Four Ways Introverts Can Get Heard in Meetings
Researchers estimate that between a third to half of us are introverts. You are likely in this group if you enjoy reflection, prefer small groups to crowds, and need solitude to replenish your energy. In her book Quiet, author Susan Cain incited a vigorous dialogue about our culture’s tendency to extol the virtues of extraversion over the quieter energy of introverts. Too often we equate success or capability with the people who get their voices heard first and loudest.
But as Cain eloquently points out, she believes that if extroverts were the only ones with any influence or power, a lot more rash, poor decisions would be made in our world. Introverts’ observant, thoughtful approach is also critical to address complex problems.
The bottom line is that we’re all most powerful when we play to our strengths. Our organizations benefit from diversity in all things, including personality types. And yet, we also have to accept and work within the culture where we exist. There’s a reason that terms like self-promotion and assertiveness get significant play in leadership development circles. We know they are correlated with career progression.
Just like everyone else, to get ahead, introverts need to increase their visibility and exhibit leadership presence. Meetings can be a particularly problematic, yet important, platform. Meetings are the place where we’re most seen as leaders, and introverts can feel drowned out amongst a room of extroverts fighting to get a word in.
Having coached many leaders on this issue — and being an introvert myself — I offer a few ideas that may work for you to play to your strengths while making yourself heard.
Strategy #1: Get your voice in the room in the first few minutes.
It’s a common occurrence for introverts. You go to a meeting with ideas, and then hang back and quietly assess them against what others in the room are saying, waiting for your opening. The more heated the discussion gets, the fewer entry points you find for yourself. Pretty soon someone has taken your best idea, and then it’s too late. You fear you’re viewed as either disengaged or lacking in ideas.
Introverts are thoughtful, which means we’re also good strategists. Instead of leaving your contribution to chance — have a plan. Challenge yourself to put your ideas on the table in the first few minutes, and at a minimum, get your voice in the room. The vibe of the meeting is set early, and by contributing then, you’re establishing yourself as an active participant. As an added plus, people may refer back to your comments and offer additional ways for you to get heard.
Another strategy is to get on the agenda in a prominent role. The Poynter Institute’s Butch Ward, an introvert himself, suggests a strategy to take on an assignment to present to your coworkers. By getting the stage solo, it ensures your voice will be heard. If you don’t have a formal presentation, you can also request to be put on the agenda with the meeting organizer.
As Self-Promotion for Introverts author Nancy Ancowitz points out: “Public speaking is an amazing tool for an introvert. We get to prepare, and then we get up there once and reach lots of people rather than having many conversations, which tires us.”
Strategy #2: Ask important questions.
Asking questions can be easier than sharing ideas, especially if you’re not sure how your ideas will be accepted or don’t feel they’re ready to be discussed. Introverts are naturally observant, and can use this advantage to ask key questions that move the dialogue further. It helps clarify everyone’s thinking if, in the battle between competing ideas, you can propose a thought-provoking question.
Since introverts generally feel better thinking through something instead of spontaneously making a comment, you may even want to write down a list of questions in advance. Even if you don’t ask them exactly, this process will help form your thoughts for the questions you do bring forward.
Strategy #3: Be a synthesizer of ideas.
Most introverts have a knack for listening and reflection. This may seem like exactly the opposite of what you should do to get heard in a meeting, but similar to the point above this is a major asset.
In the rush to be heard, meeting participants can talk over each other, contradict, or even be in total agreement without realizing it. Being able to synthesize what you’re observing, and find common threads is helpful, i.e. “What I hear Jane and Bob both say is that our product is out of date. Now what will we do about it?”
Summing up and advancing the conversation moves the meeting forward, and carves out an important role for you, all the while enhancing your visibility.
Strategy #4: Call out the elephant in the room.
One aspect of being an introvert that can frustrate me is that it’s associated with low assertiveness. I, like many introverts I know, have no problem expressing ourselves. We just assert ourselves when we need to, and are okay to hang back if we don’t.
I’ve learned to use this to my advantage by being the person to call out the elephant in the room — to be willing to say what needs to be said.
If there’s an issue everyone is avoiding, see that as an opportunity. Bringing it up with your signature thoughtfulness could be the perfect way for you to be heard – and make a memorable impression.
Even more important, as Cain posits, we desperately need reflective, truth-telling in our organizations. Instead of considering introversion something to get past, you can use it to be the most vocal opinion in the room in your own unique way.
Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others. She blogs at kristihedges.com.
This article also appears on Forbes.com.
Image: Michal Marcol.
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