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Listen to the Quiet People

There’s a recent meme that goes something like this: “People always tell introverts to be more talkative and leave their comfort zones, yet no one tells extroverts to be quiet and make the zone more comfortable.”

There are many articles giving advice on how introverts can be more extroverted, and how quiet people can claim more space by being louder. But what about flipping that? What can we learn from quiet people?

As part of our commitment to constant learning and talent development, Volaris Group works to highlight fresh best practices, management strategies, or new ways of thinking. Our people managers focus on creating a unique development plan for each individual that builds on their strengths and identifies ways the organization can help them thrive. Decades of experience has taught us that making space for diverse voices results in increased collaboration and improved outcomes.

While introversion/extroversion is a binary, in reality people fall in a range on that trait. To refresh, people who tend to introversion recharge by being alone and they think to talk; people who tend to extroversion recharge in groups and they talk to think.

The expression of introverted/extroverted behaviours can be situational. The composition of a group, socio-economic dynamics, and professional/personal experience may determine how often we are quiet. And for some, being quiet is a choice - you can be more outspoken in specific scenarios or more withdrawn in others.

Listening and insights on people

When you are quiet, you can listen, and when you listen, you learn. As personal development writer Tim Denning recounts:

When I was working a job and was way out of my depth looking after a billion-dollar Silicon Valley tech company, I listened my way to [proficiency]. By sitting in meeting after meeting and saying nothing, I learned what the customer did and how my employer’s business worked. Nobody in those meetings ever found out that I had no idea.

Quiet people hear things others don’t. Because they aren’t constantly thinking about what they are going to say next, they are more likely to catch the nuances of different perspectives.

People who tend to introversion also tend have a better understanding of people. Potentially this is because they spend more time observing others (and listening), but also because they may be more introspective themselves, with fewer motivational biases.

This can be a highly effective leadership skill. Introverts tend to be better in a crisis because they can use their insights to defuse potential conflicts. Additionally, introverted leaders are beneficial where team members are proactive. They are more likely to embrace humble leadership and coaching leadership styles – getting out of the way for their team members to perform well but providing support and insight when they need it. Research seems to show that they are more comfortable listening and carefully considering suggestions from their team.

Introverted leaders shine in one-on-one meetings with their team members. They can bring their people insight and tendency to prep work to the table without dominating the conversations.

As best-selling author Jim Collins said, “We don’t need giant personalities to transform companies. We need leaders who build not their own egos, but the institutions they run.”

Two other areas where insights on people and good listening skills are powerful? Sales and negotiations. Introverted salespeople can channel their deep ability to listen into customer awareness and thoughtful communications that are organically customer centric. In negotiations, they will have a grasp of detail, are good at anticipating points of disagreement. They tend to focus on being excellent at their craft instead of networking, and that will shine through in their dealings with customers.

Written communications

Because people who tend to introversion think to talk, they are often good at written communications. This is a skill that is visible and much appreciated. Quiet people can give great advice on how to message critical information and important announcements. They will likely have a good handle on the non-obvious concerns and questions that should be anticipated.

They can be instrumental in a big project or in big group decision-making because they will be taking notes and organizing thoughts in writing for themselves – content that can be extremely useful to others to keep things on track. With one caveat: they are asked nicely, and they get recognition for how valuable this type of contribution is from those people who aren’t good at taking notes.

Making better decisions

Research shows that in mixed gender groups, women talk less, and they receive more negative interruptions (which can result in them being perceived as having less authority and being less influential). Over time, there’s less incentive to contribute at all. Ethnic or cultural minorities experience similar challenges in group settings. Sometimes, people are quiet because it’s too much work to be otherwise.

And introversion/extroversion follows the same pattern. The introverts in the room end up in a negative and noisy feedback loop that makes it difficult for them to participate.

When majority decisions go with the loudest opinions, and they usually do, they may not be based on the best information. Quiet people absorb a lot and synthesize what they learn, but they often don’t get the chance to share what they know. Group dynamics are stressful to them, so their natural reaction is to not say anything at all.

And if your response is “Well, speak up then!”, you’re missing the point.

Making room for quiet people

1. Individual work

Group research cited by Harvard Business Review and other sources suggests pre-work on meetings helps. People are asked to review the agenda or problems ahead of time and write up their thoughts and comments. This practice gives everyone a chance to participate and makes thoughtful consideration a key step in big decisions.

People who tend to extroversion might not like this approach, but they will take over the meeting anyway. The Amazon six-page memo meeting method — where participants spend the first half of a meeting reading an in-depth plan before using the second half to question the writer’s tactics and see if data supports their assumptions — provides opportunities for both styles of communication, but allows introverts ample time to prepare in advance.

Time to prepare yields positive results for brainstorming, too. Research has shown that individuals are likely to generate a higher number of ideas if they don’t interact with others, especially if there’s no opportunity to write down ideas ahead of time.

Free-for-all verbal brainstorming is less successful for several reasons:

  • Social loafing (less motivation to do contribute when we know others will)
  • Social anxiety (afraid of being judged incompetent)
  • Regression to the mean (competence of the groups falls to the mediocre level)
  • Production blocking (only so many ideas can be heard)

The impacts are greater for quiet people. Making room for individual contributions ahead of a decision and actively facilitating discussion so that different people get a chance to speak can uncover deeper insights.

2. Take turns

Cultivate meeting norms where everyone has a turn to speak without interruption while being respectful of other people’s time (i.e., not the time for long speeches). Trying for “one voice at a time” can provide a safer space for all contributors. In “passionate” discussion, this is hard. It’s something that people have to work on, and it will likely feel uncomfortable at first, for some more than others.

If you’re one of the quiet people, you have to get used to taking your turn. It may work better for you to go near the end, so you have time to prepare your thoughts and synthesize what you have heard from others (since you are likely good at that). However, if there has been prep work for a meeting, going first gives you a chance to set the starting point of the conversation, which you might not get to do very often.

3. Make the most of one-on-one interactions

One-to-one meetings are great for people who tend to introversion. To build your career, and to get on a management track, you need to build trust. If group meetings aren’t in your usual comfort zone, you can build trust and demonstrate good judgement in one-on-one situations. In a post about becoming a leader as an introvert, Parea CEO Amy Snook quoted words of wisdom from her coach: “There is no trust without voice.” Quiet people need places to share their insights and walk people through their thought processes – to share their voice.

About the Author

As VP, Corporate Knowledge at Volaris Group, Sherry works closely with all of our organizations to capture & share best practices through peer programs, special sessions, portals, and communities. She also oversees Volaris Group platforms, technologies, and strategies that support our collaborative culture.

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