When something is intangible and therefore difficult to judge, we sometimes use easier to perceive shortcuts to get a rough sense of where someone stands -- that's how something as subtle as "success" can sometimes end up reduced to who drives the fanciest car, for example.
The same principle applies to meetings. Of course no one thinks that being a loudmouth makes someone the most valuable meeting participant. But loudness is a lot easier to quickly judge than intelligence, so often, the most confident speaker rather than the cleverest one ends up dominating the discussion.
That can't be good for decision making.
But what's to be done about it? How can you make your meetings more welcoming to quieter types who need to mull their opinion before blurting something out? In a recent HBR piece, Stop Meeting Like This co-founder Renee Cullinan offers some tips (she also addresses making your meeting more friendly to women and remote workers). Here are her suggestions:
1. Don't make people come in cold.
"Extroverted thinkers are happy to get new information in a meeting and to start making sense of it by talking through it. But introverted thinkers make their best contributions when they've had time to process relevant data and space to choose words carefully and share thoughtful conclusions," Cullinan points out.
For this reason, it's a good idea to give people as much time to thoughtfully consider the topic under discussion beforehand as possible. "Share the purpose of the meeting, provide any relevant data ahead of time, and list the specific discussion questions you plan to cover," she advises.
2. Call on people.
Don't assume that if quieter meeting participants aren't talking that's because they have nothing to contribute. They just might not be able to get a word in edgewise. So actively call on them. Cullinan suggests questions like: "Jane, from the discussion so far, what really stands out for you?" or "John, what do you think we should be considering that we haven't yet covered?"
3. Keep the discussion going.
What's important in most meetings is the quality of the ideas, not the speed that they're produced, so give people an opening to share any insights that might come to them after a bit of further consideration. "Circulate a meeting summary and proactively solicit ideas that might've come to mind after the meeting," writes Cullinan, who offers this possible close to your follow-up email: "Anyone have a new insight about this situation since we met? If so, I'd love to hear it."
Are you missing out on good ideas by running meetings that are less than friendly to introverts?