As a speech-language pathologist, you talk to patients and their caregivers, to colleagues, and to collaborators, and then you talk to yourself while making notes on the all previously listed interactions. Therefore, you’d think an extrovert would be the ideal personality for the job. After all, SLPs devote their careers to promoting better communication, so they must enjoy communicating, right?
Not always. As it turns out, a special and not-so-rare species of introverted SLPs quietly works in the profession.
The term “introverted SLP” should not come off as an oxymoron. When talking to my peers for this piece, I discovered many fellow introverted SLPs. We bring our own superpower and make a difference in the lives of clients, patients, or students through listening. One of the most important skills SLPs learn is listening. Our clients want to communicate, and through active listening—waiting longer for responses, observing body language, focusing on the speaker—we show value to all communication attempts, verbal or nonverbal.
Although I know we introverts make excellent SLPs, working in an extrovert-dominated profession poses several challenges. Here are some tips to handle them for my fellow introverted SLPs—extroverted SLPs, please also take note.
Running out of social and emotional energy.
A typical day in the life of an SLP requires a lot of social energy and the need to be “on.” We talk all day with verbal prompting, praise, feedback, review, debriefing, parent/staff meetings, family consults, interprofessional practice, and just small talk. Introverts need a few minutes alone to decompress and recharge. Try taking the long way home from work while listening to favorite music, an audiobook, or nothing at all. Go to the grocery store or run other errands—those not involving a lot of customer service—by yourself. Or simply close the door and sit in your office or speech room for a few minutes.
Clients telling you their life stories and sharing everything
Let’s face it, introverts are the best listeners, and clients and their families probably don’t encounter a lot of introverts. Fortunately, listening establishes a sense of trust and good rapport. The possible downside might involve your clients telling you everything and anything with no filter. But at least you’ll have an extremely detailed subjective portion of your SOAP (report including subjective, objective, assessment, and plan for treatment details) note! Setting boundaries early in your new client relationships can help you balance this oversharing with professionalism and time for working on goals, and can also help prevent draining your emotional energy.
Coming off as rude or unfriendly to colleagues because you need time alone
After four straight hours of seeing clients, many SLPs I talked to said they value much-needed alone time during breaks. So, colleagues of introverted SLPs: Please know we enjoy your company and happily will collaborate, but we just need a few minutes alone to make sure we give our best to our clients and our colleagues. Please understand it’s not you, it’s us.
Getting told to switch careers because of your reserved persona
This includes hearing some or all of the following statements:
“You need to be more interactive!”
“Maybe you’re more suited for a desk-job requiring less talking.”
“Why do you want to be an SLP if you don’t like talking to people?”
“If you want to be an SLP, you need to be more outgoing.”
If you ever hear these comments—or hear them directed at a colleague—please let the person making them know many introverts make excellent SLPs.
To extroverted SLPs reading this, our profession thrives on a good balance of both introverted and extroverted personalities. And to aspiring introverted SLPs, I hope you find solace in knowing many SLPs—like the one writing this piece—faced and overcame many of the same hurdles.
Marsha Pinto, MS, CF-SLP, is a clinical fellow at the Center for Speech, Language, and Occupational Therapy in the San Francisco Bay Area. She also founded a nonprofit, softestvoices.com, to advocate for introverted leaders.