Not Being Comfortable Speaking To People Is NOT A Mental Disorder

9 mins read

World No.2, four-time grand slam winner tennis star, Naomi Osaka withdrew herself from the French Open that is underway at present.

She gave “mental health issues” as the reason for not speaking to the press and also for withdrawing from the tournament. Through her social media accounts, she apparently delivered the message that she has been facing depression-related mental health issues since 2018.

She withdrew from the tournament after she was fined for not appearing at a French Open’s press conference after her 1st round victory in the tournament. Along with the monetary penalty of $15,000 imposed on her, she was also warned that any subsequent dereliction of media-related duties from her end will result in her disqualification from the tournament.

It had all started with this public announcement by Osaka at the start of the tournament:

As with anything at all, here too, people’s opinions are divided into 2 main viewpoints, viz.,

  1. The officials were right in taking action against her as press conferences and talking to the media were part of her contractual obligations for participating in this tournament (or any other grand slam tournaments),
  2. The officials were wrong in making her speak to the media when she was undergoing mental health problems.

A very important point, which most people seem to be missing out on, is rationality.

Tennis is a physical sport that requires a certain kind of skill set that not all possess which would make them win world level championships. The same goes for other sports too. How is attending press conferences, talking to media, or attending parties a part of that skill set?

TV reality shows like singing or dance competitions also come with similar kind of unrelated expectations. One may argue that these reality shows are about showmanship, and putting up a face to the public through media appearances is kind of similar in nature.

But, apart from this expectation or obligation, the contestants are made to go through unnecessary shenanigans like showing romantic angle between contestants when there is none in reality or making all contestants follow some religious custom/tradition even if they don’t want to, etc. How is the talent to sing well or dance well related to this fake show of camaraderie?

Coming back to sports; Tennis is not the only sport where the players are bound by hard rules that spill well beyond their intended area of action, the actual sport. Soccer, Badminton, Cricket, name the sport and you will find that press conferences have become an integral part of the job description of a sportsperson.

What got achieved earlier through the publishing of photographs of sportspersons and written statements attributed to them at most (which could possibly be written by someone else on their behalf) has changed into an “extroverted” way of expression. The sportspersons are expected to TALK to everyone, in large gatherings. [The word “extroverted” is used not as a way of “box-ing” up people as “introverts” and “extroverts” but, is used ONLY to describe the type of interaction that is referenced above.]

There are geniuses in so many different fields who have contributed immensely through their research, discoveries, & inventions but they are either shy or socially awkward or simply the silent type, who are not comfortable talking to people at all. Imagine including ‘talking to media’ & ‘attending public gatherings’ as a mandatory part of their job description!

Some of the brilliant video-game inventors, (ethical)hackers, coders are the type of people who don’t talk much. Imagine the state of development we would have been in!

Communication skills help everyone at different points in time, undoubtedly. But firstly, communication is not limited to verbal communication. Some people prefer to communicate through written communication channels.

Also, to be communicating the right message at the right time to the right people when it is actually important, in lieu of which, the outcome of a task/assignment/mission/project can get adversely impacted is one thing WHILST pressurizing people to verbally engage with a bunch of people without any effect on the outcome of the work (sport in Naomi Osaka’s context) is a completely different and a non-essential expectation.

Secondly, communication skills don’t belong to the same skill set as the skills needed to be the top-most player in any sport. A good player may be good at communication also but if not, he/she can get someone else to communicate on his/her behalf. The reverse is not possible. A person good at communicating may not at all be good at playing a sport, that too at world level AND he/she can’t get somebody else to play on his/her behalf.

It’s not that the sports authorities of any sport are not intelligent enough to realize this. They can very easily figure this out. So, the issue is not what it seems like.

The issue is about “controlling” the players! The issue is about not appearing redundant or unimportant when the whole limelight is on the players. The issue is about exercising power on the players and managing stakeholders or promoters like the media houses and making them happy.

There have been so many incidents of tournament officials or the sport controller body controlling and penalizing players for different reasons, which in many cases might have lacked consistency too in their decisions; Indian cricket team’s captain MS Dhoni’s wicket-keeping gloves related incident was one such incident.

Naomi Osaka decided to quit the tournament rather than bowing down to the pressure to carry out something other than her primary responsibility, which she didn’t feel comfortable with.

It’s also left to wonder whether it was necessary for her to give the mental health reason or she could have very well left it simply to her right to choose based on her comfort…

Not being comfortable speaking to people is NOT a mental disorder! It is not even a weakness, or a sign of incompetency.

It is just a personality trait.

The bottom line is – it does not need the label of “mental issues” to hide behind or to garner support from others; nor does it need any advice from others on how to be more sociable!!

Suparna Joshi

Suparna Rawat Joshi is a Seasoned IT Leader with over 20 years of experience working globally. She is passionate about India and often writes on topics of national or social relevance.

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