January 23, 2019 6:53 pm
We have devoted several articles to strategies to tame the dominators in a meeting (see Bosses, Bullies, and Braggarts: How to Tame Meeting Dominators). But what about drawing out the ideas, concerns and contributions from introverts – those who are less comfortable speaking in front of groups or having to ‘think on their feet’?
According to Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, about 1/3 of any given group will likely be introverts, who make their best contributions when they have time to process new information and have the space to choose their words carefully. Because introverts tend to feel less comfortable speaking in large groups, their lack of contribution is often misinterpreted as lack of agreement, expertise or interest. Extroverts, on the other hand, have no problem receiving new information in a meeting and tend to process their thinking immediately and out loud. So how does a facilitator ensure that the discussion isn’t dominated by the extroverts and the introverts’ critical input is not overlooked? Below are some ideas to consider before, during and after the meeting.
Before the Meeting
- When sending out the agenda ensure that you identify the meeting purpose, intended outcomes and agenda for the meeting
- Send out pre-reading material for members to digest and prep for the meeting
- Provide any key questions that will be asked to “prime the pump” and allow for some pre-meeting time to contemplate responses
- Target one or two introverts attending your meeting to get input on the meeting design and best engagement strategy
- When designing the structure of the meeting, include elements where individuals provide written input (to enhance anonymity) or share in pairs or small sub-groups before having to share in the larger group
During the Meeting:
- Introduce meeting norms, such as: all voices and opinions count, side talk is discouraged, no interrupting, build on ideas before critiquing, etc.
- When introducing a complex or difficult question, start with some quiet time allowing introverts time to reflect and think before having to verbally respond. You may want to create a Worksheet that has all of the questions to be discussed during a discussion. Participants can use this to articulate and write down their thoughts
- Use small sub-groups before large group debriefs. This allows the introvert to test out their idea(s) before having to report out
- Have sub-groups choose someone to report out – typically the extroverted person in the group volunteers
- Use a round robin to encourage all voices to be heard
- Allow people to pass if their idea has already been stated
- Don’t put an introvert on the spot with a tough question on a new topic, rather draw them in with an easier question such as: Saleem, based on what Jill said, what stands out most for you?
After the Meeting
- Check in with any of the more introverted participants to get feedback on: what worked and what could work better the next time for getting them engaged?
- Collect any worksheets that participants used to capture their thoughts. Some good ideas might be found that one of the participants neglected to mention
Ensuring that introverts are heard, ensures more robust, well thought out results in your meetings. Commit to being conscious of this group of individuals and what it will take to engage them when preparing for and leading your next meeting.