I am asked frequently how to engage introverts on a team in meetings. I guess because I am an introvert, and have written extensively about the subject, people assume I know how. I try to remind them other people are different from me, even other introverts.
Although it is a common perception that all introverts are reserved, constantly quiet and unsocial, introverts are a diverse group, with varying degrees of introversion. For example, if you give me authority, I’ll lead the meeting. No problem. That would never be comfortable for some introverts.
So, my best advice for leaders about engaging people in meetings would not be to consider the introverts, but to consider everyone different. When it comes to meeting dynamics, everyone has something to add and does so in their own way. It takes me time to understand the team. Part of my job, if I’m leading a meeting, is to analyze the people in the room, as much as I can, before the meeting begins. If it’s “your” team this is done over time—getting to know the team. If the meeting involves people you don’t know or know well, it’s more difficult, but good leaders learn to study people—things such as the way they respond before the meeting, when they are introducing themselves or their posture during the meeting.
But, I do understand the introvert question. Many introverts don’t engage in meetings. They keep to themselves, especially in large group settings. They aren’t as easy to get to know. And, yes, I can even be that way, especially if I’m not in a leadership position where I have to force myself out of my introversion—or it’s a meeting full of extreme extroverts.
So, here’s my attempt to answer some of the questions about engaging introverts in meetings. Again, we aren’t all alike, even though we share the introvert characteristic, but try a few of these and see if they improve your meeting dynamics.
And, by the way, some of these can help extroverts make better in-meeting decisions too.
Here are seven suggestions to help introverts engage more:
Give them time to respond
This is huge. Introverts typically reflect inward, so they respond only after they have thought through their answer. This is a great characteristic if used well, because it usually means their answer has already been tested in their own mind. They are likely to share some of the most valid options on the table if you give the process time to work.
Ask specific questions—ahead of time
Give them a problem and time to solve it and most introverts, if left alone, will enjoy the challenge. If you want them to brainstorm effectively, tell them exactly what you are going to brainstorm about prior to beginning.
Let them respond in writing
When I know there are numerous introverts in a group, I will usually find a way to let them put something in writing. I have even allowed them to text or email me during the meeting. It’s amazing some of the suggestions I’ve received when an introvert doesn’t have to say it aloud.
Don’t put them on the spot
If you call on them for an immediate response you might get an answer if you do, but it won’t be their best answer and it will often keep them from ever sharing again. Introverts are often not huge fans of being singled out to answer a question. They may be better prepared if you ask a question, let people respond who have instant answers (usually the extroverts), then call on the introverts later in the process.
Separate them from the most extroverted
If there are too many extroverts in the group, introverts are even more likely to shut down communication. Try putting a group of introverts together, give them plenty of time and thought provokers to stimulate conversation, then allow the process to work on their time. Then, prepare to be amazed.
Give them an assignment they can control
Many introverts (this one included) can perform to task if we are put in the seat of responsibility. It could be speaking to a group or working the crowd at a banquet, but when it’s purposeful and I have an assigned responsibility, and can control how I do it, I’m more likely to perform like an extrovert. Before you have the meeting, if they are willing, give introverts an assignment where they are responsible for sharing.
Express genuine and specific interest in their ideas
Introverts, like all of us, love to be respected for our thoughts and ideas. If you want an introvert to share more, remind him or her how valuable they are to the team and how much their thoughts are needed. This is best done before the meeting starts.
Some of these suggestions might help with your church Sunday school or small group meetings also.
As already stated, this isn’t an exact science. We are all different. Knowing introversion, however, as I do, it’s a little easier for me to land on these points. Don’t overlook the introverts on your team as if they have nothing to add to the discussions. They do. They will simply share that information differently. They may not talk as much as some or seem to have as many opinions, but when they do, it will often be golden.