The Art of Training Introverts

In this Kumbaya-free zone, you better know how to deal with people who don’t care for theatrics.

When I read Chris Anderson’s seminal book The Long Tail, it struck me that there was finally something for everyone. No matter how eclectic your taste is, or how finicky your tastes are, you could get anything you wanted in the new digital economy.

Fancy some fusion cuisine? Right this way, ma’am.

How about some folk music mixed with electronica? Sure, it’s called folktronica.

What about some science fiction that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery? Steampunk is just over there, sir.

It’s been over a dozen years since The Long Tail came out, and I still feel a frisson of excitement when I think of the possibilities this new economy ushered in. But it occurred to me this long tail has applications where I wasn’t looking… right under my nose, in the classroom.

One of the things I had to get used to as a trainer was this one simple fact of life: not everyone likes me. Not personally, and not viscerally. Just my teaching style. Most of the time I get outstanding evaluations; I leave feeling that my class learned something and that I really earned my paycheck. But on more than one occasion, I received some rather curt feedback.

“Get to the point.”

“More math.”

“He waffles on a bit.”

It hurt not only my ego, but my professional pride.

And then I realized something. Not everyone is going to love me. And I may not be the panacea of learning I thought I was (at least in my chosen field).

You see, I’m a large, loud, gregarious, extroverted bald man who likes a drop of lager and a good story on occasion… or, more truthfully, all the time. And some of my students — unsurprisingly in a detail-oriented profession like banking — are logical, dutiful, analytical, introverted, slim men and women who want the facts. Just the facts, ma’am.

Maybe I’m not the best person to deliver the deliverable to them. Or… as bad backgammon players might say, “It’s all in the wrist.” That is, maybe the delivery itself is the problem.

In researching how to teach introverts, I found truckloads of platitudes all over the internet. Here are the ones I found to be both truthful and germane to the conversation:

  • Never embarrass an introvert in public.
  • Let them observe first in new situations.
  • Give them time to think; don’t demand instant answers.
  • Don’t interrupt them.
  • Give them 15 minutes to finish whatever they are doing.
  • Teach them new skills privately.
  • Don’t try to make them extroverts.

I found that list fascinating, especially for graduate training, where we try to convert everyone into a corporate cheerleader and immediate contributor. But introversion isn’t just a personality preference. It’s an innate way of acting.

With that in mind, and in keeping with our theme that there’s something for everyone, let’s look at some kinds of training more introverted people seem to enjoy.

Online Learning

Even a massive extrovert like me loves online learning, especially for concepts I don’t easily grasp. For instance, I can learn to code in Python on Datacamp. The videos can be watched over and over again without annoying the instructor. My code is instantly graded when I press the enter key. And I get a little star or points every time I watch a video or do something correctly. The dopamine flows.

For introverts, it’s a godsend. No teacher ominously standing over her, waiting to ask a zinger of a question for which she has no answer. No class participation. She’s got time to think about her responses. Observe first, and then do. Learning new skills in the privacy of one’s own home, in one’s own time, is an introvert’s heaven.

Skype Coaching

What about coaching? Well, it’s fair to say introverts are not the kumbaya types. And usually, they aren’t excited about the group activities associated with team building.

But if they need career coaching, Skype coaching (or any video service) is a great option. With no awkward face-to-face handshakes, it’s a great opportunity to get one-to-one tuition without all the fuss. Perhaps it’s also possible to have a more frank conversation, as their coach isn’t really in the room with them.

Sometimes, a perfect coach may be on the other side of the world. This opens up more opportunities to match the right coach with the right delegate.

Email Coaching

Yes, this is a thing now. My good friend James Santagata, who runs Career Overdrive, brought this to my attention. I liken it to pen pals. Email coaching entails communication via email between coach and delegate. It seems weird at first, but for extreme introverts and other shy people, this can be a great way to get them to open up a bit.

The key to this working is the reflection between emails that both the coach and the delegate take. And there’s a written record of everything, so if there’s a contradiction somewhere, it’ll get spotted. Opinion is split on the efficacy of this method.

In conclusion, technology has given professional development staff more tools to work with to bring about positive results to those who may not like public training sessions. It’s incumbent upon us to choose the correct tool for the right delegate.

*This post was originally printed here:

Enter your text here…