On the introvert–extrovert spectrum, one trait many extroverts share is the ability to carry on conversation effortlessly. These people like to make small talk and can move quickly between topics, all the while being stimulated by the experience. Introverts tend to be more measured, spend more time listening, and need pauses in the conversation to properly compose their thoughts.
If you’re an introvert, chances are that you relate to some of these characteristics, and they might make you anxious sometimes.
But as a leader, a big part of your job is having conversations with people. In doing so, you want to make the most of your strengths and weaknesses to help your team do their best work.
Here are some things to keep in mind, as well as a takeaway for each that you can implement today.
Listening is your greatest strength
If you’re inclined to listen more than you talk, you’re already well on your way to mastering a crucial skill.
Listening is essential not just for figuring out what’s going on in your team but also for helping your people feel valued and engaged. When an employee knows that you will listen to them, their trust and loyalty increases.
You may think that spending so little time talking makes you appear weak, unintelligent, or passive. But others will rarely perceive you that way. Their experience with you indicates that you understand people and issues deeply. When you do speak, your words are insightful and well thought out.
In a large meeting, try to observe which people talk a lot and which are more reserved. Make note of the thoughts you have about the competence or effectiveness of those different people. What makes the difference between those you subconsciously perceive positively and those you perceive negatively?
Pauses in conversation are good for both parties
Some people think better by talking through a subject out loud. For example, they may explore a possible solution to a problem by verbally discussing its implications, only to discover halfway through that it is fatally flawed. Then they back up and explore another option, all aloud. Or they might get in an argument with someone and work through the emotions verbally, only to realize at the end of the conversation that they said some things they didn’t really mean.
Others think better by having silence, processing their thoughts before expressing them. This person might mentally explore the first solution to the problem quickly and determine its invalidity before even bringing it up in conversation. Or they might respond to an emotional argument by closing off and processing their feelings later, only to realize that they should have said certain things during the discussion when they chose to be quiet.
Both ways have benefits and drawbacks, but one things becomes clear: Allowing each other time to think during a conversation is good for everyone.
So you don’t need to feel awkward about the silence between when you finish listening to someone and when you begin your response, because while you are taking the time you need to compose your thoughts, you’re also giving the other person a chance to compose theirs.
If you notice an awkward pause in a conversation, lean into it. What makes it awkward for you? Does the other person seem to feel awkward as well? Rather than trying to fill the silence with words, can you encourage deep thought?
Ask good questions
Your listening superpowers predispose you to be great at asking insightful questions.
These two things combined are an essential building block for empathy and will go a long way toward helping you understand and trust your employees.
We’ll expand on this in a future post, but for now, here are some attributes of good questions to get you started. From Uncommon in Common, great questions
- Are specific,
- Are unusual,
- Don’t make a point, and
- Show that you were listening last time.
Next time you need to ask a question, see if you can phrase it so that it meets at least one or two of these criteria. Does the other person respond differently to your question when expressed this way?
Be mindful of your body language
You probably already spend a lot of time thinking about how you phrase things, which words you use, and how your tone of voice changes the implications of your presentation. In addition to that, spend some time monitoring and evaluating the way your posture and expressions modify your message, because body language can often be just as important as the words themselves.
If you want to be an effective communicator as a leader, realize that your body language during a conversation is not so much about how you want to hold yourself as it is about how you want to other person to perceive you.
You may find it comfortable to slouch in your chair or cross your arms, and you may not think that it matters as long as the content of the exchange is good. But body language sends subtle signals to the other person that imply your demeanor and attitude.
One way to start is by thinking about your eye contact. Michaela Chung writes that “introverts tend to make a lot of eye contact while listening.” But, she continues, “many introverts are prone to breaking eye contact when they speak. We do this in order to formulate our thoughts. To have a greater impact, try to make eye contact every few seconds as you talk.”
Ask for feedback
Occasionally, it can be useful to ask others what you are doing well or poorly in your communication with them. If you ask for feedback, do it in a way that gives them permission to be critical. As Claire Lew puts it,
Point out your own potential flaw, instead of waiting for your employee to point it out. Offer a critique of your own actions, instead [of] waiting to see if it’s something your employee brings up.
The more you go first and share what you think can be better, the more room you’ll give your employee to give you an honest response about what they think could be better.
When asking for feedback about your communication patterns, you might ask questions like this:
- “Sometimes I offer advice before I really understand the problem. Do you feel like I got a good understanding of your situation, or did I jump to conclusions?”
- “I’m trying to get better at having an open posture during conversations so my body language doesn’t contradict my words. What could I do to improve that?”
- “When I get excited about an idea, I tend to talk faster and not leave processing time after asking questions. Did I give you enough silence to think about my question before expecting an answer?”
Next time you have a difficult conversation (discipline, bad news, interpersonal conflict), try asking for feedback on your delivery.