Last week, I had coffee with a young woman who has a freshly-minted master’s degree (complete with the new diploma smell) in diversity and inclusion. It was refreshing to chat with someone so intelligent and eager to make her mark in the world. Even better, she just participated in my webinar about the introvert-extrovert dynamic.

During our conversation, she said something that truly shocked me. Throughout her entire master’s program on diversity and inclusion, she was never exposed to the differences in the brains of introverts and extroverts. Nothing. Nada. This concept was completely new to her.

What’s the difference between an extrovert and an introvert? People likely fall closer to introversion on the introversion/extroversion spectrum if…

  • They secretly fantasize about having quiet, alone time (even if they are considered outgoing). They have a silent retreat on their vision board.
  • They burst into song (inside their heads) when a meeting of any flavor is cancelled.
  • They read more than anyone and, deep down, crave even more time to read.
  • They would rather submit to a colonoscopy than show up at the after-work happy hour with a large posse of colleagues and their friends … and friends of their friends.

Unfortunately, in the typical business, people are rewarded for visible work, not invisible work, even though what happens behind the scenes is what makes the visible work possible.

Introverts and Extroverts in the Training Profession

The training profession attracts both introverts and extroverts (and it is a spectrum, not a binary choice.) However, for professional trainers, the pressure is always on to be boldly entertaining, which plays to the natural strengths of the extrovert. In a sense, excellent trainers are like battery chargers for learners, to facilitate knowledge transfer that sticks. As the professionals they are, trainers must do whatever it takes to protect and renew their own energy arsenal. If they’re not careful, introverts can wear themselves out – and fast – by trying to perform all the time and not allowing themselves a quiet recharge.

Rather than try to force people to be extroverts, what if we leveraged the strengths of both extroverts and introverts? We need both types of talent. After all, famous introvert leaders include Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Rosa Parks and even Hillary Clinton. Fashion designer, artist, writer and film director Tom Ford was a closeted introvert; he’s out of the introvert closet now, but people still think he loves to party. “Because of my job people think I am out every night, but I really hate all that,” he says. “I am somebody who likes to be alone and see some close friends. I am a shy and introspective person.”

Introverts and Extroverts as Learners

Let’s look at specific strengths of introverts and extroverts and how they show up in the classroom. (Note that these strengths are generalizations and may not be true for every individual.)

Extroverts tend to…

  • Enjoy multitasking.
  • Shine in the spotlight.
  • Speak their thoughts spontaneously.
  • Have a “just do it” approach to taking action, even risks.
  • Need to recharge when they don’t socialize enough.

In a typical training class, the extroverts often speak up faster, engage more and dominate the classroom. This dominance can cause introverted learners to tune out, especially when mobile devices seductively flash notifications. On the other hand, if you were to assign an in-depth reading in class, extroverts might doze off or start chatting to avoid silence.

Introverts bring qualities like these to the table:

  • Quiet concentration and focus.
  • Listening more often and more carefully.
  • Thinking before they speak.
  • Being slow to take action and assume risk.
  • Leading in order to get the job done rather than seeking the spotlight.

In training, extroverts are better at improvisation, while introverts overprepare to avoid having to improvise. (Here’s a secret confession: My own weakness as a trainer, in dreading the possibility of being caught with nothing to say, is to cover too much content and not allow enough in-depth discussion for optimal retention.)

Clearly, there should be a mix of learning activities. Neuroscience points to the need for all learners to have processing time in order to absorb content. A body of research supporting knowledge retention through reflection supports periodic episodes of quiet time throughout the training experience.

Every day, it seems like there are more skills employees need to learn in order to succeed at work. With ever more knowledge to transfer to a diversity of learners, let’s keep the differences of extroverts and introverts in mind when designing the learning experience.

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