Introverts are often stereotyped as quiet, reserved individuals who are excellent listeners. While this may be true for some introverts some of the time, not all introverts are great listeners.
I am indeed an introvert and can come across as a good listener, as I may not say a lot or be economical with my words when I do. But I have had to work on improving my listening, because while I may look like I’m listening, I may:
- be thinking about what to say next
- be finding solutions to the problems that others are sharing
- be worried about how I’m going to say what I’m about to say
- be anxious about what others might think of me or if I said something they disagree with
- be lost in my own thoughts about whatever is being discussed or something else entirely!
While Quietly Powerful Leaders I interviewed shared with me that listening was a critical leadership strength for them, some did tell me that they had to work on it, like I did.
Introversion and listening skills are not necessarily correlated. Here are 5 reasons why not all introverts are great listeners all the time:
- Too absorbed in their own thoughts. While introverts are often characterised as being more introspective and thoughtful than extroverts, these qualities do not necessarily translate into strong listening if they are too focused on their own thoughts and internal dialogue. While introverts may appear to be quiet and attentive, they may actually be lost in their own thoughts and not fully present in the conversation. Or, they may be overly attached to their own ideas. This can result in them missing important details or failing to fully understand the other person’s perspective. In this sense, introversion can actually be a hindrance to effective listening.
- Social discomfort. While introverts may enjoy quiet and solitude, they still need social interaction and connection. However, social situations can be stressful and overwhelming for some introverts, particularly in larger, noisier groups, which can make it difficult for them to fully engage in conversations. This can lead to them withdrawing, appearing distant or uninterested in what others are saying.
- Pressure to perform. Some introverts may feel the pressure perform as they have been told to speak up more or believe they need to. This pressure is amplified when introverts are worried that they may be put on the spot. It causes stress, increases cortisol, the stress hormones in the body, which reduces the capacity to use the thinking part of our brain. The mind is more focused on worrying about what to say next and gets in the way of being present and attentive to what is happening.
- Preference for deeper conversations. Introverts tend to enjoy discussions that are focused on ideas and concepts, rather than small talk or superficial topics. As a result, they may tune out in conversations that they do not find engaging or intellectually stimulating. This can result in them being perceived as disinterested or aloof, even though they are great listeners in another context.
- Missing skills. While introverts may be more inclined to listen than extroverts, this does not mean that they automatically possess excellent listening skills. Being a good listener requires active engagement and an openness to receiving what others are saying. These skills are developed and are not unique to introverts, as extroverts can also possess them. In order to be a good listener, we need to actively engage in the conversation, ask questions, be curious, show genuine interest in what the other person is saying, and be open to different perspectives, especially when we disagree with someone.
- Being a good listener requires skill, courage and awareness and is a skill that needs to be developed and practiced, regardless of whether you are an introvert, an extrovert or anywhere in between.
If you are an introvert, though, you are doing yourself a disservice by not developing and excelling in this quiet superpower of listening.
Being quieter can be an advantage as you create space for others to speak, are less likely to interrupt and more likely to think about what people have shared. But if you’re not listening well because you are not fully present, you’re wasting this advantage. This is why I work with quiet professionals to grow their inner strength and presence to become Quietly Powerful, not just be quiet.
When you develop yourself on the inside to be more aware and manage your thinking and emotional state, when you are more comfortable within yourself, you can be fully present and be an excellent listener. Only then can you use your quiet nature as your leadership strength.
As an introvert, are you aware of times when you are not present enough to listen well? Do you know how to manage your mental and emotional states to become a great listener?