As an introvert, I value my tendency to reflect and think deeply and to crave substantial connections. I love to listen. In fact, part of my decision to become a psychotherapist was based on my affinity for listening and understanding rather than talking. However, no matter how much more comfortable it might feel as an introvert to listen, it is necessary on occasion to be able to talk, and to talk with some authority, feeling able to voice your opinion when you need to. Over time it can become frustrating and depleting for introverts if we find that we’re not able to express ourselves much at all – or that when we do, no-one is listening!
When it comes to friends and partners, you can choose who you spend time with and can navigate those relationships in your own time and in your own way. But when it comes to relationships that we can’t choose, such as colleagues or family members, trying to be heard amongst loud groups or people who are extroverts can be exhausting.
It’s vital not to try to override your introvert qualities for the sake of being heard, but being introverted rarely sets us up to ‘shout the loudest’. So, being an introvert but wanting to be heard can sometimes feel impossible. An introvert needs to have time to consider, reflect and prepare first means that by the time we’re ready to contribute a well thought-out comment your extrovert colleague has probably made their point and moved the conversation on to a different topic!
Here are some tips, from one introvert to another, on how to be heard and find your voice in group settings and around extroverts.
Pick your battles – learn how to interrupt
Interrupting is difficult for introverts. As an introverted psychotherapist, I’ve struggled for years to get comfortable with interrupting people at salient moments to add in something of benefit. I’m still not comfortable with it overall, however. Interrupting goes against the grain for introverts but sometimes it’s necessary to interrupt in order to be heard. Other times, however, it’s simply not worth it. Well-timed interruption, or intelligent interrupting, is a skill that can be learnt and is a skill that is sometimes vital if you want to get in a word in with some more extrovert or chatty counterparts.
I’m not suggesting that interrupting is always the way to go, but if you don’t find a way to do it from time to time it’s likely that you’ll be railroaded in most conversations. I know we introverts prefer to listen but sometimes we need to communicate some of our thoughts so that we don’t feel perpetually overlooked or excluded, and so that an alternative perspective is offered. Interrupt when you either really want to contribute something or when you’re starting to feel downtrodden or used as a sounding board.
If there’s no natural pause just start talking…as I write that it goes against everything I know and treasure about relationships. It seems unbelievably rude to just start talking over someone, however, I’ve come to realise that the reason I find it such an awful concept is because I would hate for someone to interrupt me harshly. However, people have different levels of sensitivity and not everyone will be as offended by being interrupted as you might assume. I’ve found that extroverts or very talkative people often don’t actually mind being interrupted (this was quite a revelation for me following years of withholding information for fear of being rude!). Test the waters a bit for yourself. Now and then interrupt someone when they’re not leaving a gap for you to talk and observe their response.
Work with your introvert strengths
Generally as introverts we tend to find giving instant responses in conversation challenging. Contributing to conversations off the cuff isn’t usually easy because it doesn’t allow any time for the reflection and thought that we crave. As Susan Cain writes about introverts, “They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation.”
Marti Olsen Laney has written about the reason introverts take longer to respond saying that “it’s because they have a longer neural pathway for processing stimuli because introverts process information through a pathway associated with long term memory and planning, so it’s more complicated (and takes longer) for introverts to process events interactions and their surroundings.” This longer processing can slow down input into conversations. Quick responses and starting up new topics of conversation might not be your strong suit but you will probably find that you’re naturally curious and have questions during most interactions. The tendency for introverts to ask why and to want to understand is one of our most valuable social assets.
If contributing new information or telling a story doesn’t feel natural (and it almost never does!) then work with your strengths and ask questions instead. It’s a good way to contribute and become part of group discussions in a way that’s less jarring than trying to match our extrovert counterparts. Asking questions gets you heard in a more subtle way than trying to interject with a captivating story or by speaking the loudest. It can help you to influence the direction of your conversations whilst playing to your strengths.
Another introvert strength is that we often find solace in writing. Depending on the circumstances a well-timed and thought through email can be more beneficial that a face to face conversation. Although emails or texts can’t replace face to face interactions, there is definitely a time and a place to get your message across by writing it versus not communicating your point at all.
It’s often the case that extroverts seem to make quick gains in situations that require social interaction; in the workplace, when socialising and at family functions. Introvert qualities, however, like listening, reflecting, considering and thinking deeply all contribute to playing the long game instead. It will probably be hard to always be heard sometimes, but your actions and the way you might naturally execute your plans will allow you to be seen fully at some point rather than just heard instantly. Be patient as the introvert route is likely to take longer. As Sophia Dembling writes “Extroverts sparkle—introverts glow”.
Strength isn’t always found in numbers
It’s likely that you naturally form bonds one on one with people rather than in groups. If groups aren’t your thing then don’t expect yourself to have a loud voice in a group. If, however, you find it frustrating because decisions are made without you in group settings, try to connect with group ‘influencers’ instead. You can be the voice in the ear of someone who is happy to ‘shout the loudest’ and spread the word. If commanding authority in a group is likely to take you hours to build up to and a few days to recover from then buddying up with someone who naturally likes get their point across can be a less draining way of getting your point out into the group ether!
Featured photo credit: Ben White via unsplash.com