Many leaders feel frustrated when the same people speak up and contribute in meetings. Usually the extroverts are talking and the introverts sit in silence. However, there is usually a lot of knowledge and thoughts behind those sealed lips. Here are five ways that leaders can encourage introverts to speak up in meetings:
1. Give them the agenda and topics for discussion ahead of time: Introverts prefer time to prepare and process, so by letting them know what topics will be discussed will help encourage their input. Let them know in advance of the meeting that you want to hear their thoughts and questions.
2. Do a self-check. Never assume their silence means they do not have something to share or ask. Many introverts will not speak up simply because that is the way they are wired–they are introverts! Extroverts freely give their thoughts and opinions and ask questions and do not need to be called upon; however, introverts many times will not speak unless they are asked to do so.
3. Give them advance notice before calling on them: Just as they like getting the agenda before the meeting, introverts appreciate getting a heads up before being called on to speak in a meeting. Extroverts speak to think, and introverts think to speak. Meaning introverts prefer to think about what they are going to say before they feel comfortable saying it out loud. Call on your extroverted team members first. Say something such as, “Jessie , I’d like to hear from you, and then Susan, I want to hear from you next.” This gives Susan (the introvert in this example) a heads up that she will be called on next. You do not need to call on all of the extroverts before the introverts, but certainly start with an extrovert before an introvert.
4. Protect their space while they are speaking: If you as the leader are extroverted, it can be easy to interrupt, even when you believe you are just interjecting. Just as introverts are slow to speak, they are commonly more reserved and quiet, so the extroverts in the meeting will be tempted to talk over or interrupt the introvert. When this happens, the introvert shuts down and stops talking. The last thing the introvert wants to do is compete for talk time! As the leader, make sure that you protect their space, stop the interruptor from continuing, and allow the introvert time to speak without being interrupted.
5. Schedule 1-1 meetings to dive into more discussion. Despite all of the above practices, you may find that some introverts still have very brief input and answers, and never ask questions. Never underestimate the power of a 1-1 meeting. Introverts communicate better in small groups and one-on-one. So although it takes more time than having one big group meeting, you will likely garner much more input from introverts if you take the time to meet with them one on one. It may not be efficient; however, it can be very effective.