Morgan Hillman, Augusta University
Writing center pedagogy requires that consultants use directive, nondirective, collaborative, and emotionally-aware methods to provide personalized writing assistance. Consultants are expected to be highly skilled in rapport and relationship building. Interestingly, few studies investigate how consultants’ personalities—including introverted and extroverted traits—may influence their experiences with consulting. Drawing from a diverse group of scholars, I use research from the field of psychology and studies on personality theory to interpret what characteristics define extroversion and introversion. From there, writing center scholarship is evaluated to examine whether the scholarship is biased towards introverted or extroverted traits. Although most research presented does not overlap to show how personality and pedagogy intersect, using personality theory to understand extroverts’ social inclination and introverts’ observational skills enables researchers and directors to explore what constitutes effective consultation strategies. Reevaluating these strategies may result in the abandonment of certain practices and, more than likely, specialized training may need to be added for consultants to comprehend and apply the pedagogy in a way that suits their skillsets.
Keywords: introversion, extroversion, personality, directive, nondirective, empathy, consultant training, tutors, writing center
Writing centers are known for championing inclusivity for both consultants and consultees, resulting in a sensitivity towards identity politics. Current writing center research details the importance of identity for both writer and consultant. The elements of identity that are discussed with high frequency are gender (Denny et al., 2018a; Miley, 2016; Mundy, 2019), race (Denny et al., 2019; Garcia, 2017; Greenwell & Rowen, 2012), ability (Denny et al., 2019; Rinaldi, 2015), and socio-economic status (Bond, 2019; Denny et al., 2019, 2018; Salem, 2016). Yet, what is not as commonly considered within writing center scholarship is the link between writing center pedagogy and consultants’ degree of introversion or extroversion. The lack of research on the intersection of personality and pedagogy is concerning considering that some writing center practices prioritize specific elements of both introverted and extroverted communication styles. Common pedagogical practices in the writing center stress the need for consultants to be effective listeners and communicators while also extending empathy, patience, and support for struggling writers (Ryan & Zimmerelli, 2015). Assisting writers during a session may require the consultant “giving up authority” to find a balance where the writer is expressing agency and the consultant is providing helpful feedback through directive and non-directive strategies (Corbett, 2015; Fitzgerald & Ianetta, 2016). It is typical of extroverts to respond and provide encouragement verbally, while introverts are more observant, often falling into the listener role and examining the depth of emotion those around them express (Cain, 2012). The purpose of this conversation shaper is to address the gap between personality and pedagogy by reviewing scholarship on introversion, extroversion, and personality theory—in addition to writing center pedagogy—to determine common traits from each personality that are championed in the center and how those pedagogical practices can be adjusted to be accessible for all consultants.
Personality is a nuanced concept. Discussions of personality type often prescribe characteristics to each type that are influenced by genetics and environment (Tychmanowicz et al., 2021). As research on personality types has developed, introverts have been characterized in somewhat negative terms as being “quiet, passive, and less sociable” while extroverts have been described in more positive terms as being “bold, active, outgoing, and gregarious” (Zelenski et al., 2012). The negatively charged words associated with introversion can create biases in research, and they could generate further hurtful stereotypes for those identifying as introverts. Terms such as “observant” and “discerning” would better align with Guthrie and Jung’s interpretation of internal processing introverts. Thus, while a list of traits can be helpful in identifying which end of the introversion and extroversion spectrum someone falls, introverts and extroverts can better be defined in more neutral terms based on how they experience the world within and around themselves: extroverts seek knowledge from the external while introverts find depth in their internal repertoire of knowledge (Guthrie, 1927; Jung et al., 1976; Thompson, 1994). Discussions of introversion and extroversion also tend to frame characteristics as mutually exclusive within a binary, which can lead to a lack of consideration for ambiverts. As discussed in later portions of the paper, professional-grade tests rarely label people as simply an introvert or extrovert—most people have traits of both personalities. Introversion and extroversion are a spectrum in which people lean more towards one type than the other. However, for the scope of this work, the primary focus will center on addressing how identifying introverts and extroverts may benefit from revised pedagogy.
Existing pedagogy often assumes that consultants already have the appropriate social and interpersonal skills necessary to respond to varying writers. Directive, non-directive, empathetic, and emotion-based practices are needed in the center, but what about consultants that struggle with identifying difficult emotions or consultants that struggle to assert their feedback when they know a writer is missing key criterion for an assignment? As an introvert myself, in past consultations I have struggled to vocalize meaningful feedback and overcome the urge to fill the silence simply because current pedagogy emphasizes talking through the writing process with writers while praising their revision efforts. Instead of writing center pedagogy using blanket statements that empathy or directive strategies are effective in the writing center, future practices need to emphasize how consultants possessing unique traits can learn those pedagogical practices by starting with their strengths.
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Research concludes that, while introverts and extroverts have differing ways of relating to the world around them, their skillsets are both indispensable. Even though scholarship reasons that the inherent strengths of each personality are valuable (Jung et al., 1976; Kayaoğlu, 2013; Ku et al., 2020; Lu & Wang, 2017; Thompson, 1994), there is insufficient research to show how personality and writing center pedagogy intersect and how pedagogy should reflect that dynamic. If writing centers desire to address intersectional identity when creating inclusive spaces, they should carefully consider the role of consultants’ personality in training and practice. To acclimate all personality types and promote diverse staffing there needs to be more research.
Future research should properly investigate the influence of personality in choosing staffing, training, and pedagogy. To prioritize inclusivity, future research and practice can include administering one of several existing personality tests to potential and/or current staff members. Common measurements of personality type are the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Big 5 (OCEAN) test, and the Eysenck Personality Inventory. Each of the listed tests measures various aspects of personality, but each includes the introversion and extroversion scale:
- The Myers-Briggs Type indicator measures introversion/extroversion, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling, and perception/judgment. Based on the four areas of measurement, the test then gives participants a four-letter type that reflects which area they operate in most.
- The Big 5 (OCEAN) test measures an individual’s level of openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Each participant is given a percentage from 0-100 to inform what traits they exhibit most.
- The Eysenck Personality Inventory yet again relies on a continuum to define the disposition of a person’s personality; the Eysenck test measures extroversion/introversion and neuroticism/stability on a scale and labels participants as sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric, or melancholic.
Researchers and writing center directors alike may find it beneficial for consultants to take a selected personality test to receive quantitative data about the percentage of introverts and extroverts that constitute a given writing center. Testing would provide writing center staff with the opportunity for in-depth analysis regarding the diversity of staffing. From there, consultants can provide their thoughts on the practices encouraged in the center and the impact of those practices on their identities and consulting strategies. Do consultants feel a continuous strain when asked to adhere to strategies that go against their predisposed skillsets (i.e., extroverts toning down boldness to let writers have authority over the direction of their paper or introverts increasing verbal validation and feedback for writers)? Do consultants feel that, with proper training, they could utilize current practices? If so, what changes in training or practice do they feel could be made to include their skillsets in the center? Do writing centers, as spaces, encourage or discourage the expression of specific personality traits, and what effect might this have on tutors’ experiences? It would be worth it to have directors participate in providing their perceptions and personal experiences as well to gauge how their views may align or contradict with the experiences of the consultants they hire.
Based on the current ratio of introverts and extroverts in the center paired with the qualitative responses provided by consultants and directors, researchers can begin to formulate a holistic view of the influence of personality in the center. If consultants feel that, with additional training, they can learn to adapt current practices and make them their own, this may mean that current practices should be kept and developed to include strategies for accessibility for consultants (Alshreif, 2017; Im et al., 2020). Findings may also reveal to directors what possible biases could be present during the hiring process. If there is an indication that there is a stronger presence of one type, then directors may need to rethink what they view as valuable in consultants. What directors consider valuable skills may vary across writing centers. Regardless of which type is valued more, directors need to consider the message that sends to potential hires and consultees. If mostly introverts constitute the makeup of the center, extroverted hires may feel that their outspokenness and enthusiasm does not fit the tone of the center, and extroverted consultees may feel put off by the appearance of more observant and calculating consultants. The opposite applies if a center has primarily extroverted hires: introverts may feel that reserved and discerning traits are not welcome in an external processing space.
To offset the perceptions of traits valued in the center to align with a well-rounded, accessible view of the center, directors should be intentional in checking in with consultants to understand how they interact with pedagogy on a weekly or daily basis and how they feel about those interactions. In addition, for future promotional or recruiting events, writing center directors should select staff that can elaborate on their introverted and extroverted approaches to helping writers so that students get to view the center as an evolving and inclusive space.
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