The difference between hearing and listening is profound. Several comments from readers about Monday’s blog, “Introverts And The Corner Office,” support the results of research into key differences in how introverts and extroverts listen and participate in workplace discussions.
Reacting Is Not Listening
When extroverts hear others talk or present in a business meeting, their brains are more likely to ramp up and make assumptions, quickly form opinions or questions, and pontificate before they pause to listen and observe participants’ vocal tone and body language. In addition, they may be unaware of the larger context of the discussion or the power dynamics in play.
In workplace meetings when political, personal or business stakes are high, this reveals itself when people talk over each other, carry on private conversations, or repeatedly interrupt others. Worse, situations can escalate into snide passive aggressive comments (or its companion behavior, disengaging with smart phone, tablet or laptop use), or heated arguments. I have witnessed fallout after these episodes that stalled or even ended careers.
The ability to listen rather than react comes down to impulse control (also called “attention” in psychology literature). Extroverts, such as myself, must take the time and make the effort to train our minds to be quiet to create a state of mind open to new information. It is tough, but worth the rewards.
The Power Of Listening
Introverts are more likely to be powerful listeners. Deep listening means you notice changes in vocal tone, body language and energy, as well as what is not being said. Instead of assumptions, you ask exploratory questions. Instead of comparing your perceptions of the current situation to past experience, you seek clarity with questions such as:
- “What I hear you saying is…”
- “Tell me more about…”
- “What do you think can be done to improve our situation?”
These responses encourage additional exploration of the issues at hand and encourage problem solving rather than appearing to judge, be overly critical or uninformed. These questions allow others to feel heard and understood, which creates trust and builds powerful relationships. It also shows you to be a thoughtful, intelligent person who asks good questions and makes informed decisions.
However, for many introverts, saying anything in a business meeting can be nerve-wracking. My challenge to introverts is to listen, observe and ask at least one question or make one comment in every meeting. This will elevate your profile and build confidence, as well as build a helpful habit for your career.
Gregory Alford, MS. Psy., is founder of Accelerated Coaching & Consulting, LLC., and specializes in business, leadership and life coaching.