The Listening Challenge: How Introverts keep a conversation

The listening challenge - solving it the introvert way
Photo by Meghan Schiereck on Unsplash

As an introvert, I always feel that the people around me are not listening to what I’m saying. I may even feel left out of a conversation. In contrast, it seems that people hear the assertive and charismatic personalities more frequently. The result is that I often feel that extroverts get much more attention when speaking than introverts. I do believe that these perceptions are all part of the listening challenge the world faces. This blog intends to address these listening challenges from an introvert’s perspective.

The common listening challenge experienced by introverts

Most people will tell you that their driving skills are above average. Analogous to this, I’m from the idea that most listeners believe that their listening skills are above average. The fact is, most people do have a listening challenge. Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman found in a study that only the top 5% of managers to be efficient at listening.

Jumping to conclusions

One of my pet hates when speaking is listeners that jump in with a solution even before I finished speaking. Jumping to conclusions by making assumptions is a tremendous listening challenge that can kill a conversation right there.

Everlasting silence

I don’t particularly appreciate talking to people that stare at you in silence the whole time. Many people believe that listening in silence is the leading quality of an excellent listener. In many instances, the opposite is may be right. To me, it seems that the listener lost interest in what I’m saying if I don’t get frequent responses.

The negative listener

Then you get those listeners that attack every word you are saying. There is no uplifting interaction, only negativity and criticism. These kinds of listeners early on decide that the speaker won’t say anything meaningful. Avoid them; they won’t add any value to the conversation.

The competitive listener

Similarly, you get competitive listeners, the ones that love a good debate. They become so involved in debating that they stop listening. You may even find a bit of egoism with the listener. In many cases, they will continuously try to stamp their opinion on the conversation. For them, the conversation is a competition

Technology interruptions

Last but not least, technology is a significant listening challenge today. I can go so far as to say that technology kills conversations. How often do you experience people fiddling on their cell phones, tablets or computers in a meeting?

In brief, for many, the idea of a well-structured conversation can be scary. It requires dedication, commitment and emotions behind the engagement. But above all, it needs you to be open to new ideas.

Introverts tend to listen to others, more often

It seems that introverts are less challenged with active listening because they think things through before voicing their opinion. This trait may have something to do with introverts preferring a calm and minimally stimulating environment. Equally important, introverts get stimulated when thinking and analysing a subject in their heads rather than discussing it.

The most common listening challenge for introverts is small talk. They find conversation for the sake of a discussion worthless and can be a conversation killer.

The benefits of addressing your listening challenge

Overcoming your listening challenges do have clear advantages. We perceive people that listen well as great leaders, generating more trust, instil higher job satisfaction, and increase creativity. In an article published on inc.com, the author mentioned the following five benefits of overcoming your listening challenges:

  1. Mutual Trust: This benefit I’ve experienced multiple times. When listening well, people tend to open up more. 
  2. Productivity: We tend to solve problems much faster in efficient two-way communication.  
  3. Cooler Heads Prevail: I frequently notice that good listeners are less egocentric. Again, this will lead to mutual trust.
  4. Boost Confidence: Hand-in-hand with above, great listeners tend to have a better self-image.
  5. Fewer Mistakes: How often do assumptions lead to mistakes? Good listening practices avoid miscommunication.

Practical tips to improve your listening challenge

Here are some of my tips to improve your listening challenges:

  1. Create a safe environment: If one of the parties in the conversation feels a lack of trust, the discussion will go south.
  2. Eliminate Distractions: Put away possible gadgets of technology distractions, like phones and computers.
  3. Understand the issues: Don’t assume that you understand all the problems on the table; keep asking well-formulated clarifying questions.
  4. Listen with your eyes: Be attentive towards non-verbal cue. Look for the universal body language.
  5. Acknowledge emotions. This action may be challenging for an introvert but try to show empathy during the conversation.
  6. Ask clarifying questions: Formulating the right questions is not easy, but there are some great guidelines.

The challenge with listening is that it requires focus, commitment, purpose and emotion. Entering the speaker’s perspective without making a judgement can be very scary for many people. It may expose you to feelings and ideas that you would instead want to avoid, or even worse, not hear from the speaker’s mouth.