A Survival Guide for Introverts in Meetings

Have you ever felt frustrated in meetings when it seems the only way to participate is to be loud and talkative? Or when there is an expectation of immediate response and you haven’t been able to think about the issue in advance?

Maybe it’s not your style to jump into a conversation without first processing and reflecting on information. Maybe you worry that some of your colleagues perceive your quietness as a lack of engagement when really you’re thinking deeply about the issue.

On being an introvert today

Susan Cain, best-selling author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, argues that cultural norms are extrovert-centric in western society, a part of “our cultural DNA.” Doing more, speaking up, working collaboratively - all these ideals assume a kind of “out there-ness” in classrooms and in the workplace.

Challenges can arise when natural tendencies conflict with more culturally accepted behaviors. For example, how does an introvert navigate today’s commonly expected practices of extroversion in meetings?

Introverts in meetings and their extrovert counterparts

The major difference between introverts and extroverts is not their levels of shyness, as commonly perceived, but the kinds of situations in which they thrive and replenish their energy. Introverts tend to prefer environments with low stimulation - this can mean smaller groups of people - whereas extroverts tend to thrive in high stimulation environments that may involve large numbers of people.

Communication styles present themselves differently in meetings as well. Introverts prefer to think before they speak and to process thoughts internally, while extroverts like to think out loud, processing information as they speak. Introverts may speak low and slow, pausing frequently and using shorter sentences. Extroverts may speak more loudly and quickly, explaining and adjusting their thoughts as they speak.

Source: QuietRev.com
Source: QuietRev.com

Introversion and extroversion are just preferences, and neither is inherently right or wrong.

Five tips to help introverts contribute to meeting conversation

There are ways to turn introverted characteristics into advantages instead of putting on the “extrovert mask” and abandoning natural personalities. If you’re an introvert, these tips will help you be more effective and engaged in your workplace and in your team meetings.

1. Prepare, prepare, prepare.

If you’re not comfortable thinking on your feet, solid meeting preparation during which you familiarize yourself with meeting agenda topics can give you the confidence to contribute your ideas in the moment.

Actions You Can Take

  • Ask for the agenda ahead of time if one is not provided so you know how to prepare.

  • Write down your questions and concerns before the meeting and bring them to the conversation.

2. Ask for time to think.

As an introvert, you may need more time to process thoughts internally. Empower yourself to ask for time to think through items.

Actions You Can Take

  • Even when you’re not the meeting facilitator, you can still ask the team for time during the meeting to reflect. Say, “Can we stop for 1-2 minutes and jot down our thoughts? This is helpful for some of us who prefer to process our ideas internally.”V

  • al Nelson, a business coach, suggests that if you need more time to organize your thoughts on a subject to ask for it. Say, “I have some thoughts brewing and would like to come back to that a bit later. Could I send a follow up email tomorrow with my additional thinking?"

3. Half-baked thoughts are OK.

Nelson says, “part of what happens for introverts is that our love of thinking can lead to over-thinking and perfectionism.” It’s time to let go of striving for perfection. Half-baked ideas have value because they trigger new thoughts that can enhance ideas already on the table. A lot of time in meetings, half-baked ideas are what others are sharing, anyway.

Actions You Can Take

  • Speak before you’ve come up with a well-formulated response. This does not mean you should share whatever comes to mind, but that you should push yourself to speak up earlier than you might have normally. You can also let others know, “I’m thinking out loud for a moment here.”

  • Remind yourself not to overthink! If you spend too much time preparing thoughts, the conversation may have already moved on to the next topic.

4. Leverage the introvert advantage.

You don’t have to be the first person to talk in a meeting. There are various ways for introverts in meetings to participate.