It’s taken me most of my career to get comfortable with the idea that I’m an introverted business leader. Like many, I expect business leaders to be gregarious and charismatic. Through experience, though, I’ve learned reserved colleagues make significant contributions even when they’re not holding the attention of a room. I’m an introvert, but I like people. I can enjoy time in a group, but I don’t get energy from groups or do my best thinking in groups.
I’m a believer in collaboration, but I’ve learned it doesn’t begin or end with a group session. I’ve read that 50 percent of us are introverts. If that’s true, there are some simple ways to get valuable contributions from the quiet half of your colleagues.
Before the Meeting
Introverts do their best thinking alone, so give them some time with a challenge before calling a group session. Publish an agenda early. Agendas aren’t just useful for keeping a group on task in a meeting; agendas give people the opportunity to think and prepare. I need this before-the-meeting think time. Otherwise, I tend to receive information in the meeting and analyze it later. If a colleague expects me to be an active participant or to make a decision in the meeting, I’ll be reluctant unless I’ve had time to consider the topic in advance. Preparation doesn’t mean I’ve made a decision or that I won’t actively deliberate in a meeting. It means I’ve given the issues some thought, but I remain open-minded. When I’m prepared, I bring the best of what I can offer to the group.
In the Meeting
In meetings in which I’m the facilitator, and even in some in which I’m a participant, I may ask for input from colleagues who haven’t said much. I do this carefully because introverts may not do their best thinking with an audience. Even so, the group benefits from additional perspectives on a topic. If we’re making a decision, I’m careful to leave the door open to additional input. I usually say something like, “This is what we’ve decided, but if people have additional thoughts or ideas in the coming days, please let me know.”
After the Meeting
I recommend publishing meeting minutes, writing a recap, or sending a note to thank the group for participating. This practice is polite, it provides documentation, and it gives introverts another opportunity to express themselves. In my follow-ups, I invite people to share additional ideas. At times, these new insights can cause the group to reconsider and improve their decisions, or at least to have a deeper understanding of an issue.
Even though we all get a lot of messages, I carefully read emails from colleagues. Introverts tend to express themselves best in writing. When someone has considered an issue and penned a well-thought-out email, know that may be their best way to share valuable information.
I’m a believer in collaboration. The best decisions are made with by groups but not necessarily during meetings. When soliciting input from colleagues, I’ve trained myself to ensure introverts are heard. I think of getting input from introverts like a hidden-image puzzle (stereogram): When I free myself from the dominant image, I can see the hidden image. While feedback from extroverts is easy to see, input from introverts takes a little more effort but is equally valuable. If you can draw input from everyone, you’re making better-informed decisions.
This is serious stuff.
If introverts aren’t given a way to be heard, they’ll leave. Introverts don’t like to be the center of attention, but they want to contribute. If their input is routinely ignored, they’ll look for another place in which to make a difference.