As an introvert, I don’t have a problem selling things per se. I am a highly persuasive individual if I do say so myself—I’ve taught middle school math successfully for 15 years. I love convincing students that math learning is vital, love getting them to take ownership of their academic success and personal growth. If you haven’t ever worked with early adolescents, you will never know how challenging it is to talk them into anything not attached to the newest TikTok challenge.
So, yeah. I’m very much into selling things.
My problem with traditional sales (and in more industry specific terms, professional development) comes from the way that I’m BROUGHT INTO it and then EXPECTED to do it. Most training is extrovert heavy, discouraging introverts (who could be vital to your mission) from applying or sticking around (physically or mentally) long enough to demonstrate proficiency. See, too me, being gregarious and aggressive is just one way to get someone to purchase something. There are many people like myself who prefer or, you know, need a more facilitative approach. Not everyone needs to be convinced that they need. Some people must be coached into what they need. And that requires a different approach—one that allows every participant the space to be their BEST self rather than the self you might unintentionally think is best—usually the quickest on the draw extrovert personality.
Let’s take the time to make a job like a sales position more palpable to an introvert as well as to maximize the skill sets that introverts bring to the table. Here are some tips for the introverts you hired (or may be trying to hire that keep not applying or turning you down):
- Excessively selling on the why is a huge turn off. If I signed up, I already believe in what you’re doing. I don’t need anyone to “sell me” on the why. I wouldn’t be there if I didn’t believe in it, OR your why is actually insignificant to the job you need me to do. It seems like you’re trying to convince people to have your values when you could have just weeded out people with opposing values in the interview process with better questions. Based on well-documented research around beliefs, values, and cognitive dissonance? You have a better chance of taming an earth worm to heel on command than changing core beliefs. Cognitive dissonance is real and what people say out of their mouths in surface level conversations won’t always match what they think or feel (especially when stressed). So you might actually save time and money to knock that out upfront instead of wasting a training day to drive it home on the back end. By the time we get to training, introverts would prefer that you show us the what and the how. Heavy on the how. At the very least? Embed the why into the activities rather than spending an entire day or two on it.
- Meaningful teamwork matters. Once again, people along the introvert spectrum don’t mind people interaction—in fact, very few of us are misanthropic and most of us enjoy interacting with others. What generally makes an introvert disengage is the feeling of wasted time and opportunity and the perception of forced interaction. Relational trust takes time to build but it’s most organic for introverts when attached to the actual work and not so much “ice breaking”. Introverts best build relationships through the work and common goals because it provides the natural opportunity to communicate with others naturally. You will see a shift in how the introvert is responding along with their contributions increasing as they become comfortable—but that will rarely happen in large fluff-n-stuff activities designed to create a false sense of belonging.
- Switch it up, maybe? Other modes of interaction are vital. Extroverts—especially those who are training others—tend toward immediate and intensive conversations without much think time. Introverts think first then speak, while most extroverts talk through thinking. If your mode of presentation is to just let whomever raises their hand first have the floor? There will be voices that go unheard. Every time. Giving everyone in the group the chance to think rather than being so gung-ho to open up the floor. Even in virtual groups, extrovert fingers hover over the “raised hand” button! So embedding time for thinking evens the playing field. Opening up small groups before large group responses is another tool you can use to give all voices the chance to be heard.
- Professional community over family. Even in a team environment, I am less concerned about being a “family” and more concerned about being a community. I think trainers and companies in general tend toward to a false positive narrative or view of family, as though every participant in the group had a positive experience. Just mentioning that specific perspective could put someone on the defensive, making them pull back from the very experience you may be trying to create. Instead of leaning so heavily into “family”, introverts and people who have had traumatic experiences surrounding the idea of family will respond much more positively to the building of professional community. You can have explicit goals that encompass the comfort and productivity of all members in that way that isn’t fraught with dysfunctional perception and that is full of accountability and interdependence that get the job done.
I’m sure my list isn’t definitive; I still hope that it gives you a bit to think about the next time you put together an agenda. Being able to blend professional learning opportunities and classroom learning across personality types strengthens the community and gives participants the chance to grow in a safe environment that values their particular kind of contribution.