5 Tips for Introverts on Tackling Difficult Conversations

Do tentative conversation skills get in the way of your work? Does lack of confidence stop you from offering a different opinion, saying no, or asking for what you want? In difficult conversations, does an introverted style keep you from sharing your thoughts in a timely manner?

As a conflict coach and introvert who engages in difficult conversations, I know we’re not born with these skills. Some may have an easier time of it, yes, and even they had to learn and practice.

In “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking,” Susan Cain debunks widely held

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myths about introverts (we’re shy, unfriendly hermits) and examines qualities like reflective thinking and empathetic listening that introverts possess naturally and that are significant conversational competencies.

So why not use your natural abilities and have the conversations you want to have with ease and true connection?

1) Reflect

It helps to think before speaking. Take the time to reflect on your purpose for the conversation. Ask yourself what you want for each person and for the relationship, and keep that in mind during the conversation. Practice in advance with a friend, and take plenty of quiet time for yourself before and after.

2) Ask questions

Try to ask questions that create an opportunity for the other person to share what’s important to them. How would they solve this if they had free reign? What’s the most important outcome for them? Where are their primary concerns?

There is an art to asking honest, open questions. They often begin with: When, Where, How, or What. Notice if there are assumptions embedded in your questions. For example, “What are your thoughts about moving in this direction?” gives the person more leeway than: “Why don’t you want to do this?”

The more you inquire about your conversation partner’s point of view, the more you’ll learn where you have common interests and what a solution might look like.

3) Listen and Acknowledge

Let others speak more than you. As an introvert, you will probably find this to be fairly easy. Just ask a question and listen. It’s likely the other person wants to talk much more than you do anyway, so it’s a great fit.

Let the other person know you heard them. You could repeat a word or two from the previous sentence, or ask another question: For example, “Can you say more about that?” Or, “It sounds like you’ve given this a lot of thought.”

4) Educate

When you sense your partner is willing to hear from you, think in terms of educating them. Imagine you’re living on different planets. They’ve shown you their landscape. It’s tempting to think they should know yours (it’s so clear to you, after all), but don’t assume. Take the time to explain. For example: “I hear that you think I’m critical at staff meetings, and I can see how it might appear that way. My goal in surfacing potential obstacles is to make sure we create the best product in the most efficient way.”

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5) Visualize

In your mind’s eye, imagine the conversation going well. Play out various scenarios in which, regardless of what happens, you remain confident, calm, and curious. Curiosity is a great ally, and the art of visualization a powerful tool. You are pre-programming your mind for the attributes you want to embody. Over time and with practice, you will become the person you wish to seem.

These tips build on natural traits of the introvert. Use them to be the best conversationalist you can be.

Written by

Judy Ringer is the author of Turn Enemies Into Allies: The Art of Peace in the Workplace and Unlikely Teachers: Finding the Hidden Gifts in Daily Conflict.

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