How to make your meetings please introverts

by | Oct 19, 2016 | Blog | 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!


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