By Molly Grisham, Leadership Development Consultant
When I work with teams, educators, and corporate groups we always spend a significant amount of time processing what we experienced together. I hear it from people all the time, “how did you get her to talk?” …”he NEVER speaks up, how did you do that?” … “I can’t believe she was willing to share, I swear she hasn’t spoken in a year!”
Let me be clear, it’s not a magic trick! To get more people to speak up, you simply need to create space where they feel comfortable sharing. This can be a challenge when working with introverts who need time to process their thoughts internally. However, statistically, 50% of people are considered to be introverts, so when we create space for them to participate in the dialog everyone benefits.
Here are a few tools I utilize when working with groups:
- Research says that most people who were born and raised in the US are uncomfortable with silence after 3 seconds. If you aren’t sure that is true, the next time you are in front of a group just stop talking for 3 seconds and see what happens! As a result, our culture tends to fill the silence with more chatter since we fear the perceived awkwardness. As a result, the extroverts keep talking and the introverts struggle to get their thoughts together amid the noise and chatter. Individuals with a preference for introversion typically need 8-10 seconds to process their thoughts before they are able to share. When we give them that silence they can hear what is in their heads and share it with the group. Knowing this I usually do two things when I’m working with a group:
- Explain the process/purpose: I explain this concept to the group. In fact, I test the “3-second theory” by pausing for 3 seconds after I make that statement … 3… 2… 1… clue the laughter! By explaining to a group that I will wait for 8-10 seconds before I move on to the next question I remove the pressure that some people may feel to fill the silence. I explain that while some people may feel uncomfortable I, as the facilitator, am not uncomfortable and they don’t need to worry about how I am feeling. Instead, they can see this as a process which invites everyone’s voice into the space.
- Put the process into action: When I ask a question to the group I will typically ask it several times. The first time someone will often answer right away. The next time that may also be the case but when I ask it again and it isn’t answered right away I count to 10 in my head. It never fails, when I get to 10 someone raises their hand to share because they have had the time they needed to collect their thoughts. Explaining the process/purpose and putting it into action has been a valuable tool for me.
- When you want to debrief as a large group consider how you can allow people to process before a large group conversation. When I want a large group to share their thoughts on a closing question I will often explain to the group that they have three options for processing the question before we gather as a large group to share our thoughts:
- Option 1: Go to the back of the room in a group and talk about the closing question. Typically those with a preference for extraversion will be drawn to this very verbal and high energy process.
- Options 2: Find a partner and discuss the closing question together. Generally, those with a preference for introversion will be drawn to this process since it creates deep, meaningful connections.
- Option 3: Spend some time in quiet reflection writing your thoughts about the closing question. This process is often selected by those with a preference for introversion as it gives them the space they need to organize their thoughts.
Allowing people to first process a question in a way that is most natural for them prepares them to be able to contribute to the large group conversation. When we ask a people to share off the top of their heads we are catering to extroverts who are energized by the process of talking through things. If we want to hear the voice of introverts we need to understand they need time and silence to hear their inner voice.
I would encourage you to think about how you can apply these techniques. You may be surprised how much others have to share when you create the right environment for them.