Regardless of your industry or where you live, you likely work with introverts. Surveys have shown that worldwide, approximately 50% of people would identify as introverts and in North America, anywhere from 1/3 to half of people consider themselves introverts. While some workplaces skew more extraverted, regardless, you’re going to find yourself responsible for leading introverts. To get the best out of these members of your team, you will need to learn how to run introvert friendly meetings.
What is an introvert?
There are multiple interpretations of what an introverts is and people have sometimes combined different character traits, such as shyness or conscientiousness, into their definition of introversion. Introversion, though, was originally described as an orientation towards the inner world of thoughts and feelings, rather than the external life of people and activities. Introverts tend to need less stimulation than extraverts, and require time alone to recharge.
This can translate into various behaviours, depending on the degree of introversion a person possesses. Introverts may:
- work more slowly and deliberately,
- seek out time alone,
- think before they speak,
- less frequently express their emotions outwardly,
- seek depth over breadth,
- be more quiet and reserved, and
- keep private matters private.
Why worry about introvert friendly meetings?
That’s all great, but why should you worry about whether your meetings are introvert friendly? Most workplaces spend a lot of time in meetings, and if you’re only setting these up for half your employees, you’re missing out on diversity of thought. If introverts aren’t well engaged in meetings, they may struggle to perform to their peak potential, they may be less productive overall, and the organization may miss out on important insights.
Diversity is important to good decision making, and introverts and extraverts each bring important perspectives to the conversations that you’re having in your organization. If you’re minimizing the contributions of one or the other, you’re not making the best use of your people.
What do introverts need to succeed?
It’s important to note that all of us can adapt to our environments. Introverts thrust into an environment optimized for extraverts can and do learn to engage successfully. We can all likely think of lots of examples where we or people we know were uncomfortable, but still found success.
To best support introverts, though, and optimize their performance, you can consider how to adapt certain aspects of the environment.
Introverts typically need more time to consider information before sharing their thoughts. They can and do learn how to respond quickly in time-sensitive environments, but you’ll get their best insights if they have time to process information before sharing.
Similarly, introverts need more space in conversations to contribute comfortably. By space, I mean silence. Where extraverts may sometimes talk over others to get their points across, introverts often need a longer period of silence before it feels appropriate for them to jump in. Speaking too quickly after someone else has finished their thought may feel like an interruption to an introvert.
Finally, introverts typically like to contemplate things quietly rather than think out loud. They may struggle with out loud brainstorming sessions, as the words of others serve to drown out their thoughts.
How to run introvert friendly meetings
With that in mind, what can you do to facilitate introvert friendly meetings and ensure you get the best out of all members of your team?
First, you can be militant about agendas. My biggest pet peeve as an introvert is showing up to a meeting with no agenda. How do I know what materials to review to prepare if I don’t know what our objective is? A good agenda should give enough information to help attendees identify who needs to be in the conversation, what materials to review in advance, and what their role will be (contributor, decision-maker, observer, etc.). You should also send it out a few days in advance so that individuals can take the time they need to prepare.
If you’re planning to review information in the meeting and then ask for feedback or decisions, it’s a good idea to provide that information in advance. Introverts may struggle to provide knee-jerk feedback, so by allowing them to review the information and process it before the meeting, you have a better chance of achieving your meeting objective.
When you’re in the meeting itself, you can make use of technology to give attendees multiple ways to engage. There are a lot of different tools within teleconference technology and independent apps that allow attendees to provide feedback using real-time surveys or chat. If you’re going low-tech, you can use techniques like brainwriting to give introverts a way to get their thoughts heard.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, as the facilitator you need to manage the energy of the meeting. It takes a bit of finesse, but you need to resist the urge to allow the more vocal attendees to take over. If someone has contributed a lot, you can manage their share of the air-time by thanking them for their contribution and then asking to hear from someone you haven’t heard from yet.
You can also model the behaviour of leaving longer pauses after asking a question or for feedback. Often we ask whether there are any questions and then move on before offering more than a few seconds for people to jump in. Embrace the discomfort and leave 15 full seconds after you ask a question. Count it out at first if you have to. If nobody contributes in that time, then you move on.
Introverts have a lot to contribute, but can sometimes struggle to be heard in typical meetings. By understanding where they’re coming from and what they need in order to best contribute, you can help your whole team. If you’re an introvert yourself, consider making suggestions to your manager and colleagues to implement some of the changes suggested above. You may be surprised to find yourself enjoying meetings a little bit more.
Could you use some support in running better meetings or in getting your voice heard? Contact me or set up a free consultation today to learn how working with a coach can help you.
- Canada personality profile. 16Personalities. Retrieved September 28, 2022.
- Cain, S. (2013). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. Broadway Paperbacks.
- Kahnweiler, J. (2013). Quiet influence: The introvert’s guide to making a difference. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.