A new study consistently found that more extroverted people are considered to be poorer listeners. Extroverts are often described as people who care about their relationships and possess exceptional social skills. But a new research work has revealed that is not exactly how others see them. In a series of studies published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Francis J. Flynn at Stanford University, US, and colleagues consistently discovered that more extroverted people might be considered by others to be poorer listeners. Their research also reveals a possible reason.
No academic consensus exists on what makes up “good” listening. But in line with some other researchers, the team conceptualizes it as involving:
- Cognitive processes. That is, paying attention to and comprehending what they’re saying
- Emotion-related processes. For instance, showing empathy and emotional engagement with what the other person is saying
- Behavioral processes, like nodding and asking questions
In everyday life, it is not necessarily easy to establish whether or not someone we are talking to is listening. While they might be making plenty of eye contact, for example, which would suggest engagement, they may be just pretending to be actively listening. This may be just to make a good impression or appear polite.
The research focus
In the research, Flynn and his team focused on only the perception that the participants have about others’ listening skills. In a preliminary study, 147 first-year business students, who met weekly in groups of six to work on leadership skills, rated the listening skills of others in their group. For instance, the rating was based on how much that person seemed to listen while they spoke and later remembered what they had said. The participants then completed a scale that evaluated their extroversion.
What the researchers found
The researchers discovered that people who self-reported as being more extroverted received lower listening scores. In the study, people’s perceptions may have been influenced by the actual social relationships they had with other members of their group. The listening abilities of fictitious people portrayed as falling at various points on the introversion-extroversion spectrum were therefore evaluated by new sets of participants in practically all of the subsequent investigations. “Findings from these studies confirmed the initial finding. Extroverted individuals have consistently been found to listen less well in social settings. Extroverts are frequently thought of as being very outgoing, but the team observes that this sociability is frequently seen as being somewhat one-sided.”
A study of 337 adults in the US explained why this might be the case
Fictional, highly extroverted people were also perceived to have superior self-control and the ability to alter how they come across to others. According to the team’s research, “this indication of changeable self-presentation shows that extroverts are more interested in ‘looking the part’ than listening to what others have to say.”
Extroverts may need to consider alternative methods of conversational engagement
In a different study, the researchers investigated whether the same perception would hold in interactions among strangers. The study’s 655 participants were chosen from an online participant pool. They were asked to consider a “familiar stranger”—someone they had seen a few times in the previous two months but had never spoken to, such as a fellow train passenger.
After assessing how extroverted they believed the stranger might be, the participants imagined a conversation with the person, predicting to which extent they would pay attention and listen attentively to the stranger – or steer the conversation toward themselves. The scientists discovered that when the strangers are rated more extroverted, the participants also said the strangers were more likely to be poor listeners.
These findings were confirmed by the research team in four further trials. In one of the later studies, the researchers found that people considered extremely outgoing scored highly on their capacity to “self-monitor” or to project a socially acceptable image, rather than on their ability to maintain genuine interest.
Only further research will tell if extroverts are actually poorer listeners
While there is a need for further research, the team has warned that such work will be tricky due to the difficulties in objectively evaluating listening. In any case, they add, the lack of objective information on a conversational partner’s listening means that we rely heavily on our pre-existing assumptions as well as limited behavioral cues. Thus, “even if it could be fun to perform an experiment to see if the generally held belief that extroverts are poor listeners is true, it might not be important. To determine whether someone is truly listening or just acting as though they are, people may still rely on their common beliefs.”
However, research into how this particular concept plays out in the real world would be incredibly fascinating. “For example, listening has been identified as the ‘holy grail’ in sales roles,” the team notes — so perhaps it would be wise for highly extroverted salespeople to try to modify their behavior with clients. One important note is that, of course, these findings are on US adults — they may not hold in other countries where extroversion is either less or more socially desirable.
Still, for these assorted US participants, evidence for the belief that extroverts are worse listeners was found across the experiments. Extroversion itself has been the subject of extensive research. “Our findings contribute to the study of extroversion by examining how people perceive extroversion,” the researchers write. And for understanding conversations and relationships, which of course, are two-way, that is clearly important, too.