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Introverts in Qualitative Research

July 8, 2011


The “Wrong” Personality

When you hear “focus group moderator,” what first comes to mind?  Most immediately picture someone who’s gregarious, outgoing, a “people person.”  In short, traits most people associate with extroverts.    Introverts on the other hand are generally seen as “reflective” or “reserved,” feel comfortable being alone, like things they can do on their own, and prefer to know just a few people well.

In other words, they’re assumed to be loners who don’t like the company of others—shy, even. How could someone like that stand up in a group of people and lead a discussion.  And, according to the introvert profile, why would they even want to!

The Myth About Introversion

The truth is, introversion doesn’t explain personality as a whole.  Shyness, for example, is not the same thing as introversion.  As noted by Susan Cain in her blog post The Power of Introverts, “…shyness is the fear of negative judgment, and introversion is a preference for quiet, minimally stimulating environments.”  So, for example, Bill Gates an introvert, is not shy.  And Barbara Streisand is a (painfully) shy extrovert.

Introverts are not only not necessarily shy, it’s surprising how many introverts are exhibitionists!  Performance, whether as dancers, singers, actors, or speakers, provides a “necessary release” for some who generally lead introverted lives.

Benefits of Introversion for Focus Group Moderators

  • In a sense, moderating is like acting or other types of performance. It means slipping into the persona of researcher and working within a prescribed discussion guide, akin to a script.
  • A moderator acts within a research setting and focuses on a particular issue. So even though it involves working with people, it’s really more “task-oriented” in a way that appeals to the introvert.
  • A moderator solves problems by becoming an “expert” on how consumers think and feel, much the same as solving problems in the quiet of a library.  This is a key skill in moderating and when it comes to analyzing data and producing a report.
  • Moderators are valued for being focused, detail-oriented, and persistent — key strengths of some introverts.  Being able to see the big picture, is also important.  Contrary to the stereotype, some introverts are big picture people, “who would find detail and process tedious and mind-numbing.”
  • Coming up with insights is expected of any good moderator.  This requires the type of original thinking and creativity that introverts are known for and is increasingly more in demand these days.
  • “I do my best thinking on a plane.” Moderators often travel, which means they are less subject to office distractions.
  • Given the nature of the work, moderators are able to do much of their work, part-time, or at home (which can minimize distractions and allow for more uninterrupted think time).  Working at remote offices is a growing trend and it’s especially true for moderators.

All of this goes to show that not everything is what it appears.  People, including moderators, are wonderfully complex.   That’s what makes their job so interesting, whether they are the type who prefers going to parties, or spending quiet time at the library.

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