9 Ways to Support Introverts in Meetings

In Blog, Diversity & Inclusionby Rachel Murray

At least one-third of people are introverts, according to Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.  I’m actually one of them, and my introvertedness manifests itself in a specific way. Some introverts are perfectly fine speaking publicly with prepared remarks, but have a difficult time thinking on their feet. Others hate the idea of public speaking with prepared remarks, but have no problem thinking on their feet (that’s me!). Others may be okay doing all of it but will be completely drained after, or are absolutely incapable of doing any of it. Very likely, if you’re in a position where you’re leading meetings or are a leader in your company or organization, you may be an extrovert or at the very least, have managed to overcome introverted qualities that make leading people a challenge. If so, you may not be familiar with ways to make meetings more inclusive for those who are more introverted. Here are some tips!

Send a clear agenda a few days ahead
Introverts are less likely to speak up without having had some time to process information. This leaves many of them at a disadvantage when it comes time to speak up in a meeting to offer meaningful thoughts. This is a lost opportunity and can be mitigated by sending a clear agenda a few days before the meeting, noting roles and responsibilities, goals, questions and anything else that might help someone prepare for the meeting. Here’s a sample meeting agenda:

  • Check in (5 mins) – start with a simple question, e.g.how is everyone doing? Ask everyone to share!
  • Project overview and initial concerns (5 mins)
  • Clarify roles, responsibilities and tasks (30 mins)
  • What questions/concerns do we have and how do we address them? (10 mins)
  • Next steps (5 mins)
  • Closing (5 mins) – Is there anything we missed? Does anyone want to say anything we haven’t covered? (Capture thoughts for next time)

Ask introverts to collaborate on the agenda or help facilitate the meeting
Getting introverts more invested in the process of the meeting might encourage them to engage in a more substantial way. Providing ownership could be just the thing to get them to speak up and provide their valuable insights. Of course, this may be too much for some, but for those that feel as though they don’t have a voice, this can be a great way to invite them into the conversation.

Introduce meeting norms
Meeting norms are a great way for people to be on the same page about what to expect. Some ways that these guidelines specifically impact introverts are:

  • All voices count and opinions are valid.
  • Side-talk is discouraged so everyone can participate in one conversation.
  • Everyone comes prepared to the meeting.
  • Everyone’s voice is heard.

Ritualize the check in
To start the meeting, try a round robin check-in, letting everyone say something to open the meeting. By allowing introverts to speak up in the beginning, they’re more likely to feel open to sharing during the rest of the meeting. Ideally this check-in statement should be something short, and would only be applicable for meetings where there are less than 20 attendees. One thing we do at our She+ Geeks Out Ambassador meetings is ask what everyone geeks out about.  This also serves as a way for people to connect in the room on something fun and lighthearted. Other suggestions are to share how everyone is feeling, if they’re looking forward to something coming up, or to share a win that happened this week (personally or professionally).

Don’t put someone on the spot for a meaningful answer
The check-in can be a quick, safe, one-word answer, which is something that even the most introverted among us will likely be able to handle. It can be devastating to be called upon to provide an answer to a question in the moment, with the spotlight on them, without having had any time to prepare. You may get an answer, but it likely won’t be the best one that person could come up with, and they may be less likely to share in future. If you’re opening up the room to feedback/answers, this is where the extroverts can shine. Let them run with it. If the room goes quiet, let it sit for a while. An extrovert won’t let the silence go on for long.

Be encouraging when introverts do speak up
Everyone wants to feel like their contributions are valuable, but for introverts, it’s particularly important to encourage them so that they are more willing to continue to participate. Body language is critical here. Smile, sit forward, nod. When they’re done speaking, follow up with positive reinforcement and encourage others to do the same. Come from a place of yes, rather than saying ‘no’ right away. If someone else does make a negative comment after an introvert speaks, counter it if appropriate.

Let introverts provide answers in writing during the meeting
Some introverts would rather write out their thoughts and share them, so provide an opportunity for introverts to give feedback during the meeting.  You can do this in several different ways (side bonus, this works great for remote workers too!). If you use a group chat tool like Slack or Yammer, create a channel just for the team or the specific meeting. Obviously you want to be careful that people aren’t just doodling on their phones, checking email or (gasp) Facebook. Note the purpose of the tool at the outset and if you see it’s not being used for its intended purpose, then talk with the group and see if there are suggestions for improvement or if it should go away.

Let introverts provide feedback in writing after the meeting
Whether or not the above suggestion works, you can still provide a space for introverts to send feedback via an old fashioned email. Set a reminder for yourself to send out a quick post-meeting email, asking for any final thoughts that might have been missed, and provide a deadline for responses. If you really feel like an opportunity was missed to hear from a particular employee, reach out to them in person and ask them what they thought.

Ask if there’s anything else you can do
Again, everyone wants to be heard, even those who might seem like they don’t. Ask this basic question: what can you do to help them? They may tell you things you never would have known if you hadn’t asked. Problem solve together, one on one.

Being an introvert isn’t easy, and, well, being human’s not a cake-walk in general. The more we can do to empathize with those that are different from us, the better we can all be in bringing our whole selves to work and empathizing with others in the workplace and beyond.

Photo credit: Shutterstock