5 Ways to Embrace Introverts in a Residential Community

Last week, I had the pleasure of delivering a twenty minute TED-style talk about “Facilitating Quiet Success in Residence Life” at the NEACUHO Annual Conference in Westfield, MA. We had a lot of ground to cover in the twenty allotted minutes, and was pleased to get through it all and have time to answer questions from those who attended the session. Thank you so much for having me, I had a great time!

However, in going over my evaluations, I noticed a few common themes. First, more time. Yup. I feel you. It’s a big topic, and twenty minutes only scratched the surface. To that, I say: please get in touch, so we can chat more about it!

A second note I got, requested some concrete strategies that could be incorporated into residential communities to demonstrate an understanding of a variety of temperaments. That, I can do here. So for those seeking to include introvert-friendly practices into their residential communities, consider the following (and please let me know how it goes, should you choose to try them out!):

For First Year Students: Vary Your Icebreaker and Team Building Strategy
Particularly at the start of the school year, the environment that we cultivate on campus and in our halls is more conducive to students who take flight like rockets, than ones who do so like planes. Large group gatherings, loud opening events, and expectations for enthusiastic participation fill the docket- on many campuses for at least the first week of school, and can dominate up to the first six weeks. That’s a long time to exist in a draining environment!

Finding allies in this space (and allies can be of any temperament!) is crucial, but individuals have to have the psychological space to do so. Facilitators of “getting to know you” games and activities can lower the stakes and the energy required to succeed these spaces in a few ways:

  • Use nametags as a “head start.” In addition to providing nametags so individuals can pair names with faces, pose a question for the group and have folks write their answers on their nametags. For example: what was your favorite cereal growing up, what pet would you have if you could choose, what part of the college experience you’re looking forward to the most. This can allow the “me too!” phenomenon to take place with a lower burden of energy expenditure- that small talk that can lead to these commonalities is made a little easier once one commonality is already found.
  • Carefully consider the questions you pose to the group. Irrespective of temperament, early social interactions are tough when you feel as though your answers are being judged. Common icebreakers, that place an emphasis on “most unique” or “most interesting,” create an unseen burden to craft an answer that satisfies the group. Comparatively, asking an individual’s favorite or most significant lets the person decide the value of that answer. Both types of question are perfectly acceptable, but thoughtfully varying your use of each can make a difference in helping more introverted folks warm up to a group.

Create Community Standards That Support Temperament
Rules about quiet hours and quiet spaces likely already exist on most campuses, and these rules can be the saving psychological grace for individuals that need that quiet time to recharge after a long day or week. These rules can be supplemented with some floor-based or hall-based guidelines (e.g. “headphones in” or “book up” means please don’t interrupt while I’m studying; “ID face up on the table” means please stop by and say hi) that help your students navigate common spaces.

These guidelines could be as general or as specific as you’d like, and can be decided ahead of time or crowdsourced from residents. The latter strategy could be an educational asset, providing students the opportunity to learn more about those around them and how they can best interact.

Articulate the Structure and Motivation Behind Community Standards
As these standards are being articulated, at floor meetings or in early gatherings of residents, emphasize the “why” of rules and guidelines as often as you can alongside the “what” or “how.” For example, if certain lounges are quiet after a certain time of day and others are designated 24-hour quiet lounges (an option you could consider for creating alternate “quiet spaces” for residents), articulate why there are spaces you’ve chosen to keep fully quiet. In my experience, students are generally willing to comply with a rule if they know the motivation behind it, even if it doesn’t apply to them or they don’t personally agree. By sharing that the addition of these quieter spaces allows some members of the community to be better classmates, roommates, and friends, they’ll likely have a greater understanding of what it means to comply.

Should it be helpful, feel free to use the rockets and planes analogy, or the rice and pasta analogy, to articulate the difference between the types.

Dig Deeper When Moderating Conflict
When moderating conflict between residents, be they roommates, hallmates, or other acquaintances, our default mindset is to consider the issue behaviorally. And in most cases, that approach is appropriate. However, I’d urge you to also read more into how each party is handling the issue- and how temperament plays a role in it. What seems like one roommate not being spoken or listened to may be an extrovert, not fully understanding what the other party needs to be communicated with. What seems like an over the top reaction to a noise complaint might be an outburst from an overstimulated introvert, at their physical wit’s end. These orientations to the world make a world of difference when managing conflict. You can help in this navigation by facilitating the asking of questions like “What’s the best way to share my feedback or constructive criticism with you?” “What signs should I look for to know if you’re having a tough day?” “If we realize we’re having a conflict, what’s the best way to talk it out?”

As you seek to help these people come to a resolution, help them understand how the people they are – and how they interact with the world – might contribute to the impasse they feel they’re at. It may not quell future conflicts, but at least they’ll know a little more about the person they’re sharing space with.

Rethink Student Staff Hiring Strategies
This last bit speaks to finding the people that are on the front lines in managing these issues. Having strong student support leads to strong peer support for residents- and this support needs to be more than willingness to do a role, and an ease in expressing this in an interview.

Yes, framing our residential life opportunities as “exciting,” or “in need of enthusiastic and energetic individuals” is a true statement, but it’d be just as true to emphasize elements of the position as “thoughtful” and in need of “contemplative leaders and good listeners.” Both brands of skill are essential to these critical leadership roles, and yet I rarely see the latter on job descriptions. Please note: while I maintain the belief that none of these qualities are the exclusive province of any temperamental type, I also believe that a broader application will yield a broader swath of applicants – ones who fit the former, the latter, or both.

This broad interpretation should also be carried into interview scenarios. Let all reviewers review candidate applications- introverts tend to be strong writers, and can yield significant insight on paper; if their applications are hidden or seen by few, that insight can’t be shared. Look not just for individuals who are quick to answer in interviews with rehearsed answers, but also those who appear to carefully consider their words before speaking. Listen to not just how they respond to questions, but to the questions they ask, and the level of thought they put in to that opportunity. And take note not just of the candidates who speak and interact with ease at group interviews, but also those who listen well to those in their groups, and contribute quietly but significantly to the task at hand. All these skills are valuable in creating a balanced team.

I hope this has helped you to take a closer look at the practices you employ in your residential community to embrace introverts, but in turn create an accepting space for all your students. None of these practices are designed to exclude the more extroverted members of the community, but rather to ensure that there is space for all in their ostensible home.

Again, if you have more questions or are interested in chatting further, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!

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