At a recent event, I noticed a student sitting quietly off to the side, seemingly disengaged from her peers and the teaching. Her youth worker noticed too but chalked her disengagement up to the fact that she was an introvert and decided to just let her be.
During a large group discussion later that day, the youth worker asked a question and the introvert’s hand shot up, eager to answer it. Unfortunately, several other students’ hands went up at the same time.
The youth worker, not used to having the introvert participate, failed to notice her and instead called on the hand of a student he knew better. He then proceeded clockwise around the table from there, attentively listening to each student share their response.
As each student shared, the introvert’s hand got a little lower. She lost confidence in her response until finally, by the time the youth worker reached her side of the table, her hand was no longer raised.
By not noticing this student and inviting her to participate immediately, this youth worker missed the opportunity to engage her. Her peers missed the opportunity to hear her unique perspective.
It can be tempting to not pay any attention to the order in which you call on students, to think that the order doesn’t really matter. It might even seem to make sense to call on students in the order in which they raise their hand. Or to start with someone you know well and proceed in an orderly direction from there.
However, when you do that, you risk making the same mistake this youth worker did: You miss inadvertently ignoring the introverts in your group.
As people who recharge from being alone, introverts won’t fight to have their voices heard. They won’t repeat something that’s already been said. They won’t draw attention to themselves to ensure that you notice them.
Instead, they’ll quietly raise their hand and if you miss it, there’s a good chance they’ll put it down as soon as someone else says something similar to what they were planning on saying.
So, when you’re leading a discussion, keep your eyes peeled. Notice who’s participating and who isn’t.
When an introvert (or a reluctant participant) finally raises their hand, stop what you’re doing and call on them.
Doing so shows you’re paying attention. It shows there’s room in the conversation for their voice. What’s more, it communicates their voice matters to the group.
When you call on an introvert first, affirm what they say. Doing so gives them confidence and makes them more likely to participate in the future, to continue to add their voice to the conversation.
When this happens, you’ll start to see that introverts are typically not unengaged in what you’re doing. They’re listening with rapt attention and waiting for the chance to contribute.
Don’t miss out on giving them that chance.