Introverts can bring a lot of value to your business, but you need to create the right environment, especially in meetings, to ensure their voice is heard.
The workplace is often dominated by those who assert their physical presence above others, whether it’s a hearty laugh, a disagreement heard through a wall or a tendency to dominate discussions.
The problem for introverts – who amount to a third of the population – is that the way we tend to celebrate leadership, creativity and communication can, under poor management, lead to them being overlooked. At worst, systemic corporate ideology, which favours extroverts, can have a detrimental effect on their career path.
However, this particular group is slowly gaining the recognition it deserves, especially for delivering results that other personality types find difficult to achieve.
A relatively recent study by Harvard Business School showed that introverted leaders produce better results than their attention-grabbing counterparts, largely because of their ability to recognise other people’s strengths and give them the space to flourish, rather than talking over them or ignoring them as can often happen.
Introverts don’t always thrive in a meeting context. But there are effective meeting hacks you can implement that will help unlock the talents of the introverts in your next meeting.
Both team leaders and individual participants should be alert to the common meeting problems below and use the suggested tips so everyone has something to gain.
1. Unlearn scepticism about people who seem “too quiet”
Quiet people aren’t bored or not listening. Often, they’re processing, organising their thoughts, and waiting for the right time to share.
Ask for feedback both during and after the meeting to give introverts a clear opportunity to share their ideas.
During a meeting, always keep in mind that when it comes to ideas, quantity doesn’t mean quality. Resist the inclination to automatically view the most talkative contributors as the most valuable.
2. Preparation is key
Impromptu meetings are part of everyday life – for some more than others. However there is a difference between a quick catch up and being unorganised.
Introverts don’t respond well in meetings they have not prepared for. Send a detailed agenda before a meeting so introverts can plan something to contribute.
Even if it’s a brainstorm session, many like to think up ideas ahead of time, so let them know what you hope to get out of the meeting and what is specifically expected of them.
3. Too many extroverts, not enough focus
When a meeting bounces from point to point too fast without giving enough time and consideration to a single point, it’s likely you won’t hear anything from people who need time to think.
Once the team presents the first round of ideas on a topic, set a two minute period for processing and thought. As the meeting leader, ask for feedback, prompting with questions that tap into introverts’ natural talents, such as, “are we missing anything?” and, “can anyone sum this up for us?”
This will ensure you don’t haphazardly jump around topics without taking the time to thoughtfully explore several ideas. If you are an introvert and you need a minute to process, ask for that before you respond. And don’t be shy about emailing your ideas after a meeting.
4. The loudest ideas aren’t always the best ones
There’s a bit of a myth in workplaces that since extroverts tend to contribute more frequently and with more decibels than introverts, they’re more valuable.
Au contraire: they can sometimes create a toxic environment. Be alert for “extrovert-splaining” (an extrovert interrupting an introvert to explain something that the introvert actually knows more about), needless interrupting, and “extro-propriating” (extroverts taking credit for ideas generated by introverts).
This is a communication issue more than a personality issue, so if these problems keep happening, ask your best communicators to lead by example. Ask for input from everyone at the table and correct those who habitually interrupt.
5. Back-to-back meetings leave no time for decompression
Back to back meetings are never a good idea and should be avoided at all costs. If meetings need to happen, it’s only fair you give your team members time to process the information from the meeting before moving on to the next task.
6. Rushing through unnecessary meetings helps no one
Often, there’s nothing worse than being in a meeting unnecessarily, which could have been replaced with a Slack.
Including only the essential personnel will gain the trust of your team, who know they are there out of necessity and are more likely to prepare properly.
This will make introverts more comfortable, and improve productivity too. Don’t rush during the meeting, or rush your team. If anyone isn’t ready to contribute at the time, let them know that’s no problem. They can follow up with you later – and make sure they do.
7. The meeting topic does not directly affect everyone in it
While it’s good to bring extra people in to a meeting for new ideas, if introverts are not well versed in the topic it will directly affect their ability to consistently contribute.
If you’re an extrovert or the meeting’s leader, be willing to let your participants take their pick of where they participate most based on the topics they’re really passionate about. If you’re planning a meeting, ask introverts to help you create the agenda.
Using the tips above will maximise your teams’ talent and ensure you get the most out of each team member. It’s worth noting that meetings which take place over the phone or remotely can present their own set of challenges for balancing the contributions of introverts and extroverts.
Using video conference for these situations is a good way to keep everyone at ease, as being aware of participants’ body language and gestures are important signifiers which can help everyone stay focused, engaged and, most importantly, empowered to contribute.
About Steve Duignan
Stephen Duignan is VP International Marketing at LogMeIn and is responsible for product management as well as the growth of key geographies, markets and products. Having held previous positions at SanDisk and Dell, Stephen has over 20 years global experience with a diverse range of products including SaaS, IT hardware and software.