Big group meetings, team presentations, networking events, and conferences: If you're an introvert, these settings probably sound like a nightmare. If you've ever met me, though, you would be able to tell right away I'm an extrovert and these settings don't faze me.
Like anyone, I get a little nervous before a speaking event, but that's about it. Speaking, presenting, collaborating -- that all works well for me and a lot of extroverts like me. But what about our more introverted peers and employees?
While we all have our own communication skills and preferences, introverts typically struggle with meetings. These employees tend to be better at thinking and working on their own, as social interaction can often leave them feeling drained. Yet daily interactions and collaborations are a necessary fact of life and business, and this often manifests as various meetings throughout the week.
In recent years, interoffice gatherings have changed, thanks in large part to technology. Add to that the fact that more businesses have begun working with remote employees, and it's no longer necessary or even feasible to bring everyone on your team together around a conference table on a regular basis.
Tools like videoconferencing and group messaging software keep everyone connected throughout the day, and as a result, introverts have the chance to speak up more easily than in large, in-person meetings. Still, it's important for leaders to make sure those voices are heard and that employees feel included no matter the setting.
The importance of having a voice.
In group situations, introverts tend to be observers, taking in the scene around them and thinking before they share a response. If you're like me, that silence can be hard to wrap your mind around because you probably like to develop your ideas as you talk through them.
Introverts are likely to pay close attention to what you're saying and put that information to use. But if everyone is speaking at once or a few people are dominating the conversation, they can easily feel overwhelmed -- and for remotely located introverts, that feeling is even more intense.
They may already feel left out because they aren't in the office every day, and when they call in for a meeting, they often find themselves forgotten or spoken over unless the meeting leader makes a point to give them time to speak. For this reason, it's important to ensure every employee has a chance to participate. Here are three ways to do that.
1. Prepare for communication differences ahead of time.
Introverts prefer to think through what they're going to say before speaking, so throwing them into a meeting with no context or chance to prep can be inhibiting. Plan for these differences in communication style by giving your team a heads up about a meeting or even requesting members prepare to speak on a certain topic.
Consider carving out a section of the agenda for at least one introverted or remote employee to speak during each meeting. This can reduce the number of people talking at once and make employees feel more comfortable speaking up.
2. Play to introverts' strengths.
A 2017 study from Office Team found that "feeling unappreciated" was a top reason for employee exits, with two in three workers saying they'd leave their job over it. Employee turnover has a direct impact on your business's success, and making an extra effort to acknowledge and include your more introverted team members can pay off in the form of ROI in the long run.
In the process of making an effort to be more inclusive of introverts, you'll also be able to level the playing field for all team members. Meeting leaders can run the risk of prioritizing male voices over female ones, especially when you consider that studies have shown men tend to interrupt and dominate conversations more often. It's important that you consistently pay attention to every team member and make sure you've created a culture where everyone feels welcome and included.
3. Use the right meeting tools to help.
Fortunately for employers, technology has made it easier than ever for introverts to be part of the conversation. These tools play to introverts' unique strengths, as well as offer the features necessary to help meeting leaders run more inclusive meetings. Here are a few of the most promising tools in this space:
BlueJeans: This service provides a modernized approach to videoconference meetings that includes whiteboarding and annotation features. For introverts, tools like BlueJeans can make it easier to participate in the meeting in progress, as information is being captured for use later. Instead of worrying they might miss something, they can interact and ask questions.
Eva by Voicera: Voicera, a company my team works with, is a platform that allows you to organize conversations and enable post-meeting collaboration. Eva is an intelligent, virtual assistant that makes it simple for everyone, especially introverts, to participate in meetings by recording conversations, taking notes, and highlighting key moments and decisions while everyone gets the chance to interact with one another.
GoWall: GoWall brings the power of visualization to the meeting experience, creating a notes wall that allows attendees to work together to capture thoughts and ideas throughout the meeting. For introverts who are better at writing than conversation, this tool can make it easier to supply their thoughts and feedback via text rather than speaking up in the meeting to do so. This helps ensure no voice gets left behind.
When businesses find ways to appeal to every team member's unique personality traits, they can get the most out of the team as a whole. With a combination of meeting tools and a strong agenda, meeting leaders can make sure they're being as inclusive as possible while also helping introverts feel more comfortable contributing.