I am an introvert. That doesn’t mean I’m shy or afraid of what people might think of me: I’ve spent my career standing up in front of people. It just means that I tend to get my energy from quiet time, when I recharge my batteries, and I like time to think and reflect. You will not necessarily get the best out me by asking for my opinion at the drop of a whiteboard marker. I’m the sort of person who can leave a meeting thinking ‘I wish I’d said that.’
Meetings are most effective when they harness the unique insights of every member. So, when thinking about how to get the most out of meetings it’s worth considering if you have any introverts in your team. Conversely, it’s good to identify the extraverts too. Those who use talking as a way of focusing their thinking, and may leave a meeting thinking ‘I wish I hadn’t said that.’
The key is to give everyone the opportunity to speak their mind. In the first place make it clear that you want everyone’s opinion to be heard and they have permission to venture an ill-formed thought, without fear of being marked down or laughed out of the room. But setting clear ground rules is only the first step. You must follow through intentions with action and role model the behaviours you seek.
To allow introverts to contribute, send out the agenda and key documents a few days in advance. Also consider asking for everyone’s initial thoughts on the issue or issues before the meeting, then circulate them to all attendees. This helps to avoid anchoring and first speaker advantage, the tendency for social conformity to silence our individual beliefs and convictions.
Choose the running order deliberately. Either pick at random who will speak first or start with junior members first, this will help stop senior people dominating and again prevent anchoring. In the British Army’s Courts Martial System junior ranks always speak first during deliberations on the case in hand.
This can of course be rather daunting for some junior members of staff and for those of a more introverted nature, but to offset the personal cost of discord or looking foolish, encourage and reward their contributions. Welcome disagreement and good ideas, and make sure they get the credit for them. Chat to those who you think are too shy and explain the value of their input. At the end of the meeting, canvass the views of those who have not spoken. Ask them specifically how they feel about the issues discussed and have they anything they would like to add? After the meeting thank them and encourage them to speak more often.
Finally, and if you’re really feeling daring, try this for cutting short the digressions and long-winded rambling of the more effusive and extravert. Make clear in the ground rules that anyone is entitled to tap the table with their pen when they feel a colleague is going on a bit, and to keep tapping until they stop!