Stories behind workshop plans, post-its and markers.

How to design introvert-friendly workshops without frustrating extroverts? (With Examples)

Introvert friendly workshop design

Do you Talk to Think or do you Think to Talk?

If we believe the statistics, roughly half of us belong to the first group and we tend to call them “extroverts”.[1] The other group, so-called “introverts” usually keep their thoughts to themselves until they have something valuable to say. In the business context, where most things seem to happen in fast motion, meeting time often runs out before introverts could rise to speak. How many ideas or concerns are we ignoring every day because the way we collaborate does not give voice to fifty per cent of the population?

“The place of introverts in our culture today is very similar to where women were in the 1950s and early 1960s”  – Susan Cain

Since the publication of Susan Cain’s book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” awareness on the benefits of being introverted increased but workshop designs haven’t adapted much. Adaptation partly lags because it is difficult to create the sweet spot where introverts find a safe space to articulate in their pace and extroverts receive the vibrant atmosphere that makes them thrive. This article aims to share practical tips on how to design sessions that make all participants participate.

What Exactly is an “Introvert”?

Before elaborating on how to design the sweet spot in our workshops, let’s align our understanding of what an introvert is. An introvert is not a shy person. Instead of a character trait, introversion is a behavioural response to the nervous system that is sensitive to external stimulation. While an extrovert feels sluggish when external stimulus remains low, an introvert quickly feels overwhelmed by noise as he or she perceives it more intensively than an extrovert.

“We don’t mean to paint introverts as shy and retiring. It’s not about personality. Introversion and extraversion have to do with gaining and spending energy in social contexts.” – Maggie Dugan

In contrast to shy personalities, introverts may enjoy public speaking and additional attention, but, as opposed to extroverts, they need more time for preparation and recovery. As a rule of thumb, we can remember that extroverts recharge in social environments, while introverts recharge by being alone.

Extroversion vs Introversion
Extroversion vs Introversion: Recharging when focusing outwards vs getting energy from focusing inwards

Transparency Wins

To design an agenda that captures insights from both groups of participants, you want to get an idea of the proportions in your working session. By asking for a self-assessment, you also increase the participants’ awareness of the topic and potential differences in communication. [2] Avoid the fear of judgement that comes from the label “introvert” by asking whether participants rather “talk to think or think to talk”. You will be surprised by the effect of that simple question as many colleagues might have never consciously thought about the answer and its impact.

Transparency about the different communicator types in the room will change the dynamics of your session. Empathy will replace judgement when participants understand the reason for someone’s communication patterns. Implicitly, participants receive permission to detect the extroverts’ premature comments and engage through questions instead of classifying the behaviour as rude. Consequently, the group will try to help to develop the idea together instead of shutting it down. Also, groups will abstain from judging an introvert’s silence or confusing it with disinterest or distraction. Instead, they can develop methods that allow introverts to share their thoughts in their own pace.

Workshop Design for Balance

To get the group into the right mindset, start your session with a check-in that gets every participant to articulate a thought without interruption or comment. Experience shows that such a routine creates a safe space for all participants and reduces the barrier of speaking up during the meeting.

In case the group meets for the first time in that composition, you can ask the “talk to think” question as a check-in. The way each participant answers will quickly make the point clear to all.

If you are planning a brainstorming session and want to design for introverts and extroverts alike, you may start with a silent brainstorm and slowly increase the number of people that interact with each other.

For example, you can start with a 3 minutes exercise for which participants take notes individually. As a next step, participants exchange in pairs for another 3 minutes and only then involve in a group discussion between all attendees. This way, introverts receive some quiet time at first. If they still don’t feel like speaking up, extroverts can build on the insights they learned from their peer during the previous, bilateral discussion. [3]

“A tendency towards introversion is not an excuse to be passive.” – Chris Myers

Another trick that is easy to apply, without anyone noticing that you do this for the introverts, is sharing instructions for the next exercise before a break. This tweak gives introverts the chance to reflect on the topic in their own pace before being exposed to the noise of extroverts sharing their ideas loudly for thinking purposes.

Finally, when you aim to facilitate a decision-making process for a group, you can use a dot-voting exercise. This simple prioritisation technique gives an equal chance to everyone to express their preferences without getting involved in debates that might feel uncomfortable to introverted participants. By varying the number of sticker dots per person, you can structure the voting process and even the voting rights (if someone is supposed to have a “super vote”).

My Favourite Facilitation Technique To Involve Introverts

One of my favourite exercises that introverts and extroverts equally enjoy is the “Walking Brainstorm”. [4] The activity works for any group size, from two to many, and does not require further tools than flip chart paper, markers and post-it notes. You can vary the time depending on the complexity of the topic and the expected depth of ideas.

On separate flipchart papers, that you spread across the room, you write the topic(s) or question(s) participants shall brainstorm on. For a given amount of time, everyone walks around and silently adds ideas, either directly on the flipchart or on post-it notes that they stick on the paper. All ideas shall be visible to everyone so that they can inspire new ideas.

Walking brainstrom - a useful technique for an inclusive brainstorming session
Walking brainstorm – a useful technique for an inclusive brainstorming session

Personally, I prefer to use post-it notes for two reasons: First, introverts feel less exposed while writing and, second, you can easily (re-)move or reallocate ideas during the debriefing. Also, I love to introduce brainstorming sessions with the quote:

“Good ideas come from bad ideas as long as there are enough of them.” – Seth Godin

These words remind all participants that a brainstorm is about quantity over quality and that any lousy idea can inspire someone else to come up with a break-through. The use of post-it notes makes it easier to remove unnecessary or redundant ideas, regroup or form clusters.

Usually, everyone enjoys the walking brainstorm exercise as it gets people off their chairs and provides transparency over all ideas. Participants can observe how ideas build on each other and how they slowly develop their own patterns into new directions. Everyone can choose their own pace and add as many items as they want.

The Nutshell To Take Home

When you design your next meeting or working session, be mindful that some participants are more introverted than others. Their silence might not mean that they have nothing to share. Instead, they probably need reflection time before expressing themselves.

Whenever you work with a new group, raise awareness for diverging communication patterns from the beginning. You can encourage the participation of all attendees by structuring exercises in a way that allows thinking-time to those who need reflection before speaking while keeping energy levels up for the others. The walking brainstorm exercise is a good way to meet that sweet spot.

How about you?

What are your favourite workshop techniques to involve introverted participants without frustrating the extroverted?

I am curious to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

 

Myriam Hadnes

Myriam is a behavioural economist who uses scientific evidence to design and facilitate workshops that enable teams to communicate, collaborate and co-create effectively. You can find more insights on workshop design and facilitation on her website: www.idayz.nl/blog or sign up for her newsletter to receive regular updates on her content: http://bit.ly/idayzblog

 

Footnotes:

[1] According to a study conducted by the Myers-Briggs organisation in 1998.

[2] If you are not sure whether you are an introvert, extrovert or ambivert, take Dan Pink’s assessment: https://www.danpink.com/assessment/ – This was my result: You’re an ambivert. That means you’re neither strongly introverted nor strongly extraverted. Recent research by Adam Grant of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Management has found that ambiverts make the best salespeople. Ambiverts tend to be adept at the quality of attunement. They know when to push and when to hold back, when to speak up and when to shut up. So don’t fall for the myth of the extraverted sales star. Just keep being your ambiverted self.

[3] You may check the method of “Brainwriting” or the “Post-Up” exercise in the Session Lab library as further variations of the silent brainstorm. Also, the One-Two-Four Dialogue enables small group discussions that accommodate more introverted participants.

[4] You can find a detailed description of the exercise in the Session Lab Library. Please try it, build on it and share your experience and ideas in the comment section.

2 Comments

  1. In small groups, if I notice one person hasn’t spoken, I ask if they would like to weigh in. This is *only* ok if I know the person won’t feel put on the spot or called out.

    1. Thank you for mentioning this, Sue. I agree that we must be very careful when putting participants in the spotlight. For my recent Podcast episode, I interviewed an executive coach and clown (!) who compared a person speaking up in a meeting/ workshop with a circus guest being called on stage. I now use this analogy to remind myself of the stress I may cause.
      https://www.buzzsprout.com/267818/1030078-what-managers-can-learn-from-the-clown-with-steph-kinsch

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