By Joe Kay & Toby Lyons
Tips and Techniques to Give Introverts a Voice in The Workplace
Here’s the dilemma: when extroverts are energized by social interaction, and when introverts are energized by space and solitude, as a leader who want to get the best from your people, what should you do about meetings?
Firstly, let’s really understand what being introverted and extroverted means.
The ‘Energy Bucket’ is an easy way to understand where we all sit on the introvert-extrovert scale: Introverts start the day with a bucket full of energy that gets drained by interacting in large groups. Extroverts’ energy buckets start low and fill up from these same interactions.
Meetings energise extroverts but drain introverts. Multi-stakeholder discussion is perfect to let extroverts think together, but introverts struggle with this and prefer to process information in a quieter environment.
When meetings are how humans do our collective thinking, how do you as a leader create the right environment for both introverts and extroverts to think together effectively?
In this article, we have put together some advice for you that will help you to get the best out of your team.
Understand the Personalities in your Team
Recently, we were surprised to find out that someone we work closely with is an introvert because in meetings, he displays the outward signs of being an extrovert. How people behave at work, does not help identify where they sit on the introvert-extrovert scale, it is not obvious.
To make an impact in meetings, introverts are required to exhibit extroverted behaviour and they have learned to do this. This is explained brilliantly in Chapter 6 of Susan Cain’s Quiet, and summarised excellently by James Marrable.
But if introverts can just behave like extroverts, what’s the problem?
Remember the energy bucket. If introverts are in back-to-back meetings, their energy will be rapidly draining and they will not be thinking clearly. When meetings are the way we think together, too many meetings will reduce the collective intelligence of the team.
Because it’s not obvious who is an introvert and who is an extrovert, it’s important to understand where people naturally sit on the scale, then look at the improvements that can be made based on this information.
We therefore recommend getting everyone on your team to do a personality test.
Ray Dalio, the founder of Bridgewater Associates, along with around 80% of Fortune 500 companies use the Myers Briggs Type Indicator to discover employees’ personality types.
While this test is divisive amongst psychologists, my experience as a leader is that it serves as a catalyst for people to discuss how they think best at work and is therefore an 80% solution that is easy to achieve.
Once you have discussed the natural personality types of your team, you are in a strong position to tailor your meetings to help you all think more effectively together.
The Purpose of the Meeting
We have already stated that meetings are how humans traditionally think together, but what are we trying to achieve with that collective thinking – What is the purpose of the meeting?
When we started looking into this question, we found that you could break it down to the following steps:
- Meetings are called to answer questions (what should we do about x…?)
- Invitees put forward ideas as potential answers to the questions
- Ideas are discussed, debated and tested
- The ideas are developed into an action plan, which is taken forward
Do you Really Need a Meeting?
Firstly, there is nothing that drains introverts more than constant meetings, so as a leader, ask yourself if you really need to call one? If you are an extrovert you may actually enjoy meetings, but to increase overall team productivity, we need to break the habit.
“I have a question for the team” should not automatically equal “I will call a meeting”.
Every year, in the USA alone, $37 billion is thrown away on meetings that aren’t productive.
So before you organise a meeting, think carefully about the questions you are asking the team, you may well be able to get quick answers with a group chat message, or during your next informal conversation.
This however, obviously only goes so far, we are not going to be able to kill meetings totally, so how can we activate the introverts in our team when we do need to meet?
How to Activate Introverts Before a Meeting
When you frame meetings as a method for team thinking, there are no rules. Your objective as a leader should be to simply get the best possible answers to your questions.
There is no rule to say that ideas must be generated in the meeting room or that everyone has to discuss the merits of ideas on the spot.
To activate introverts we recommend “pre-brainstorming” ideas before a meeting using collaboration technology.
If you are calling a meeting, you must know the question and sub-questions you’re trying to answer, so share them with your team. While the extroverts may well want to wait until the meeting to bounce ideas off each other, your introverts will appreciate being able to develop ideas in a quieter way in the hours or days before the meeting.
How to Activate Introverts in a Meeting
If you want introverts to be able to think in a meeting, you need to give them periods of time to reflect.
This doesn’t mean that we need to turn meetings into some form of silent retreat, it just means taking a few minutes to let people think on their own, without noise. Here are three ways to do this:
- Facilitators have long used the humble Post-it note to act as a method for giving introverts the ability to put forward ideas. Getting your team to think individually for a few minutes before sharing ideas is extremely effective at activating introverts.
- Bring your pre-brainstorm into the meeting to let all the team continue to work on it together, then use the analysis to focus the rest of the meeting. Having a combination of writing and speech in meetings works effectively in-person or online.
- Increasingly, as meetings are being conducted via video call, if the extroverts are getting excited and bouncing ideas off each other, let the introverts mute the conversation for a couple of minutes, think through things for themselves, then propose their thoughts back to the group.
As a leader or manager, your job is to get the best out of your people for the overall benefit of your organisation. Understanding how each of your team thinks most effectively will help you tailor your meetings to creatively come up with the better ideas to action.
Introverts make up between a third to half the population and traditional meetings have made it difficult to access their brain-power. When people don’t feel heard in meetings it is incredibly frustrating for them. Using some of the techniques above will give your introverts a voice, help them to make an impact and feel valued.
When people feel valued, they engage more with their work and we see a virtuous cycle of increasing morale and team success. This can only be good for your team, your organisation and you as a leader.
Want to see how Enswarm helps introverts get their voices heard in the workplace?
Check out our case studies here