The Introverted Leader

Quiet Revolution is excited to spread the word about Jennifer Kahnweiler’s book release of The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength 2nd Edition. The following excerpt is from Chapter 6, Leading and Participating in Meetings. 

Carlos, an account executive, dialed in for the weekly conference call. As the initial chitchat started to wane, he thought to himself hopefully, This time will be different. With so many extroverted people in the tele-meeting, he often found it difficult to find space in the conversation to insert his ideas. True to form, the high-energy group started in and raced through the agenda.

Carlos gave his report. As the back-and-forth dialogue on the new marketing plan began, once again, he found it difficult to make his voice heard. By the time Carlos felt he had an opportunity to speak up, the group had moved on to closing business. He missed his chance to contribute his expertise.

Like Carlos, do you sometimes feel invisible in meetings? This is one of the most common concerns I hear from introverts with whom I work in organizations. “My boss tells me I need to speak up more,” one leader told me. “Being a good listener doesn’t count for much—it is how much you speak.”

Let’s look at what techniques could help Carlos and you, as an introverted leader, build on your quiet strengths in meetings where extroverts tend to take over.

Prepare

Imagine approaching meetings as if you were learning a competitive sport. In tennis, for example, you might begin by watching a few matches, getting a grasp of the rules, learning how to keep score, and then taking lessons. As you gain mastery of the game’s skills, you’d learn how to size up your opponents and develop strategies. You can use a similar process when preparing for meetings.

Whether you are running a meeting or playing a participant role, you should know the key elements that help you get ready:

  • Know the purpose.
  • Prepare to contribute and help others do the same.
  • Ease into the meeting.
  • Know where to sit.

Know the Purpose

Be clear about the need and the purpose of a meeting before you call it. Dick and Emily Axelrod, coauthors of Let’s Stop Meeting Like This, suggest you start by thinking about what information needs to be shared. Does it require dialogue with others? Is there a compelling reason to coordinate actions, make decisions, and develop actions and strategies? A meeting can be a good way to solve a problem, create ideas, vent feelings, or recognize achievements.

Too often, people say yes to meeting invites without questioning them. Understand why you have been invited. Were you asked to be present out of habit? If your boss delegated you to attend in her absence, do you have the authority to make decisions? Or are you there simply to be a representative, obtain information, and report back?

Are the right people in the meeting? Think through who might be missing from the attendee list. Anyone who can provide relevant information, articulate different perspectives, or have a stake in the outcome should be considered for a seat at the table.

Prepare to Contribute and Help Others to Do the Same

What are the ways you can make the meeting a win for you and the group? Steve Piersanti is CEO of Berrett-Koehler Publishers. He prepares to become an active participant in meetings by asking himself two questions: “What can I contribute?” and “What can I gain?” This helps him be of benefit to the group and be clear about what he wants to get from the meeting.

Before a recent meeting I attended, Kate, an introverted team leader, sent out a message with attached documents to read. She emphasized that we’d discuss the information provided in those documents and use the meeting to make decisions. With the expectation laid out, most team members did their homework. As they wrapped up, the group agreed that time was used more efficiently because the topic could be considered beforehand.

Running a meeting without a clear agenda is like trying to sail a ship without a chart. If a meeting is called, ask the team leader to provide an agenda in advance so that you can better prepare to fully contribute. If there is no agenda, offer to collect items from the team and prepare one.

Tim, an introverted coaching client, shared an impactful strategy that his boss, Priya, used before one-on-one meetings. Priya is an extrovert, but she knew that Tim valued time for reflection. He said, “Before a critical meeting, she would come by my office, drop off a written proposal and say, ‘I need you to look at this. I will be back in 10 minutes.’ This one action helped us both tremendously.” Priya gave Tim needed time to think about the proposal, and by coming back in a few minutes, she flexed to his needs.

Ease into the Meeting

Arrive to meetings 10 minutes early so that your body and mind are ready. Beware of the tendency to schedule yourself too tightly between meetings, as it results into rushing into a room or ringing in late to a conference call. Showing up early will allow you to maximize your quiet strengths of preparation and reflection. You will also make a positive impression on others who see you as prepared and calm. 

In addition, arriving early also allows time for small talk, which eases you into a natural rapport with others. If you are the facilitator, put “Connecting” as the first item on the agenda to avoid immediately diving into business. If 10 people or fewer are there, ask each person for one good news update. If you have more in attendance, you can shorten the process by asking for a word to describe their current mood.

Introverts, who might not normally volunteer personal information, often appreciate this opportunity to connect in a more structured way. Building relationships between people will result in the work going more smoothly. On web-based conference calls, plant questions that will get people stepping into the chats before the official meeting. This yields early engagement from everyone.

Know Where to Sit

We have said that introverts often feel ignored. Consider approaches that help you establish a strong presence. Where you sit in the room is one of them. You can influence how people perceive you—even if it’s subconsciously—by where you place yourself.

At a long table, seats at the center provide more opportunity for visibility than sitting toward the end, which makes it difficult to make eye contact with everyone. There might be times where it makes sense to take a seat at the end of the table, often considered a more powerful position. Choosing your preferred position is another good reason to arrive early. If you arrive late, you can get relegated to the outer ring of chairs around the table, which conveys a position of less power. 

In a classroom-style setting, sitting toward the front announces to others in the room that you are there. While you might feel more comfortable in back, out of the spotlight, seeing all the people in front of you can actually make it harder to speak up.

Techniques for Higher Introvert Engagement

  • Before group discussions, give people 2–3 minutes to jot down their thoughts.
  • In online meetings, encourage responses in the chat box.
  • Break the team into pairs or small groups to discuss issues and report back to the larger group. This can be done both live and online.
  • Build in moments of silence for introverts to reflect.
  • Put a question out to the group, and allow each person 2 minutes to give an opinion on the topic.
  • Ask introverts to take a role as scribe or timekeeper to help increase their visibility.
  • On conference calls and online meetings, ask for input from east to west by country or ask in alphabetical order of names.
  • To tackle specific issues, incorporate small task forces that meet outside the large group and then report back.  
  • Take unscheduled breaks when energy is low.

Share your thoughts.

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  • Sulistyo Saputro

    I love this, thank you

  • Nigel Peters

    I would suggest that one of the key factors in making a valuable contribution to a meeting is that you feel comfortable yourself. For me I need to sit at the back / periphery I do not like to have people behind me ( Don’t know why ). If I am happy in my position I will speak up if not I will just sit quietly and endure

  • Robin Harris

    Thank you. I’ll use this tomorrow.

  • Petra Ott

    Great article , thank you for sharing this. I work with a group of high energy executive leaders and often struggle in our meetings. Your insights will help me get my voice heard and to build my leadership presence.

    • JKahnweiler

      Petra – I am so glad you found this techniques applicable. I love the idea of building your presence. Thank you.

  • Heather Todd

    Excellent info because in the West we still live in a very extroverted dominant world. Times are changing though thanks to Susan Cain, Jennifer Kahnweiler and others bringing introverts into the light for us all to shine! 💜

  • DHEERAJ THORAT

    Very important information and thank you for sharing with us.

    • JKahnweiler

      Thank you Dheeraj. Much appreciated.

  • Jeff Parke

    Great information. Loved the quiet revolution book and eager to get this one