5 Meeting Strategies That Help Introverts Share Their Ideas
In every meeting, amazing ideas go unspoken.
While extroverts share their thoughts confidently, introverts hold themselves back. They’ve got buckets of value to add, yet they get drowned out in a busy meeting. As a manager, you need to give everyone an equal voice, otherwise, decisions will be based on half the available data.
This article explains five techniques I’ve found invaluable for helping quieter team members to share their thoughts.
1. Use a Writing-Based Meeting Format
Most meetings are a noisy free-for-all.
Confident people dominate the airtime, leaving no space for quieter people to share their perspectives. To create a level playing field, try using a meeting format that places less emphasis on talking.
Here are two simple formats for gathering ideas through writing:
Brainwriting – Pose a question to your team and ask them to write ideas on an index card. After 5 minutes, everyone passes their card to a neighbour. For the next 5 minutes, they add more ideas to the card, inspired by the existing contents. Repeat this as many times as you want, and then collect the cards and talk through them.
Post-it Notes – Any brainstorming or feedback session can be tackled with Post-It Notes. Instead of shouting out ideas, ask your team to write notes and stick them to the wall. After 10 minutes, assign a moderator to narrate the notes and group them by themes.
New formats are fun for everyone in your team, not just the introverts you seek to help. Try a few different options and mix it up to keep it interesting.
2. Use Pregnant Pauses to Provide Openings
Ah, the sound of uncomfortable silence.
You know that moment when it feels awkward because no one is speaking? This is the kind of silence to nurture when you have introverts on your team. After the usual suspects have loudly shared their thoughts, wait longer than feels necessary before you switch subjects.
The trick is to drag out the silence. Make it a little weird. For an extrovert, the silence is screaming for someone to fill it. For an introvert, this gap may provide a moment to collect their thoughts and to be sure no one else is about to speak.
In a face-to-face meeting, try not to stare at the people you hope will speak. In a Zoom meeting, watch for signs someone is building up the courage to speak – they might be shifting their body language, or unmuting themselves but not yet speaking.
Sometimes, but not always, this simple trick will encourage a quieter voice will use that pause to share their perspectives.
3. Send Reading Material Ahead of Your Meeting
Many introverts think deeply before sharing an opinion.
This is almost impossible in a normal meeting. Information flows quickly, and opinions are needed on the spot, with no time for reflection. Clearly, this is not a great approach if you want to hear the wisdom of your entire team.
One way to address this problem is to share meeting materials ahead of time. This gives everyone time to think about the contents and form opinions on their own timeline.
4. Ask Louder Team Members to Step Back
Each team has a few boisterous extroverts who bring a lot of energy into meetings.
They are the first to answer when you ask for opinions. In fact, without their enthusiasm, conversations might struggle to start. And yet, their passion increases the chances of quiet people staying quiet.
It’s okay to take these louder folks aside and ask them to step back a little. I’ve done this several times over the years, and the reaction was universally positive. Good-hearted extroverts are usually willing to adapt their style for the benefit of the group.
In the next meeting, when you see your extroverts stepping back, use your role as manager to encourage the quieter voices to step forward.
5. As a Manager, Share Your Opinion Last
It takes a confident personality to disagree with the manager’s opinion.
This is why you need to hold your tongue until you’ve heard from everyone in the meeting. Taking this approach has two benefits:
- It shows everyone that you value their thoughts.
- It helps less confident people share their honest viewpoints.
Before speaking, ask for any final opinions and let a pregnant pause do the work (as we discussed earlier).
One or more of these techniques should help you unlock the powerful ideas hiding within your shy team members. The goal is to subtly shift the environment to make it less oriented toward extroverted personalities. Nobody wants to be put on the spot, so be patient and empathetic as you explore different approaches.
The pay-off is a wealth of unexpected ideas, which strengthen the decisions you take as a team.