action learning, leadership, team building

Why introverts have better meetings

Picture of a casual meeting space
Photo by bantersnaps on Unsplash

If you’ve been isolated from your colleagues during Covid, you might be climbing the walls desperate for social contact. Or you might be relishing the quieter work-life. Covid has made clearer how different people experience the workplace. In particular, let’s think about meetings. They’re seemingly always necessary, but not often hugely productive. But one thing that Covid’s taught me is that introverts have better meetings. And I think we can use our Covid experiences to improve everyone’s meeting experiences!

Not a zero-sum game

There are lots of pieces out there with advice for how to be more extroverted in meetings. Tips for being firmer at keeping to topic and time, getting your ideas heard, or getting recognition for them. And it’s great to be heard. But we can all benefit from balancing extroversion and introversion. They’re both useful modes of being in the workplace but suit different circumstances and goals.

One of the principal differences between extroverts and introverts is how they process their thoughts. Extroverts tend to think aloud in conversation, and introverts tend to think alone, in silence. Meetings with lots of participants, which are disorderly in how people to contribute, or where the loudest voice gets the floor, over-emphasise the voices of extroverts but might not bring out the best content. That’s because extroverts will do their thinking once they have the floor. This is the point of some meetings. But in others, it’ll be a poor use of time and keep introverts with clear ideas ready from getting in.

So, encouraging extrovert meeting practices might be beneficial in an open-ended meeting about ideas and possibilities. But introvert meetings practices might be better suited to meetings that need focus, depth, and clear decision-making. That is, introverts have better meetings when the goal is deal with specific issues and generate actions.

Managing meetings

If you’re in charge of meetings, consciously encouraging introvert meeting practices when you need them can help avoid a default “talking shop” meeting style developing.

  • Keep numbers small. This is always good advice. Keeping numbers down can minimise the risk of people thinking aloud about unrelated issues.
  • Ask people to talk in smaller groups beforehand. For example, you know Accounts and Sales need to align on X if you’re going to get a decision. So ask them to talk beforehand about A, B, or C. Where you’ve got introverts, you’re giving them a more conducive meeting environment to come to an agreement. Where you’ve got extroverts, you’re letting them think aloud in a productive way with the right people in the room.
  • Use a timer to get some data about your most and least effective meetings. See how much time individuals spend talking and connect that to the agenda. Did Dave talk lots even though he wasn’t presenting anything? Did you get everything you wanted out of that meeting? What side meetings or email chains could have been avoided if the meeting had been more efficient? Or should more of the conversation have been pushed to side meetings and email?
  • Try keeping a collective running list of things to explore outside of the meeting. An online document that people can add things to without derailing the conversation can help let everyone jot down their thoughts. If anything comes up that is relevant to the discussion, it’s not lost because someone can’t get a word in. You can see it and raise it.

Being in meetings

If you’re an extrovert attendee, you can introduce versions of those suggestions for yourself too. You don’t have to wait for the meeting organiser to suggest bilaterals thinking sessions before a big meeting, for example. They can be a great way for you to do some thinking aloud with a useful colleague. And pre-meetings are usually also the most effective way to make sure you get things agreed! And, although it might feel strange to time yourself, you might find it interesting to see how much you speak in meetings compared to others.  

Plus, there’s one other tip for extroverts attending meetings: 

  • Add two extra goals to your list of what you need to get out of the meeting. First, to learn a new piece of information. And second, to gain a new insight into the people around you. Setting these as meeting goals will help you focus on listening, absorbing other people’s insights, and understanding the group’s dynamics. You can use what you learn to deepen your connection with your colleagues and make conversations with them even more effective. This can be particularly useful if there’s a regular meeting that you don’t get much out of right now!

Take it further

This is just a quick look at why introverts have better meetings in certain common situations. The extraordinary success of Susan Cain’s book Quiet has shown just how useful introvert practices can be throughout our professional lives. If you’re a wild extrovert who has trouble adopting introvert practices, or an introvert who wants to make the most out of your natural tendencies, it’s a great read.

Zoom meetings have made overlapping conversations and navigating pauses much harder. The inability to see each other’s faces has made it tough to know who’s about to interject or how what we’re saying is landing. Although they’re not 100% correlated to extraversion/introversion, conversational styles are also worth exploring if you’re trying to improve your meetings. A great episode of Lingthusiasm talks about how natural overlappers and natural turn-takers can have better conversations together!

And, finally, where you’ve got open-ended problem-solving meetings that trend towards being “talking shops”, facilitation can help! There are lots of methods out there, but an Action Learning approach is one that we find useful for collaboration across diverse roles and teams.

Let us know in the comments or on social media what your experience has been, and whether introverts really do have better meetings!