Friday, January 16, 2015

Beyond Silence: The Savvy Introvert's Guide to Listening at Work

No one ever listened him or herself out of a job

This paraphrased quote from Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States, reminded me that as introverts we frequently talk less so we're less likely to talk ourselves out of a job. There's comfort in that and it's one of an introvert's strengths. But there is the flip side to it as well. Do we really listen or is it just that we're not talking? Most of the time we're processing what is being said but, since we're human, that may not always be true. Quiet isn't the same as really listening to someone. If we're just silent, but not genuinely listening, we're missing the point of the quote. 

To do well professionally, listening is important. For all kinds of reasons. Listening provides valuable information: about things that are important to getting your work done, like facts, and also about people. People are important to getting your work done in most professions. If you don't listen, you miss out. The importance of people shows up not only with clients but in that ubiquitous essential: your "network". I recommend reciprocity principles to build a strong network as an introvert: give and you will receive. This builds on your introvert strengths. It's simple and it works but it relies on listening! We can't know what to give to help someone out if we don't know what he/she needs or wants.   

How do you, an introvert, listen? I suggest three ways to get started and then you can embellish from there.   

1. Care - To listen to someone at work, you first have to care about them as a colleague or associate. It's that simple. You don't have to love them, or even like them necessarily, but you have to believe that they matter. Their ideas matter, their intentions matter, their efforts matter. This may sound easier than it is sometimes. It can take effort to care. But it also is an essential quality of a true professional.

2. Respect - To listen to someone at work, you have to respect what they have to say. You don't have to agree but you have to respect enough to be silent and take it all in and to think about its meaning. Again, not always simple but fundamental to listening.

3. Feedback - Finally, to listen to someone at work, you have to let them know that you care, respect, and are hearing what they are communicating. You do this with your eyes, your nods, your body stance that leans in or away or crosses legs or keeps arms open; with no side glances to check your text messages. You also do it verbally: from "Mmhmm" to "I see what you mean".  You do it by engaging and asking questions to better understand what they are saying. And you do it by telling them when you like their ideas and by encouraging them to expand their ideas. 

So go ahead, listen away, and be assured of some job security that builds on your savvy introversion.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Getting Along with Others as an Introvert: What's Your Story?

Ever get tired of being misjudged?  In my book, I tell of Jeannie, a woman who vehemently argues that all introverts are passive-aggressive. Huh?  It doesn't compute with me because I know better. I know what introversion as a personality type is and see through her stereotype.

However, because introversion is much maligned in this way by some who wish that we were all gregarious, sometimes it's natural to feel as if we're outcasts. Feel outcast long enough though and it can become your "story". In my book, I called this the "dark side of introversion".  It's when we come to define ourselves as an introvert. (Todd Kashdan, PhD also explained his view on this recently.) As if it's not enough for others to stereotype us, we begin to do a similar sort of categorization of ourselves that leads to a blurring of our uniqueness and cuts off our flexibility.  Mind you, this is different than merely acknowledging (and appreciating) our difference from extroverts; instead it morphs into a constraining label. It is "our story". 

In fact, in situations that are very comfortable for them, introverts can be indistinguishable from extroverts. So, what of your story, then? One of the fundamental premises of my program for leveraging an introvert's professional capabilities is becoming more comfortable with your introversion. Owning it. Because with that comes confidence and learning how to get along with others as an introvert rather than a fake. The goal is finding the ability to make a professional situation work better for yourself as an introvert. If we're at home with who we are, we take away their power to make us outcast.

But there is a fine line between owning it and becoming it.

Once we become our stories, we cut off growth. We short circuit flexibility. We forget that we're human first and introvert second. In the workplace, this can't lead anywhere good.

WHAT'S NEW :  Two companion workbooks are now available: The Introverted Professional's Field Guide to Leveraging Quiet Competence, Volumes 1 and 2.  These take the program from The Introvert's Guide to Professional Success and provide a series of self-administered exercises and reflections to bring the concepts to life in your own career. The Field Guides expand and update many of the exercises introduced in the original book and bring in new ones.