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.

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