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Introvert Superpower #2: Listening
Discover the payoff of another introvert strength: exceptional listening.
When I once asked several hundred self-identified introverts what advantages they felt came with their personality, creativity was most often named. The second most often cited ability that they felt came from being introverted was the skill of listening.
In business, good listening definitely gives one an edge. This knack is rare enough to stand out and important enough to nudge someone to choose a practitioner with it over one without. In a 2009 survey by the training firm Rain Group, the most widely cited complaint about service providers like consultants or financial advisers was “didn’t listen to me.” Additionally, 55 percent of respondents said they’d be “much more likely” to hire someone who listened better.
Apart from business, a keen ability to listen makes it easier to avoid misunderstandings, resolve disagreements, show respect, build relationships on genuine appreciation, and gain a deeper perspective on other people and the world. Whether it’s with a friend, a relative or a stranger who is lost in your neighborhood, consider the difference when you just talking back superficially and when you respond after hearing the full emotional and factual message coming your way.
But in what ways does first-rate listening stem from an introverted personality? What is it about introverts’ habits, preferences and mindset that contributes to an outstanding ability to pay attention and absorb what someone else is really saying?
Five factors that promote introverts’ ability to listen
After reviewing the core characteristics of introverts, I would relate our listening ability to these factors:
1. Introverts process information more slowly than extroverts. Researchers attribute this to physical differences in the brain and a different mix of neurotransmitter hormones. Because incoming words take longer to be understood, introverts become accustomed to taking time to consider what the other person said before replying.
2. Introverts prefer to focus on one thing at a time. We multitask poorly. Whereas an extrovert might be simultaneously speaking with a friend, looking at their wall calendar and waving at someone passing by in the hallway, an introvert pays attention to the conversation – while resenting the extrovert’s apparent distraction. As long as our interior chatter isn’t too loud, we are listening better than the extrovert who is doing several things at once. We naturally stay on track, engaged, taking in the words of the person we are with.
3. Introverts dislike small talk. We value authentic exchanges of feelings and ideas much more than clever (or not so clever) chitchat. We spend less time at the water cooler and on the gossip circuit. Pointless exchanges of meaningless information feel draining for us. So when we choose to speak with people, we’re invested in the back and forth. We listen. Introverts reputedly hate networking events, but when I approached it as an opportunity to meet someone new and have an in-depth talk with an interesting person off to the side of the hubbub, I enjoyed it.
4. Introverts consider words carefully before speaking. If we have nothing to say, we say little or nothing, instinctively obeying the proverb “A still tongue makes for a wise head.” We’re not the chronic interrupters who finish other people’s sentences or talk over them. We’re more likely to leave a silent space in a conversation while we gather our thoughts. Apple CEO Tim Cook, an introvert, is famous for very long pauses before he tells what he thinks. Even without such conversational gaps, our slower, more measured pace of exchanging information is conducive to alert listening.
5. Introverts have an inner orientation. We generally care more about reflection, contemplation and exploring our own and others’ minds than about scoring social points or impressing other people. That means we’re less inclined toward showboating or playing top-dog games. When our main purpose is to communicate and understand, that requires listening as well as observing. Even as children, introverts listen and watch rather than compete to become the center of attention. Listening fits right in with that receptive, off-to-the-side tendency.
Ernest Hemingway once advised, “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” That’s why, when you do, it’s a superpower.