An Introverts Survival Guide to Meetings

Collaboration | Meetings

Years ago, in a previous role, I was 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 sitting silently, my eyes darting back and forth between people who were contributing ideas. Everything was happening quicker than I could process. I was overwhelmed. Then I started thinking things like, “Why aren’t you contributing?” and “Hurry up, or you’ll miss out!” The thoughts added to the chaos in my mind. Before I knew it, the meeting was over before I had a chance to contribute at all.

After this meeting, a colleague pulled me aside, asking about my well-being because I was quiet. Nothing was wrong, but I let the introvert in me take over and bulldoze my potential during the session.

What went wrong? To understand that, we must go to the problem’s root.

Who We Are: Introverts Unite! ... Separately!

The term “introvert” is probably best known from the Myers-Briggs personality test, but it dates 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 in 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.

via GIPHY

At work, we introverts are a ‘think first, act second’ type of worker. In meetings, we tend to be quiet, which to some may seem like we don’t want to engage or that we’re distracted. But this usually isn’t the case. We’re 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 to have a more productive conversation, it can result in us never actually contributing because we held back for too long. This can make us feel like we’re not heard or valued and even hold contempt toward others. In my earlier personal work example, others didn’t feel I was engaged in the topic and were worried I had more significant concerns that I wasn’t voicing.

What can we do to ensure we engage and our voices are heard?

1. Prepare
We introverts are not known for thinking on our feet. The very thought of doing improv sends chills down our spines. This tends to be why we fade into the background in group discussions. To overcome this challenge, take a look at the agenda in advance of the meeting. Jot down any notes or ideas that come to mind, research 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. Is no agenda included in the meeting invite? Reach out to the meeting leader and ask for more information on what will be discussed so you can prepare. While you’re at it, refer them to this blog where we discuss the importance of having an agenda set before a meeting and how to build it.

2. Don’t Overthink It
We introverts live in our heads, and while this can be good, it can also hinder our ability to speak up. We overthink what we want and give ourselves reasons why we shouldn’t say anything. This leads us to shut down entirely out of fear of how we’ll be perceived. What you have to say may not be groundbreaking, but chances are, it’s valuable information that needs to be added to the discussion. Of course, there are some caveats: You don’t want to be offensive or veer the meeting entirely off topic. But don’t let your overthinking keep you from speaking up.

3. Follow-Up After the Meeting
Introverts tend to take time to process. Sometimes this processing time extends past the meeting. Don’t let that stop you from contributing. Follow up with others and discuss your thoughts. There is value in your thoughts.

Looking back at the situation early in my career, I could have approached the meeting differently. I should have been more prepared to enter the discussion and contribute. I let other voices in the group take full command and got caught up thinking my voice was too quiet. I also could have followed up after the meeting as ideas finally started firing off in my head rather than feeling like it was too late.

Are you 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.