You’ve done it again! You desperately clamp your hand over your mouth, wishing you could scoop the words back in as if you’d never uttered them in the first place.
It’s not that you’ve said something offensive. You haven’t insulted your entire team. It’s just that you’re taking over everyone else…again. You’re dominating the conversation…again.
It’s a problem so many extroverts — myself included (on occasion) — can relate to.
You see, we’re bursting with ideas (as are many introverts, of course) and we just can’t wait to share them. Even as you’re still mid-sentence, our opinions and ideas have begun to form a disorderly line inside our heads and they refuse to wait their turn.
So we blurt them out; for us it feels like an essential part of the thinking process. Getting the words out there gives our ideas the room they need to crystallize and develop.
Which would be fine (although a little loud) if the world was made up solely of other extroverts. But it isn’t. For every extrovert in your team, there’s at least one introvert. One introvert, who, unlike you, prefers a calmer, more considered approach to communication.
Extroverts talk to think; introverts think to talk.
Introverts too have a ton of amazing ideas and opinions they want to share, it’s just that they require a little more processing time. Their ideas and opinions are forming an orderly line. The typical introvert will listen intently, mull things over and then share the goods. By which point the extrovert has already steamrolled the entire conversation leaving the introvert reeling and wishing they’d stayed at home!
As a recovering extrovert, I can say this with a degree of confidence because I’ve been behind the wheel of that particular steamroller many times. There have been so many conversations that I’ve interrupted in my excitement to get my seed of an idea out into the room.
You’ll note though, that I call myself a “recovering” extrovert…this tendency of mine to talk over people, to share prematurely is something I’ve been working on.
Duct tape: the secret weapon for any communicator.
I once had the pleasure of listening to a wise politician speak; when talking about communication, she had two key pieces of advice.
The first was that duct tape was the most important tool on the campaign trail. She knew that her primary role as a candidate was to listen. It didn’t matter how many ideas she had jostling for attention in her brain, crying to get out. First and foremost, she was there to listen and you can’t do that if you’re busy talking.
And what better way to ensure your mouth stays shut than to cover it with duct tape (not literally but figuratively)? A bit extreme, perhaps, but it would certainly do the job!
The second piece of advice you may have heard many times but it’s worth repeating: you have one mouth, but two ears — try to use them proportionately. As an extrovert, this simple equation is your key to effective communication.
That day I didn’t need duct tape to encourage me to listen — I was all ears! As she delivered her “listen more, talk less” philosophy, I couldn’t help but feel she was talking directly to me. As an extrovert working in the realms of communication and leadership development, it was advice that I needed to hear.
Leaders: know when to talk…and when to shut up.
In the for-profit and nonprofit worlds, skilled facilitators and strategic communicators must learn to be both extroverts and introverts. Taking position at the front of the room, whether conducting a training session or facilitating a stakeholder open house, you have to let the extrovert side of you shine through. That’s your stage — don’t be afraid to own it!
In a one-to-one setting, however, I guarantee that if you manage to subdue your extrovert tendencies and let your inner introvert come to the fore, you — and the person you’re communicating with — will both benefit.
“It’s not that easy,” I hear you cry. And indeed it isn’t. The desire to talk as soon as an idea forms is strong. Believe me when I say that I feel your pain! But knowing when to stay silent, knowing when to listen and process, and knowing when to let others take centre stage in the conversation, is essential to building positive relationships.
So how do you learn to curb your not-so-inner extrovert?
1. When you’re talking, you’re not listening.
Sure, that’s a no-brainer but it’s also something we tend to forget mid-conversation. We think that because we’re getting a lot from the conversation that it’s a productive communication for all involved. It’s worth reminding yourself of the purpose of the meeting, your role in it and whether you’re allowing everyone a chance to share — including those who need a little more processing time than you do.
2. Exercise W.A.I.T.
I love this one. W.A.I.T stands for “why am I talking?” If you think you’re beginning to dominate the meeting, ask yourself the question. If you can’t come up with a compelling reason, stop! Remind yourself of the “one mouth, two ears” mantra.
3. Be present.
Are you truly present during all communication? I get it, you have huge demands on your time and sometimes it seems like multi-tasking is the only way you’ll get everything done. But here’s the thing: listening is not something you can do while multitasking. Just as it’s impossible to listen when you’re talking, it’s impossible to listen while you’re trying to write a sneaky email during a meeting.
As a leader, your extrovert tendencies will get you far. It’s imperative that you know how to share your ideas, inspire your team and be a strong presence in all communication. Yet you may be pleasantly surprised at what you can learn if you can get into the habit of knowing when to stand back, and what others can teach you if you take the time to talk less and listen more.
And hey, if you’re really struggling, there’s always duct tape!
Do you need some help working on your communication style? Let me know and I’ll figure out a way to help. (Duct tape, optional!)