It’s when my best ideas for projects and subjects come up. However, these days, we’re almost never alone staring into the void. We’re on our phones, listening to music or a podcast, or watching TV. There’s always something we can take refuge in.

“Strangely, there are also times when silence makes me uncomfortable. For example, if I cross paths with someone I don’t really know while leaving the office, and we realize we’re both going to take the metro, and we have 10 minutes to walk together and not much to say to each other, that can quickly get uncomfortable. Even a short silence in an elevator can cause me discomfort, even though I appreciate silence, and I’m known for being silent!”

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Do extroverts ever ask you to be more talkative?

Olivier Niquet

“Ah, that’s the worst thing you can say to an introvert! ‘Why aren’t you talking?’ ‘Talk more!’ Personally, that puts pressure on me, and I talk even less. If I were capable and I wanted to talk more, I would do it! It’s beyond my control. This reasoning applies to all sorts of conditions. You can’t just tell someone with anxiety to calm down. It’s not something that can easily be controlled like that. “We often see the same kind of situation with children. We ask them, ‘Why are you embarrassed? Why aren’t you talking? Say hello to the lady,’ and that often just adds to their stress.

“I have two kids, one of whom is a little more like me, and I don’t put any pressure on him. I see him go up to his hockey team, and he isn’t very similar to his team- mates, and we laugh about it. He finds it funny, because he knows I was like that when I was younger (and still today). I don’t force him to go and talk to people and make friends; that’s not how it works. Just the fact that he understands that he’s like that is already a step in the right direction.

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Would you say that you have democratized introversion?

Olivier Niquet

“I may have helped make it known, yes. But I think the important thing is accepting all types of personalities. I’m not asking for reasonable accommodations for introverted people, but maybe just making a little effort to recognize that they exist, and making room for them. And if they don’t want that room, that’s OK, too. But maybe they’re just waiting for someone to call on them to say what they have to say. It’s often happened to me that I have things to say, but I hesitate, or I’m incapable of inserting myself into the conversation. If someone had asked me, ‘What do you think about that?’, that would have helped.

“ We live in a world where everyone is fighting for attention. It’s the one who shouts loudest and fastest who attracts attention, especially in the media and on social networks. While us introverts, we need to think before we decide. If there were a better balance and more room were given to those who think before speaking, perhaps things would be better in the world.”