Introverts and extraverts: Supporting the other half of your 4-H club

Strategies to make sure extraverts and introverts feel equally valued in your 4-H club.

It happens in almost every group: a few people offer lots of ideas and suggestions while some rarely contribute to the conversation. Yet other members of the group fall somewhere in the middle. As a 4-H club leader, you probably remember from your initial volunteer training that Michigan 4-H Youth Development programs places an emphasis on life skills such as communication and social skills. As a result, you want to make sure everyone has an opportunity to contribute but there are lots of personalities in the room. What can you do?

4-H volunteers face these types of challenges often. Every 4-H club includes a few kids who don’t seem to enjoy social interaction or has a young person who seems to dominate every group conversation. Is it really possible to meet the needs of every youth in the group?

One effective strategy is to embrace the idea that individuals are different and they all have the potential to make important contributions to the group. A life skill like communication might take the form of a lot of verbal contributions from an extraverted group member while it might be written communication from a more introverted member. Both are equally valuable and your club members probably fall fairly evenly into these two different groups.

Since extravert norms dominate society, young people with a preference for introversion can sometimes be misunderstood because they don’t always express their needs. For an overview on how the introverted mind works, check out this entertaining and informative TED Talk featuring Susan Cain, author of Talking. Cain gives several examples of how our society isn’t always accommodating to introverts.

Once you have a better understanding of the introverted mind, you can make sure your 4-H club is a great place for both introverts and extraverts to be valued for who they are with these strategies:

  • Extraverts sometimes need opportunities to think while they speak. Give them opportunities to brainstorm and talk about ideas in groups.
  • Introverts sometimes need opportunities to think before they speak. Create that thinking time by asking everyone to jot down two or three ideas on a piece of paper before the group discussion begins. Taking these few minutes can make a big difference.
  • Mix it up. Alternate energetic whole-group activities with time for individual reflection or work done in pairs.
  • When making group decisions, encourage the participants to make sure everyone has a chance to speak once before anyone speaks a second time. Another option is to distribute two or three tokens to each participant, which represent the number of ideas they can contribute to the discussion. They are asked to turn in a token with each idea and once their tokens are gone, they can’t speak.
  • To encourage introverts to contribute more during brainstorming, distribute dry-erase markers and invite everyone to write their ideas on a big whiteboard simultaneously. This technique removes the pressure to speak in front of the group while maintaining a high level of energy.
  • Ask young people what they need. If one of your club members isn’t talking much, have a one-on-one chat in which you praise them for something they did well and ask what would make it easier for them to talk in front of the group. If a member is dominating conversations, ask them for ideas to make sure everyone has a chance to speak.

This is Part 3 in a Michigan State University Extension series on personality preferences and youth development. For more, see:

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