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How to Conduct Research With Introverts

student with headphones peeking through fingersIntroverts may finally be getting their day, with articles popping up everywhere, and now a bestselling book. Susan Cain in her 2013 book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts, makes the case that introverts are treated as second-class citizens despite their many accomplished standard carriers (Bill Gates, J.K. Rowling, Albert Einstein, etc.)

Research methodologies, especially real-time qualitative methods, force introverts to respond too quickly. One would have to assume that many introverts would not choose to participate in a focus group discussion. Others will go with the plan to spend most of their time listening. This is not a problem as long as everyone understands they are not being recalcitrant, nor are they a recruiting error, they are just thinking quietly, and perhaps waiting to be asked for their view.

Introvert-friendly qualitative

The one-on-one interview is a more introvert-friendly method, but it can call for patience on the part of the researcher. I recall a set of web-enabled depth interviews with accountants, a field known for attracting those with a preference for introversion. We needed reactions to print advertising concepts. I recall many occasions of dead silence on these calls, where I wondered if we had lost the audio connection. The participant was just thinking, processing their reactions before speaking. Top-of-mind, for an introvert, takes more than a second or two.

In an online discussion forum, participants can read the question, then go away and think, coming back to respond later. Everyone can “talk” at the same time, so the extraverts don’t dominate as they can do in face-to-face sessions.

Introvert friendly brainstorming

Brainstorming and offsite workshops are surely hellishly hard work for introverts: hours of people expecting quick reactions and on-the-spot creativity conducted in an over-stimulating environment.

If we want to tap into the introverts’ powers of deep introspection, they need time to consider, opportunities to recharge, and shorter sessions. The value of nerf-balls on creativity is vastly overrated, so we would lose little by making the environment a little quieter.

You can expect your introverts to show up to the next off-site with fresh insights about the topic of last week’s session. Why not plan for this, instead of just moving on?

Does it really matter what a third of the population prefers?

Academic efforts to identify a relationship between personality and consumption patterns have not been all that productive. However, we are now in an experience economy. Perhaps planning a nightclub experience to appeal only to extraverts makes sense, but what about an insurance experience?

Perhaps we should try harder to incorporate the viewpoints of introverts, and not rest on assumptions that it doesn’t really matter.

[Portions of this material were previously published in Vue Magazine.]