Blog Post: Coaching Introverts

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A few weeks ago, I started a series focused on coaching clients based on personality preferences.  After a short break in May, it’s time to pick the topic back up with some attention to coaching introverts.

Remember, the distinction between extroverts and introverts relates to one’s preferred ways of gaining and directing energy.  Extroverts’ energy connects with the outside world of other people and activities while introverts prefer to gain energy from their inner world of thoughts and ideas.  Here are some other characteristics of the roughly 40% of the world that prefer introversion:

  • Their energy is inward, towards concepts and ideas
  • They need little external stimulation – and in fact they can easily be over-stimulated
  • They may bottle up their own emotions, which can explode if pushed too far
  • They tend to think deeply about things, and they tend to think before they act
  • They like to work alone and often seek quiet for concentration
  • They prefer work of depth rather than breadth
  • Less mature introverts may come across as egocentric and passive

These preferences can create certain tendencies for introverted clients, including:

  • Since they do their best processing internally, they need silence to think internally before expressing it externally
  • When they do speak, be sure to value what they say since they have thought it through before sharing it with you
  • Get curious about what they share, invite them to flesh out and explore their initial ideas
  • They may not pursue the coaching relationship or “lean in” as much at the beginning, but once the relationship is established, they’ll value having a safe and reliable thought partner
  • They don’t want to be pushed around, so invite them to decide where to go next in the conversation and how quickly to pace the conversation
  • They will value awareness associated with coaching and may need a nudge to turn awareness into action

Remember, these tendencies and preferences are generalized.  The stronger the client’s preference for introversion, the more likely you’ll see these tendencies.  Also, other personality preferences can flavor how the client demonstrates their introversion preference.

As the coach, you’ll want to go against the grain of the introvert’s preferences from time to time.  Remember, a preference is just that – a preference.  It’s not a weakness or an inability.  Stretching the client can reveal something that remains hidden beneath their typical, more comfortable patterns.  Here are a handful of ways to stretch your introverted clients:

  • Give them timed exercises. Introverts love to think.  And they can keep thinking, keep rehearsing, keep polishing their ideas beyond the point of diminishing returns.  A timed exercise can provide a finish line to their thinking and allow them to show their work.  A timed exercise also makes silence perfectly okay since the timer is holding the silence instead of the client feeling unsure or pressured to talk.
  • Ask precise questions. For an extrovert, your questions are mostly translated into “please continue talking.”  But for an introvert, your questions are more likely to be heard as a specific invitation to respond.  So be sure your questions clearly relate to what the client was just sharing and invite the client to continue in a productive direction.  If you’re led to shift gears with a question, let your client know that the question is a change of direction, so they don’t feel jerked around or assume you are not really listening.
  • Use a prep form, but don’t be a slave to it. Introverts like to be prepared and they prefer to enter a conversation with something to say or share.  A prep form gives them a starting point, allowing them to be confident they will not need to swim around in conversation looking for a topic.  On the other hand, don’t feel overly obligated to keep the conversation tied to what’s on the prep form.  Coaching conversations need to explore new territory, evoke new awareness, and generate new actions.  Some introverted clients can cling to the prep form like a beginner swimmer clinging to the side of the pool.  Coax the client away from the ideas generated by the prep form so they can get somewhere new in their thinking.
  • Push them to brainstorm. Okay, never use the word “brainstorm” with a strongly introverted client.  But you can use the technique.  It will be uncomfortable, but it will stretch the client and reveal some ideas that their typical processing patterns would not produce.  One wrinkle on the typical brainstorming procedure is to have them write out their ideas instead of saying them.  I sometimes have clients write down ten questions they are asking about an issue.  Writing provides a middle ground between thinking internally and speaking out loud, allowing the introverted client a chance to do a bit of polishing before speaking.

Think about your clientele.  Who are your introverts?  What’s something new you’d like to try with one of them?  Pick one of the practices mentioned above or come up with your own idea for how to make the most of your client’s preference or how to stretch them in a new way.

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