I saw this bumper sticker on Zazzle a few weeks ago, and it caught my eye because it mentions one of our traits that many people don’t know about. Many of us take a bit longer to think before we speak than extroverts do. Oh we can come up with words just fine when we’re writing or typing, but although we might be able to visualize exactly what is on our minds, we have a tiny delay while the correct words make it all the way to our mouths. Some of this is that we want to think our answer through before we speak, of course, but there’s sometimes also a definite word-retrieval delay too.
In one section of her book The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World, Dr. Marti Olsen Laney talks about studies on the differences in introverts’ and extroverts’ brains, including what pathways in the brain have the most blood flow in introverts vs. extroverts and what neurotransmitters are used in the dominant pathway of each type’s brain. She mentions that we often do have trouble with word retrieval when speaking, because apparently we introverts are reaching into long-term memory for the words we want. And the reason we may have trouble with verbalizing our thoughts but not with writing or typing is that we are calling upon different parts of the brain for those activities. Well, so much for saying that someone should just snap out of being an introvert! This book is copyright 2002, so I will keep an eye out for any newer research that can shed even more light on differences between introverts and extroverts.
In my own speaking, I’ve noticed that I converse in a rhythm that’s just as fast as everyone else’s when I’m talking to my friends and family about everyday things. I guess that’s because the thoughts are probably not too complex, plus I am totally relaxed with them. But add even a tiny bit of nervousness with unfamiliar people, and I may start to feel more like I’m floundering for the words I want. My sister has noticed that sometimes she’ll ask her husband something that requires thought and he will be totally silent until his complete answer finally comes to his lips. 🙂 I haven’t tried just waiting, like that myself, …..buffering….. but instead I’ll usually get started with as many words as I can come up with on the spot, occasionally having to really search for a technical term I don’t use much or worse still, someone’s name. I try to make a lot of eye contact while I’m actually speaking, so that when I do have a millisecond (or maybe more) delay in there they’ll know I’m actively answering and not give up on me. 🙂
Of course we’ve all come away from meetings, job interviews, and other important times with that feeling of, “NOW I know exactly what I should have said,” or sometimes those golden thoughts even appear overnight. That happens to me a lot. I’m still not batting 1000 on this, but here are some things that have helped me to make sure I convey my thoughts to others when it matters.
1) Practice. If I know I’m having a job interview, then as totally non-fun as it is, I’ll make myself answer some of those open-ended questions out loud. “Tell me about a time when you….” or “Why do you want to work for XYZ Company?” Having to retrieve all those things I really know and just have buried deep in this brain somewhere often makes it where it’s easier to retrieve when I actually need it on the spot. I may not guess the questions I’ll be asked, but I can usually use some of those bits and pieces for the questions I do get. Likewise for a meeting, I prepare ahead of time by writing a list of things I’ve been working on, questions I have, points to raise, etc. Writing or typing lets me easily retrieve what I’ll want to say, then I can refer to those notes in the meeting when it’s my turn to talk. The bottom line is, know your stuff. It’s totally worth spending a little time doing the homework before an important meeting so that the words will come more easily to you.
2) Follow up with email. I’ve done this after talking to bosses, after job interviews, and after meetings. That wonderful thought that I wish I’d said – I just write it up nicely and send it in an email as “an additional thought” or question. I may never really shine when it comes to “thinking on my feet,” but I can write a fine email, and I’ll bet you can too! 🙂
3) Relax. A few times lately I’ve had a big boss come and ask me for something, and instead of fighting to find the words quickly, I have consciously relaxed just a bit. I tell myself that after all, I know my stuff! That’s why he’s asking me! Once I relax, I usually can do a lot better toward wording things the way I want to. One introvert I work with speaks very slowly and deliberately when he is asked his opinion in a meeting. I think the slow tempo gives him an extra few seconds to think, and the fact that he knows his stuff so well means that everyone else stays quiet until he gets to the punch line.
Wouldn’t it be great if the whole world knew about and accepted this thinking time we need before we speak? Do you have any tips or tricks to share with us on how you manage to get your thoughts verbalized?