About 60% of the population are introverts, but you wouldn’t know it from conference calls and meetings. You hear from your extroverts, those who aren’t afraid to speak up and (I hate to admit it, because I am one) thrive on attention. How can you set your team up so that even the most introverted and quiet members get a chance to contribute to the team’s success?
Contrary to the rumors spread by your more outgoing teammates, people who are introverted aren’t necessarily shy or fearful. Often, they just find dealing with too many people at once draining. Sometimes they need time to think before responding. Frequently, this gets confused with being unsure of themselves or not contributing to the team.
Here are some tips for engaging your quieter members on virtual meetings:
- Assign specific tasks or reports. Often, very smart people don’t get heard from because they haven’t had time to really think through the answers to questions, and they aren’t comfortable just spouting the first thing that comes into their head. It’s important that everyone on the team appreciates the contributions and wisdom of the more introverted members, so giving these folks plenty of lead time, and then having them report out in a structured environment often works well.
- Create breaks in the discussion. Virtual meetings, and conference calls in particular, tend to play into the hands of those who speak first or loudest. As the leader, you want to hear from volunteers, of course, but it’s critical that you let others have a chance, even when they won’t demand it for themselves. For example, if you hear two people start to speak at the same time, before allowing one person to speak, identify and acknowledge both parties. Then, when one person is finished, call immediately on the second person. This sounds obvious, but it takes work on the part of the meeting leader, and you’d be surprised how often it doesn’t happen as it should.
- Give people plenty of notice. One of the advantages of virtual meetings over conference calls is the chat feature. I often send people private chat messages asking them to chime in on a topic, or alerting them I’ll be asking them a question. When they are involved directly, and aren’t expected to throw elbows to get into the conversation, you and your teammates will be surprised how much they have to offer.
- Identify and share workstyles. When the team knows how people like to work and communicate, it’s easier to work together. If I know that Alice is really smart, but likes to take her time before contributing to a discussion, I can make that happen. I might be more inclined to offer written assignments than ask people to just speak off-the-cuff. I also know when I need to push to hear from people despite their natural inclinations.
- Don’t accept introversion as an excuse. This sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s part of our job to understand what’s really happening out there. If people aren’t contributing because they are thoughtful, or shy, it’s fine not to put them on the spot, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t expected to contribute. Offer people the chance to use chat or asynchronous tools to contribute. If, over the course of several meetings, they aren’t adding value to the team, it’s time to find out why. There’s a line between respecting a person’s workstyle and letting them get away with disengaging.
Everyone on the team is expected to pull their weight, they all just do it in different ways and in their own fashion. It’s a lazy leader who only hears from volunteers, or allows the extroverts to drive and dominate discussion. Pay attention and allow input in different ways from every member of your team.
Understanding the different communication styles, and being able to effectively work and collaborate with all types is an integral part of any leader’s success. We developed a powerful (and free) tool to help leaders better understand themselves and others. Check out our DISC Personality Test here and then feel free to share with others on your team as well.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.