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Posted on February 4th, 2021 in Community & Organizational Planning

~by Steve Yoder, Community Development Regional Educator, Purdue Extension

Anywhere from 30-50% of you reading this column may often identify with this situation:  You are driving home from a community board or committee meeting, or perhaps you just clicked the red “Leave Meeting” button in Zoom, when you suddenly think of what you really wanted to say to everyone. But now it’s too late. The meeting is over. Missed your chance to speak up. Yet again. Spent too much time in your head and not enough time contributing to the group.

For the remaining 50-70% of you who are extroverts, this might not be a big deal.  For you, sharing ideas in a group setting comes quickly and naturally. And since most people are extroverts, the culture of most organizations is geared towards that extroverted mindset, with ideas being shared in meetings at a pace and in a style that can be challenging for introverts.

Introverts can struggle to contribute verbally to a group setting because they spend more time processing their thoughts. Research by Randy Buckner of Harvard University has shown that introverts tend to have thicker gray matter in the area of the brain linked to decision-making and abstract thought — while extroverts have less gray matter.  It is believed that this difference may account for why introverts will make a decision after giving it great thought and reflecting on creative ways to solve problems.

One way to unleash the power of the introverts in the room is to adjust the culture of your organization to be more inclusive and accommodating to these differences.  One of my favorite methods is to give everyone a few minutes to individually write down their thoughts about a topic, then share them with a partner, and then have them pair share their ideas with the rest of the room.  It’s a terrific way to give everyone in the room—extroverts and introverts alike—a chance to be heard.

When I lead the “Serving on Non-Profit Boards” session for Purdue Extension’s Community Leadership Program, I always have the class brainstorm an idea using this “pair and share” method.  Afterward, I ask the group their thoughts about it.  Even the introverts in the room will quickly speak up about how much they liked the process, as it gave them a better chance for their ideas to be heard.

There are multiple ways to encourage everyone to share their thoughts in a group setting. In a Zoom meeting, for example, just reminding people that they can type their thoughts in the chat box, instead of speaking, can make it easier for introverts to contribute at their own pace and remain engaged in the conversation.

Community organizations often devote a lot of energy to recruiting a diverse set of members to their boards, as they should.  Organizations benefit greatly from the diversity of experiences, connections, and knowledge of their board members.  However, how effective is a diverse board if 30-50% of its members find it difficult to share those things? It’s one thing to be diverse, and it’s another thing to be inclusive. An inclusive organization also looks at the diverse ways that people think and act in group settings, so that all voices have a better opportunity to be heard.