If you’ve ever led a group discussion you know that it’s easy to get some people to talk and others hardly speak at all. That’s one difference between extraverts and introverts.
The Ones who Didn’t Talk
I was recently leading a meeting of about ten adults. Throughout the two-hour long gathering which included lots of discussion several people only made a brief observation or two. In times past I may have taken their silence for disinterest. But as a borderline introvert myself, I figured that they might just be introverts.
Where You Get Your Energy
Introversion is not a problem or a disadvantage. It’s temperament. And it would be misleading to say that introverts are shy or simply don’t talk. They can be very sociable people and great public speakers. What really defines introverts is where they get their energy. Introverts feel recharged and stimulated by their own internal world. That’s why they like solitude. It gives them time to pay attention to the constant inner monologue that’s going on in their heads. It’s not that introverts don’t like people or have trouble with words. It’s that being around a bunch people tends to drain them. Less energy means less inclination to talk.
Nevertheless, groups can greatly benefit from the contributions of introverts in a discussion. Since they spend more time absorbing and processing information than sharing every thought (like extraverts), introverts often have the most insightful comments. So how do you get an introvert to share in a group discussion without exhausting their social batteries? Here are a few tips.
1. Give them the questions beforehand.
Since introverts like to process internally before they speak, it’s helpful if they know the discussion questions beforehand. That way they have time to think about how to respond and may be more likely to do so in a group setting.
2. Cue them beforehand.
Rather than surprise an introvert with a random question, pull them aside before the conversation begins and cue them to speak about a specific topic. Say, “Hey, when we get to this question, I’d love for you to share your thoughts with the group.” This eliminates the sudden “on the spot” feeling that so many introverts dread and gives them ample time to roll the topic over in their minds.
3. Let them write down their answers first.
Whether introvert or extravert, writing makes thinking clearer. Oftentimes an introvert finds it easier to express his or her thoughts verbally after they’ve written them down.
4. Have them share in pairs or a smaller sub-group.
Introverts may have an easier time opening up with one or two people rather than the whole group. So it’s a good idea to pair people up or get into smaller sub-groups when answering a question. You can even strategically pair an introvert with an extravert or an introvert with a friend with whom they can talk freely.
5. Ask them if there’s anything you can do better.
Most of what I’ve learned about introverts has come by asking them to reflect on the discussion. I’ve asked them how they thought it went and what I could do better as a facilitator. That’s how I found out how cold-calling can result in negative reactions from introverts. Many other lessons can be learned by asking introverts themselves what works and what doesn’t.
6. Follow up with them one-on-one after the meeting.
Following up with a person individually after the meeting can be helpful. While everyone else is trickling out, I simply say, “I’m curious to hear your thoughts on…” and then I ask them whatever question I’d like them to address. This usually works a lot better than trying to get them to share in front a whole group and I still get the benefit of an introvert’s insights.
Let Introverts Be Themselves
As much as we’d like everyone to participate in a group discussion, we also have to be comfortable with the reality that sometimes its best to leave people alone. It may do more harm than good to try to get introverts to speak if they’re unwilling. That’s true for everyone, extravert or introvert.
In almost every discussion group you will have at least one introvert (and thank goodness because extraverts can be maddening!), so it’s good to know how to engage them. Above all, respect their preferences and do your best to communicate how much you value their presence, whether talkative or quiet.
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