How many meetings have you sat in where you’ve doodled and dreamed, or worse? Lost count yet? As everybody moans about meetings, and the time wasted in them, it’s fair to say that you’re already aware of the problem.
But what about the hidden problem? A rarely considered issue is how most meetings widen the introvert productivity gap.
What is an introvert?
Understanding two key points help to create solutions:
- Thinking. Introverts typically process information internally (extroverts process information externally), in other words, introverts think to talk and extroverts talk to think. This can lead to a delay in an introvert’s response, which often gets filled by more extroverted colleagues. So, meetings are often dominated by extroverts talking, which can be more noticeable in remote meetings.
- Energy. Extroverts gain energy by being with others, introverts become de-energised. This can also have the effect of extroverts talking more in meetings.
Introverts are not shy, they think differently and normally have a more detailed knowledge of issues in the business.
On the impact of this is that introverts tend to only add to conversations where they believe others are going to listen and get value. This belief is reduced when they get ‘overtalked’ by external processing extroverts who fill ‘gaps’ in the conversation, leading to less input by introverts.
The introvert productivity gap
My recent survey of over 300 businesspeople showed that a third admit to being less productive than they could be. The two main causes are:
- Management style doesn’t communicate effectively with the whole team
- The culture and communication in the company waste the talent of introverts.
It’s not that introverts are not unwilling or unproductive team members. In many ways, the opposite is true. Introverts tend to focus on important details, are less likely to let things drift and be meticulous about completing their tasks (which can be especially useful in the world of ‘working from home‘ we now have to embrace). However, unlocking full productivity needs a few simple changes in the way people are managed. This is especially true in the way meetings are run because meetings are where communication, culture and coordination all collide.
The power and danger of meetings
Meetings are most powerful when the knowledge of all the team is pooled and new knowledge is created as a result. This leads to a better understanding of issues, better actions, and more sustainable results.
The big danger of meetings is ‘groupthink’, where only one or two voices are considered; a consensus is generated as fewer people add to the discussion and actions are created based on far less information. There are less learning and actions can be irrational or even dysfunctional. Input from the whole team, including the more detailed perspective from introverts, is important in preventing groupthink.
Actions to improve your meetings
- Write it. Don’t rely on ‘brainstorming’ or asking people to shout out. From time to time ask people to write down the answers. After 30 seconds get people to reveal their writing. This slows down the process, gets more input from introverts and allows a richer discussion to be created.
- Zip it. After asking a question, don’t be afraid of a pause. Don’t assume no answer is forthcoming and don’t provide an answer for the introvert.
- Give the gift of time. Getting meeting agendas and pre-read data out a week early allows introverts to read and process the data – resulting in a better quality meeting.
- Hold back. Nearly all meetings have some voices which are dominant. Hold those voices back by better facilitation so all people speak, rather than just the louder (extroverted) ones. This leads to more sustainable results and improves productivity.
These four points will improve your meetings in the conventional sense and more importantly will improve productivity by engaging your whole team (introverts, extraverts, and everything in between). You’ll develop more sustainable answers to issues, through a better understanding of them.
Jon Baker is a speaker, author and coach. You can learn more about how he can help introvert people on his website Introvert in Business.
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