How to get your introverts to engage in meetings

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Organisational psychologist Phiona Martin says meetings are often biased towards extroverts, thus hindering the potentially valuable contributions of introverts.

One of the most widely used personality tests, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), describes introverts as individuals who are reflective, reserved, contained, enjoy being alone and prefer engaging in fewer but deeper relationships with people. Additionally, introverts prefer communicating in writing and learn best by reflecting and have a deep focus on their areas of interest.  

It's not uncommon for introverts to feel that extraversion is considered more desirable in the workplace. They are less inclined to engage in self-promotion and spotlight-seeking behaviour and, as result, their hard work can go unnoticed. Introverts are often misunderstood and their preferred styles may not be recognised in daily work interactions and meetings in particular where they may appear disengaged because they are not always comfortable in large group settings. 

Meetings have become a prominent part of employees’ daily activities. Some research has shown that meetings have increased in length and frequency over the past 50 years. The impact of this on introverts is that most meeting formats tend to be biased towards extroverted preferences, which are characterised by free-for-all discussions, fast responses and rapid-fire brainstorming, thus putting introverted people at a disadvantage as speed and volume take precedence over quality of contributions. Both introverts and extroverts have something valuable to contribute but the format of meetings tends to favour the latter group of people.

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If the only opinions and ideas heard during a meeting are from the loudest people, the outcome will invariably be less than optimal because there will be views that may be very valuable that aren’t heard. Even if the contributions of those introverts are not the best ones they may very well provide insights that would otherwise have been overlooked.

Here are some tips on getting contributions out of introverts and ensuring they become valuable and equal participants at meetings (in a manner that suits their preferences):

  1. Engage the introverts on your team before or after meetings. Before the meeting, one could perhaps allocate them a particular topic or agenda item they must contribute on. Introverts, are not always inclined to take the platform, but will speak when “given” the platform. After meetings, if the introverts in the room did not contribute much, chat to them on a one-on-one basis to hear the feedback and insights they may not have been able to share with the larger group.
  2. Send the agenda out ahead of time. Introverts are very reflective and like to carefully consider their ideas before speaking. This will give them time to prepare for the meeting and discussion points ahead of time.
  3. Conduct team "round robin" discussions where everyone is expected to participate when possible. 
  4. Introverts will often speak up when prompted. Ask their opinion, but try not to put them on the spot or call for them to respond immediately. They are not always the best with prompt, unpremeditated responses as they like to reflect and think about their answers. If you ask a question, allow the fast ones to respond first and give introverts time to process their answers. 
  5. Use various meeting formats like handing out sticky notes and asking participants to write down their ideas on a given topic. Then collect and post the notes on a wall or collate afterwards.

Successfully managing diversity in the workplace also includes managing a variety of personality and interaction styles. Meetings have become an integral part of every workplace, especially given their increase in frequency during the last few decades. Introverts can easily go unnoticed in situations where extroverted personalities thrive the best. That is why it is important to ensure that crucial events such as work meetings get representative participation. Engaging the introverts by incorporating practices that are more in line with their preferences should be a consideration of every meeting facilitator. 

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