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Making a difference in meetings – 6 approaches for introverts to be heard

You’re too quiet”, “you need to be more involved in our meetings and discussions” and “people who matter are getting the wrong impression of you because you aren’t forward enough “.  This is the feedback Sven, a high-potential from a German automotive company, shared with me during a management training program. Sven was clearly able and bright – but he was a classic “introvert”. The idea of extraversion–introversion is a core dimension in most personality trait models, including the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator. Sven is reflective rather than outgoing, and prefers working alone to working in groups.  Sven wanted to think before he talked, as opposed to talking to think. However, his natural introversion was getting in the way of his career opportunities.  Sven wanted to know “What can I do to be more involved in meetings … without having to be a different person?”
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Always prepare before the meeting

If you don’t have the agenda then get hold of one. If the organizer hasn’t prepared an agenda then ask them what they want to get from the meeting and which questions do they want to discuss Who is going to be there? Why have they been invited? Who will assume which roles? Get your thoughts together ahead of time. Write down questions, concerns and points you want to share. Turn up with a couple of clear points you want to contribute. This preparation means that you can …

Speak up early on

If you know what the meeting is about you can and should get actively involved as quickly as possible. Get your thoughts on the table as quickly as you can. This means that you will feel part of the meeting from the start, others will see you as involved and you’ll notice people connecting, challenging, or building on your contributions. And if your meeting quickly goes into an unexpected direction …

Take control if you aren’t ready to speak

When somebody wants to pull you in to the meeting and you feel you aren’t ready then actively control this. You have the right to take a little more time. Try expressions like:

  • “I’d like to think this through fully first before I answer”
  • “I’m thinking this through and would like a little more time”
  • “I’d like to let this settle and think it over. Can I get back to you this afternoon?”

Be aware that there is a danger of over-thinking too, and you may find the meeting has moved on too fast. With this in mind …

Accept that sometimes you need to just speak

If you aren’t fully ready to speak but feel you can’t ask for time try expressions like …

  • “I’m just thinking out loud now …”
  • “My first thought is …”
  • “This isn’t a fully-formed suggestion but how about …”
  • “Ideally I’d like to think this over some more , but my initial impression is ..”

And you don’t always need to have original ideas. If you’re not at your best try to …

Play to your strengths and leverage your listening skills

Many introverts are considered good listeners. You haven’t been talking that much and you’ve probably heard things that others haven’t (as they’ve been busy talking). This means you can …

  • “If I can just reflect back what I’ve heard so far …”
  • “What I’ve heard is … “
  • “I heard Olaf mention XXX, but then everybody kept moving on. I’d like to go back and ask …”
  • “I think we’ve missed something here ..”
  • “There seems to be a lot of focus on XX, but nobody has thought about YYY”
  • “If I can play devil’s advocate for a moment ..”

Accept and embrace that you can’t be perfect (all the time)

Nobody wants to come across as stupid or incompetent. But if you aren’t visible be aware that people may quickly see you as “the assistant”, or “the doer but not the thinker”.  Everybody has said things that have been wrong, incomplete, or poorly thought through. And vulnerability is  important for building trust. We trust people who are human and fallible. Be open to risking sharing ideas and thoughts and try expressions like …

  • “This idea isn’t fully formed but maybe you can help me …”
  • “I’m concerned I’ve got the wrong end of the stick here so let me just check ..”
  • “I know I’m missing something but here’s where I am so far ..”

And finally…

If the English is an issue then consider getting some targeted training. By doing the above you’ll quickly begin to be seen as playing an active role, and be viewed as a contributor. You can also expect to grow in confidence over time as you see strategies working and people reacting to you differently.

 

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