Connect Consulting Group

How to make your meetings please introverts

by Liz Guthridge on October 19, 2016 · 0 comments

Picnic table“If you’re not intentionally including individuals, you’re accidentally excluding them.”  — The NeuroLeadership Institute.

That’s a great wake up call for those of us who convene meetings, form teams, and select participants for all types of activities.

Let’s take the topic of meetings, and specifically introverts.

Ever since learning about Susan Cain’s 2012 book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, I realized that routine meeting designs weren’t nearly as inclusive as they should be to accommodate introverts.

Most meetings cater to extroverts. A vocal few can dominate the meeting conversation. Also, those who speak the loudest and the most often push their ideas forward, and can get others to agree to adopt them.

By contrast, introverts tend to listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and prefer avoiding discussions that feel like contentious debates.

At in-person meetings, introverts often can fade into the woodwork. As for virtual meetings, they may go radio silent, although not necessarily by choice. It’s just too hard to fight for air time.

Now that I have finally read Cain’s best-seller book, I’m convinced that many meetings, including my own, need revamping to ensure that introverts feel included and comfortable so they can contribute and add value.

How can you make meetings better for introverts as well as others? Follow these four steps that I’ve adopted.

First, take a broader perspective of meetings, viewing them as an experience that begins before the meeting starts and continues after the formal meeting ends, as explained in the blog post, How to create energy, emotion, and edge in your meetings.

Second, pay careful attention to how you prepare for meetings. In particular, consider the role of the participants who will be attending, the meeting agenda, and the meeting format. More about this in a moment.  

Third, for the actual meeting, stick with your plans, unless things go off track—which is certainly a possibility you need to deal with in the moment (and a bigger topic than making meetings inclusive for introverts so we won’t cover it here). In my experience, all too often once a meeting begins, everyone, including the meeting leader, skips what they were planning to do, and decides to wing it instead. No surprise then that the meeting becomes a free-for-all, which extroverts can control.

Fourth, after the meeting, evaluate the outcomes. Consider not only the results you achieved, but also whether all voices spoke and were heard. You may want to check in with some or all participants, including the known introverts, to ask for their reactions.

Back to the meeting prep, here’s more about the three actions that contribute to consistently effective meetings for everyone:  

1.Consider whether the participants are creators versus collaborators. Individuals who spend most of their work day creating on their own may have different expectations for meetings. (Creators may be introverts, but not necessarily.)

Meetings give creators a break from solitude, which they may appreciate or resent, especially if they’re on deadline. Regardless, meetings may feel like a waste of time compared to their real work.

To help the creators, eliminate or minimize actions people can do on their own, such as reviewing reports. Instead, take advantage of people coming together. Ask provocative questions to get to the heart of issues worth discussing. Share a problem that needs solving. Do contingency planning. Do something to make it worthwhile for creators as well as others to invest time in the meeting and get good outcomes.

2.Prepare a meeting agenda and send it out in advance. Every meeting should have an agenda to ensure a valid meeting purpose, solid content, and realistic goals and timing.

When you share the agenda in advance, you show you’ve invested time into making the meeting effective. You’re also helping participants prepare to do their part to contribute to the meeting’s success.

Introverts may like to use this preparation time to consider when they want to speak and what they want to say. Some introverts feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. While they may not write out what they plan to say, they can at least consider the points they want to make.

Introverts also can plan how they want to manage their energy in the meeting. Compared to extroverts, introverts can find meetings over-stimulating. Meeting time can be more tiring and trying than working on their own or with one or two others.  

3. Design the meeting format for both individual and group involvement. Include time on the agenda for individual reflection and contributions as well as structured group discussions.

For example, one effective exercise is to hand out sticky notes and ask participants to write down their ideas, one per note, when starting discussion on a new topic. Then collect and post the notes on a wall, grouping them for all to see. Or, ask a couple of participants to read the notes. This exercise ensures that everyone gets a chance to express themselves.

Also, as the facilitator, be aware of who’s not speaking. Look for opportunities to ask those individuals if they want to say anything, now or later.

Also consider meeting ground rules. For instance, “one conversation only with no side conversations” can help everyone focus, especially introverts.

Life is too short for anyone to suffer through bad meetings. With time and thought, you can include a number of brain-friendly techniques that help everyone think better and enjoy the meeting experience, especially introverts.

Meanwhile, please take a moment to answer these short questions about your current meetings. The direct link to the brief assessment is: Your answers will help my colleague Scott Wigley and me as we fine-tune our new meeting experience framework.

What are you doing to make your meetings more inclusive and effective? I’d love to hear from you in the comments box!

yellow-flowers-in-desertAs a leader you need to inform, interact with, and inspire employees.

What are the vital communication skills you need to brush up on, or acquire?

When a former colleague recently asked me that question, I answered with these five skills:

  1. Listening
  2. Asking questions
  3. Synthesizing
  4. Telling stories
  5. Creating clear and compelling calls to action.

Why are these five so critical?

In today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world, you and other leaders need to act more quickly than ever, responding to diverse individuals who are dealing with evolving, unpredictable situations.

You can’t rely on scripts as they become outdated almost as quickly as they’re prepared. Plus, people prefer to engage in real-time two-way conversations rather than listen to lectures. That means interacting with real humans rather than watching polished performers.

Today’s leaders need to be less like traditional actors who follow a script and more like improv players who relate to others in the moment.

If this sounds like improv, you’re right. A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about how leaders can improve their leadership skills by doing more improv.

The more familiar you are with improv the easier it is to focus more on others than yourself. In other words, it starts to become second nature for you to look at issues from others’ perspectives; for example, you can more easily put yourself in others’ shoes.

This perspective-taking, as the scientists call it, helps you be more empathetic. When you’re empathetic, you can connect faster and deeper with employees, or anyone for that matter.

To improve your perspective-taking and your communication, you can work on these five vital skills by doing the following:

  1. Listening more deeply and broadly to more individuals, not just to your inner circle and other usual suspects. The color commentary you hear can give you fresh viewpoints and help you avoid the traps of falling into an echo chamber.  (For more about this, check out Listen with feeling.)
  1. Asking more questions. You’ll learn more when you query. Plus if you ask good thinking questions, you can help others gain self-generated insights, which will make new connections in their brain and encourage them to take action. (For more about this, see Why an “aha!” helps behavior change.)
  1. Synthesizing data in a clear, crisp and concrete manner. There’s a reason we pay attention to text messages, tweets and well-crafted headlines. They cut through the clutter, grab our attention and direct our focus. If you can communicate briefly, clearly and compellingly, individuals can understand you with a minimal of mental effort—which we appreciate.
  1. Telling stories succinctly, specifically and sincerely. We’re wired to love stories. If you can tell stories to share a cautionary tale, convey a point, pose a challenge, motivate, or anything else, you can help people more quickly grasp the gist, remember it and act. (For more about this, check out this Scientific American blog post “It’s in our nature to need stories.”)
  1. Creating clear and compelling calls to action. If you want employees to take action, you need to explicitly ask them. There’s way too much information swirling around to assume that people can clearly focus and parse out exactly what you want them to do. We’re wired for inattention and inertia; we need clear requests. (See 7 steps for a compelling call to action.)

When you add these five skills and other soft skills to your repertoire, you’re able to better inform, interact with and inspire employees.

And as you improve your communication, you’re also able to  build stronger relationships with employees and others.

In a connection economy, these relationships serve as powerful currency for getting things done and achieving positive outcomes.

If you’re like me and still appreciate well-written poetry and prose, we have to acknowledge the disruption of traditional communication and recognize that beauty is often now in the eye of those conversing, not crafting the messages.

The definition of effective communication has expanded. And it’s likely effective communication will continue to evolve.  

What are you doing to be a more empathetic and powerful leader who communicates well?

Why and how you need to help people pay attention

by Liz Guthridge on September 20, 2016 · 1 comment

Marcel and the geesePay bills. Pay respect. Pay attention. If you’re a responsible adult, you do these actions, often without prompting.

Yet, even when you want to pay attention to your leaders, co-workers, and trainers and learn from them, you may fail.    

Attention is necessary for learning, and it’s a very complex action requiring different brain regions and circuitry.

Paying attention depends on your ability to focus on specific input while resisting the urge to be distracted from other stimulation (Can we look at another texted pet photo? Sure!), as I learned in my applied neuroscience program.

Even more challenging, you can only pay attention for about 20 minutes before you need to rest and recharge. This is true even if you’re highly motivated to focus on the content. The brain’s pre-frontal cortex, often referred to as the executive function, is involved, and it tires easily.

These lessons came flooding back to my consciousness as I participated in the 2016 MidSouth ATD Conference and Expo earlier this month in Nashville.

When I learned about the science of attention a few years ago, different neurons in my brain had fired together and achieved synchrony, which changed my brain. The maxim that “Cells that fire together, wire together” from Hebb’s Law helps explain this aspect of the brain’s neuroplasticity, that is, its ability to change.

And because I was interested in the topic of attention and deemed it important, this information has stayed in my long-term memory. (But there’s a lot of other stuff missing, either because I didn’t pay enough attention or didn’t think I needed to remember it….)

How can you help yourself and others pay attention and learn, especially if you’re the one trying to train someone and the topic is technical?

Here are three actions that help:

  1. Make sure the environment is conducive to learning. If you’re meeting face-to-face, the room needs to be physically comfortable without distractions. If you’re online, make sure it’s easy for people to sign on. The more you can make things comfortable and easy, the more you can reduce their cognitive load so they can pay attention to the substantive content you want to share.
  1. Connect the content to something that’s immediately meaningful or relevant. To get someone’s attention, you need to provide information or a diversion that piques their interest in the moment. Show them why your content matters to them and their job now, and how they can apply it after they leave your session.
  1. Mix things up after 20 minutes. Change your learning format every 20 minutes. For example, switch from lecture to discussion or Q&A. Show a video. Or ask people to stand up and stretch, or move to another seat. Any of these actions helps the prefrontal cortex re-charge itself. When you show a video or involve others through discussion, you also add an emotional component, which heightens people’s interest level and keeps them more engaged in the content.

With so many competing priorities—our own and others—we cannot expect that we or our colleagues will pay attention when we’re exposed to new information and people.

Rather than take attention for granted, we need to work at getting it and keeping it.

And when people do pay attention to us and our content, we owe it to them to provide a high return on their investment.

That’s why my best moment at the conference was when a participant told me she got more value from my one-hour session on learning the skill of building habits than she did from a day-long workshop on productivity tips.

The 2016 MidSouth ATD Conference organizers worked hard to follow the science of attention and they succeeded. Kudos to them and to the keynoter, Julie Dirkson of Usable Learning, who kicked off the conference with a thought-provoking interactive session on the science of learning.

By the way, if you’re interested in learning more about the role attention plays in learning, check out this NeuroLeadership Journal article The Science of Making Learning Stick: An Update to the AGES Model. (AGES stands for attention, generation, emotion, and spacing.)

Meanwhile, good luck paying attention….it’s harder work than we think.

How to create energy, emotion, and edge in your meetings

by Liz Guthridge on September 11, 2016 · 0 comments

meeting-experiences-model-graphicDo your meetings have the energy, emotion and edge needed to keep you and others engaged, performing at your peak, and achieving the results you want?

If not, how would you describe your meeting experiences?

You probably will refuse, but I hope you will take a moment to answer a few questions about your meetings. The direct link is:

Your responses will help my colleague Scott Wigley and me as we work to help you improve your meetings as well as our own. Our goal is to share any survey results and observations with you before the end of November, which coincides with end of the Atlantic hurricane season.

You see, meetings are similar to the weather – something we all experience, complain about when they’re not to our liking, and often consider ourselves victims because we believe we can’t control the situation.

Yet, we can influence meetings regardless of our role.

Whether we’re a participant or a leader, if we take a broader perspective of meetings, we can make them feel less of an ordeal and more of a welcome experience.

In fact, “experience” is the operative word. Considering the percentage of our life that we spend in meetings, we deserve to feel like we’re taking part in meaningful events rather than going through the motions and marking time.

How do you change your perspective to first view meetings as more than a work obligation and then to create a meaningful meeting experience?

You need to take these steps, based on the brain science and our years of designing, facilitating, and sitting in meetings:

  1. Plan the pre-meeting and post-meeting steps just as carefully as you do the meeting itself. (And if you don’t do much meeting preparation, start.)
  1. Adopt brain-friendly principles to follow throughout your planning and the steps. These include:
    • Being open and positive. Depending on your meeting role, think of yourself either as a gracious host or genial guest who will do your best to welcome others and work to bring out the best in them. (See Let’s have a party for more about this.)
    • Chunk the content. Keep meetings as short as possible, preferably no longer than 90 minutes at a one time. And for any meetings longer than 15 minutes, mix things up to help people pay attention and focus. (For more on this, check out To improve recall, use social learning.)
    • Engage participants. To keep people interested in the meeting content and each other, encourage participants to interact with one another, ask questions, take turns talking, co-create together, and celebrate wins of all sizes and milestones. (For more, read 3 ways to increase your team’s smarts.)
  1. For each of the three steps (before, during, and after), take actions that will make it easier for participants to follow along and benefit from the experience, as well as enjoy it. To avoid overtaxing your brain now, we’ll share details about these actions in future blog posts.

Meanwhile, even though you will probably refuse, I hope you will answer these quick questions about your meeting experiences. The direct link to the brief assessment is:

(And if you’re wondering why I’m asking you even though you probably will refuse, it’s because it’s a persuasion technique that works well.  That’s because you are free to choose whether to take action or not. For more about this, read You Will Probably Refuse, But I Wonder If You Would Read This Post in the Science of Us.)

As for your meetings, life is too short to suffer through bad meetings. You deserve meetings that energize you, help you make emotional connections with others, and sharpen your edge to advance your work.

If most of your meetings range from “bad” to “meh,” it’s time to enhance your meeting experiences. Or not. It’s your choice. However, you can start by taking this assessment:

How to toast my late mother, mentor, and dog

by Liz Guthridge on August 29, 2016 · 5 comments

Vineyard 29Please join me in toasting the memories of my late mother, a mentor, and Gustav who’s featured in an important new book on animal transitions. All three taught me valuable lessons that you may benefit from as well.

As background, over a seven-day stretch in August, I lost my 85-year-old mother, Ruth Lieberman Guthridge, and my 88-year-old mentor, Thomas H. Paine. They never met each other, yet they both played significant roles in shaping who I am as a human being.

Considering that all three of us are/were dog people, it seems fitting that between their two deaths a copy of the just-published book, Peace in Passing: Comfort for Loving Humans During Animal Transitions, thoughtfully inscribed by the author Maribeth Coye Decker, arrived in the mail for me.  Several of the author’s stories revolve around our dog Gustav, including his rich inner life and how we handled grieving his sudden death last October.

As for the two humans, while they inhabited different worlds, they both valued education and were both clever problem solvers.  (For example, my younger sister Rachel, younger brother David, and I will always be grateful to my mother for bringing a dog into the family before she became pregnant with me and naming him “Jake” — one of my father’s favorite names.)

My mother and Tom also stressed good manners. They believed in and practiced spending more time listening than talking, and taking the initiative to introduce yourself to strangers to make them feel welcome. (I think my mother would have been proud of my father and me for following her advice at her memorial service.)

As for Tom, he was one of the early partners of the pioneering benefits consulting firm, Hewitt Associates (now part of Aon),  which was my first employer after I graduated from Northwestern University.

Tom was known inside and outside Hewitt Associates for his technical prowess, conscientious client service, and strong support of new consultants.

(Tom also was a trail blazer in how the firm’s consultants dressed. As the legend went, Ted Hewitt believed his consultants looked more professional in hats so he outfitted his client-facing staff members with hats and leather briefcases. But Tom kept leaving his hats in trains, planes and client offices, so the firm gave up and dropped the hat requirement. The company-issued briefcase tradition continued.)

Here are my three favorite lessons from Tom:

  • To serve multiple clients well, you have to juggle. Occasionally, you’ll drop a ball. Just try to pick it up on the first bounce and go from there.
  • You can be influential wherever you are and regardless of your position. The Social Security Administration approached Tom to serve in a leadership role. He declined the offer because he believed he could make a greater impact on retirement policy on the outside than in the government. During his time at Hewitt Associates, the retirement field experienced many changes, including ERISA, 401(k) plans, ESOPs, etc.
  • Whether you have a calling or a career, you can and should have other interests outside of work to keep you healthy, well-rounded, and grounded. Tom was a master gardener, baker and mixologist. Plus, he and his wife Teresa Norton, also a Hewitt Associates partner and my awesome first boss out of college, started the highly-rated boutique winery Vineyard 29 after they retired. Tom and Teresa also actively supported several charities in Napa Valley and then in the San Diego area where they moved after selling the winery in 2000.

Over the years, I formed a strong friendship with Tom and Teresa outside of work, especially once they retired from Hewitt Associates, and enjoyed their company immensely. I appreciated how they welcomed my husband into the mix, once I met him.

While on the plane to my mother’s memorial last week, I read Peace in Passing. While this ground-breaking book is definitely intended to comfort humans during animal transitions, which can be more challenging at times than human losses, many of the messages apply to all creatures and humans, great and small.

Namely, love never dies.