A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Students doing their bachelor’s or master’s in Leiden University, especially at the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences, may be familiar with doing well in work groups as an integral part of courses completion. Not to mention that participation in class discussions is often explicitly stated in course guidelines, constituting 30% of the final grade, for instance. Students are encouraged to solve problems together, listen to the opinions of others, and voice out their opinions as the learning process.
Talking to several friends from both the same and different faculties, I’ve found out that those who are not used to be required to participate in work group discussions in their previous education claim to be reluctant to speak in class. However, another reason comes up from those saying that it’s simply difficult because they’re introverts.
Introverts prefer doing things alone. They need relatively much time to really think before speaking up due to the fear of saying wrong things. Although they can be found to interact with others just fine, such activity is often energy-draining. Carrying this particular personality, it may therefore be a challenge for introverts to participate at class. Nevertheless, rather than being a problem to be tackled, it’s something to be acknowledged (and embraced!). For those introverts reading this, you can crack group discussions by doing the following:
1. Prepare beforehand. Read the objectives and the assigned materials, summarize the main points, and think about what can be interesting discussion points. No, don’t think about actually having yourself to discuss those points at class just yet. In order to feel more confident and reducing the fear of saying something wrong, prepare what’s necessary. But don’t get too overwhelmed!
2. Alter your mindset. Focus on the content rather than the scenarios of how others may react. Remember that you’re just as important as everyone else in the class. You’re the one doing the thinking while most others are doing the talking. And when you think too much about being wrong that it’s almost too late for you to speak, try using lines such as “My mind is still revolving around this, but what I’m thinking about is…”
3. Talk to your mentors. A friend of mine once talked to her mentor about being afraid to speak at class and having stage fright, and the mentor then gave her suggestions on how she could slowly learn to overcome her fear – a good response indeed. You cannot ask for mentors’ permission to let you not participate in group discussions, but you can let them know that you exert yourself to participate in discussions. Mentors do appreciate your honesty and effort.
4. Keep practicing. As much as you hate it, you eventually have to make it to the point of having yourself not feeling as fearful as you used to be, in order to make the most of your study at the university. Leiden University provides its students with extensive training and workshops related to communication skills, like in Skills Academy and International Leiden Leadership Programme. Lots of students find these helpful in a way that it boosts their confidence and strategies to overcome the fear of speaking up.
As hard as it can get at times, an environment that forces you to get out of our comfort zone is the best place where you can most develop. You don’t have to overpower others in discussions, but remember, your contribution is valuable. Telling you, introverts, to just speak up would be an over-simplification, but with preparation, practice, and the right mindset, you’ll be feeling completely differently about your group – and also about yourself. Moreover, I find that Leiden University actively provides the means to support its students in this matter. Last but not least, keep in mind that being an introvert isn’t something unfortunate, as research shows that introverts are oftentimes better at listening attentively, preserving at work, and doing in-depth analyses than extroverts!
Very inspiring article…thank you.
Nice and an important post! I found it really difficult to voice out my opinions in the beginning of my studies. However, after two years of Leiden life, it’s become easier mainly because you just get used to it and also because I stopped thinking so much about what other people might think about my comments. I used to think a lot whether I REALLY bring something new to the discussion, while those work group discussions are actually more about just discussing, learning to brainstorm, and hearing out everyone’s opinions. They can be fruitful but if they’re not, it’s totally OK, too.
Hi Anu, thanks for your comment. I totally agree that we shouldn’t put burdens on our shoulder to voice out authentic ideas just to be responded positively and aim to have a huge contribution in discussions. Most people aren’t as harsh as we initially thought when responding anyway. And the thing is, group discussions are not tests. If, in the end, an argument isn’t good enough, we shouldn’t feel less capable of thinking critically. Because giving opinions per se is the point of group discussions, regardless of it being right/supported or not. Btw, it’s good to know that you’ve nailed group discussions!