An Introvert's Survival Guide to Meetings
Years ago in a previous role, I recall sitting in a meeting room (an ACTUAL meeting room, remember those?). There were eight of us discussing a new initiative for an upcoming conference. I remember my eyes darting back and forth between individuals contributing ideas while I sat in silence. Everything was happening quicker than I could even take in. I then started getting into my head saying “why aren’t you contributing?” and before I knew it, the meeting was over.
I was later pulled aside by someone in the meeting asking if something was bothering me as they noticed how quiet I was. Nothing was wrong, but I let the introvert in me take over during that meeting.
What went wrong?
Who We Are: Introverts Unite! ... Separately!
The term “introvert” is probably best known from the Myers-Briggs personality test, but it actually dates back to the early 1900s from Carl Gustav Jung. He was a psychologist that coined the terms “introvert” and extrovert” to describe personality types that focus on a person’s energy on either the inner or outer world.
I consider myself the definition of an introvert. You’ll find me uncomfortably to the side (or near the dog or cat) at a party where I don’t know people. While I enjoy socializing from time to time, I will almost always prefer a Friday night with a good Netflix binge over checking out the newest bar downtown. I have a feeling my fellow introverts can relate to this.
At work, we introverts are a ‘think first, act second’ type of person. In meetings we tend to be quiet which to some may seem like we don’t want to engage or that we’re thinking about other things. But, this usually isn’t the case. We’re actually processing the information and making sure that when we contribute, it’s useful. We do this because of our irrational fear of sounding stupid in front of others.
While it’s great to fully form our thoughts in order to have a more productive conversation, it can result in us never actually contributing because we held back for so long. This can make us feel like we’re not heard or valued and even hold contempt towards others. In my case, others didn’t feel I was engaged in the topic and were worried I had bigger concerns that I wasn’t voicing.
What can we do to make sure we engage and that our voices are heard?
Introverts are not known for thinking on their feet. This tends to be why we fade into the background in group discussions. Instead of doing this, take a look at the agenda in advance of the meeting. Jot done any notes or ideas that come to mind, do some research on the topic and pull any relevant information that you feel will be important. This will help you feel ready to discuss when the time comes. No agenda included in the meeting invite? First off, we have many blogs like this one about the importance of having a meeting agenda. But, if you run into this, reach out to the meeting leader and ask for more information on what will be discussed so you can prepare.
- Don’t Overthink It
Speaking from vast experience, we introverts live in our heads and while this can be good, it can also hinder our ability to speak up. We think far too much about what we want to say and give ourselves reasons why we shouldn’t say anything. This leads us to shutting down entirely out of fear of how we’ll be perceived. What you have to say may not be ground breaking, but chances are, it’s valuable information that needs to be added to the discussion. There are some caveats to this, of course: You don’t want to be offensive or veer the meeting completely off topic. But, don’t let your overthinking keep you from speaking up.
- Follow-Up After the Meeting
Introverts tend to take time to process, sometimes this time to process extends past the meeting. Don’t let that stop you from contributing. Follow up with attendees or individuals and discuss what is coming to your mind.
Looking back at the situation early in my career, I could have approached this meeting in a different manner. I should have been more prepared entering the discussion and feeling ready to contribute. I let other voices in the group take full command and got caught up in my head thinking that my voice was too quiet.
Looking for more solutions to your meeting woes? Learn more about our popular training program Essential Facilitation and how it can help improve your meeting culture.
About Jake Blocker
Jake Blocker creates and executes marketing initiatives for Interaction Associates (IA). He’s involved from initial ideation to the creative development and the analysis of the results. If you were to merge the left and right brain into a job, you would have Jake’s role at IA.