In 2012, Susan Cain published the explosive book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts, which named the problem of our preference for extroverts in the workplace. The book stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for three years and has been translated into 36 languages. Numerous other publications on the same topic have hit the scene, and Cain has been interviewed everywhere from Harvard Business Review to Fortune as management discovered the importance of maximizing the talents of everyone in the workplace.
The introverts on your team have a lot to offer: high levels of focus, expansive creativity, responsiveness to intrinsic rewards, and the ability to thrive without as much supervision, for example.
Unfortunately, they don’t always contribute all they have to offer in a meeting setting.
The great news is that there are effective meeting hacks you can implement that will help unlock the talents of the introverts in your next meeting. Both managers/meeting leaders and individual participants can use these hacks, so everyone has something to gain from these best practices.
1. Problem: Introverts prefer to know what’s coming and prepare.
Solution: Luckily there’s an easy fix for this problem — send a detailed agenda before a meeting so introverts have time to prepare. Even if it’s a brainstorm session, many introverts like to think up ideas ahead of time, so let them know what you hope to get out of the meeting and what specifically is expected of them.
2. Problem: Overcoming unconscious bias against people who seem “too quiet.”
Solution: Introverts aren’t just quiet because they are disengaged or don’t have anything to contribute. Often, they’re processing, organizing 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.
And during the 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 as the most valuable.
3. Problem: Meetings driven solely by extroverts can move from point to point too quickly
Solution: Sometimes meetings can bounce from point to point too fast, without giving enough time and consideration to a single point.
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, “what have we overlooked here?” 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. Problem: Introverts have a harder time talking about things that don’t inspire them.
Solution: If you’re an introvert, hone in on the topics and issues that really matter to you and lead with those.
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.
5. Problem: Going off-agenda may reduce participation from introverts.
Solution: Going off-agenda isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s great when there’s an exciting new development that you want to explore. But remember that this type of meeting may energize extroverts so much they become dominant, and throw introverts off enough to stop participating.
If you’re following creative new leads, make sure you always sum up what’s happened periodically. Take a minute to reflect and organize all the ideas and action items.
Follow up after the meeting with details in writing so everyone can get and stay on the same page, and invite corrections and comments from your team.
6. Problem: Over-valuing ideas from the loudest contributors.
Solution: Since extroverts tend to contribute more frequently and with more volume than introverts, it’s easy for participants to see their contributions as more valuable regardless of content.
Be on the lookout 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.
7. Problem: Introverts need time to decompress after high levels of social interaction.
Solution: Don’t set back to back meetings. Make sure your team members can process the information from the meeting before moving on to the next task. (This benefits extroverts, too!)
8. Problem: The meeting atmosphere feels overwhelming to your introverted team members.
Solution: Include only the essential personnel at each meeting; this will make introverts more comfortable, and improve your 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.
If you’re in a meeting with remote employees, make it a video conference. This will foster better communication — we all know a big part of communication — and help everyone stay focused and engaged.
Start maximizing the talents your team brings to the table and get more from each team member—and every meeting—by using meeting hacks that empower introverts.