Is Your Learning Introvert-Friendly?

Imagine this scenario: For the fifth time that morning, the management training facilitator asked if there were any questions. The roomful of mostly introverted engineers fell silent. Rather than engage people in small groups or ask them to write down their ideas, she continued to run her class the way she had always done — geared toward extroverts.

The result? The quieter folks in the room weren’t heard, nor were they engaged with the material. The extroverts who might have benefited with their questions and contributions also lost out.

Learning methods are often not created with introverts in mind, but they should be. The “rise of the introverts” is a real movement that has received a lot of attention lately. Organizations see some key business reasons as to why introverts are important. Many companies realize that introverted qualities are necessary to create a more inclusive and productive environment. Skills that introverts demonstrate such as preparation, listening, reflection and one-on-one connection are linked to innovation and customer satisfaction.

Forward-thinking organizations recognize the importance of hiring and retaining introverts. They realize they miss out on 50 percent of the population if they’re only tapping into those who express themselves easily in interviews and show the expected Type A extroverted, outgoing qualities.

In a survey of 100 introverted leaders, 4 out of 5 perceived extroverts getting promoted at work more often. Promotional opportunities may be closed off to introverts who experience bias because of their quieter natures.

Further, introverts and extroverts are better together than apart. Powerful teams of introverts and extroverts have a unique chemistry and achieve outcomes they never could alone. These partnerships between “genius opposites” — the Wright Brothers, Mick and Keith, Jobs and Wozniak — have created brilliant new products, great works of art and even changed history together.

Organizational learning methods need to catch up with this diversity push, and some organizations are taking pro-active steps to value the introverts in their midst. For example, consider Suzanne Davis, vice president of diversity and inclusion, and her team at the federal home loan mortgage corporation, Freddie Mac. They have raised the profile of introverted leaders in their organization and are committed to training leaders to recognize how to leverage both introvert and extrovert strengths. Other companies are creating quiet office spaces to accommodate introverts’ needs as well as casual, serendipitous conversations.

Finally, more meetings are being structured with introverts in mind. Team leaders are engaging quieter people on conference calls, providing more breaks and allowing for small group breakouts during larger meetings.

To recognize and elevate the profile of introverts, learning leaders can move the needle forward by asking these five questions:

  1. Does the organization offer companywidelearning programs on personality instruments such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to create knowledge and awareness about differing personality types?
  2. Does it provide regular coaching and development for managers to make them aware of introverts strengths and how they can bring out the best in all employees?
  3. Do learning programs train internal and external facilitators on introvert-friendly development processes such as offering small group work and reflection time?
  4. Do employees have access to a wide variety of online courses with opportunities for questions, polls and discussion?
  5. Do facilitators keep class sizes small and include a good mix of introverts and extroverts?

Simply bringing up the topic of introvert inclusion in planning discussions is important. Learning programs can make a real difference in getting the best out of all people, introverts and extroverts, and chief learning officers can lead those efforts.

This article originally appeared in Diversity Executive's sister publication, Chief Learning Officer.