Introverts can struggle in meetings: They may fear being asked to speak, and they may find their ideas drowned out by their extroverted colleagues.
But that doesn't mean introverts can't contribute—they just need a little more help and preparation.
Rousmaniere spoke with Susan Cain, an author and co-founder of The Quiet Leadership Institute, which focuses on helping introverts thrive in the workforce. Cain shares several strategies to help introverts feel more comfortable contributing.
The introvert's guide to attending conferences
Preparation is key. Introverts may need more time to prepare for meetings. Extra preparation may help them feel comfortable speaking up early, which can be key. "On a psychological level, it helps you feel a part of the meeting earlier, and people will often in turn direct their comments to you, whereas if you wait awhile to speak, the opposite usually happens," Cain says.
Take some pressure off. Meetings can make introverts feel pressured to come up with fully formed ideas on their feet. They should remind themselves that even half-formed ideas can have value.
Be honest. Even with the right preparation, introverts still may not be comfortable responding to colleagues off the cuff. If someone asks an introvert for his or her opinion, it can be OK to respond, "I really want to think that through," Cain advises.
Practice makes perfect. Nothing prepares you to speak in front of a group like speaking in front of a group. Cain says introverts should seek low-stress opportunities to gain comfort presenting their ideas verbally. "Try to expose yourself to small speaking experiences where, on a scale of 1-10, your anxiety level would be in the 4-7 range, so you’re stretching yourself, but not too much all at once," she says. =
Learn coping mechanisms. Even with the right preparation and practice, introverts may find their anxiety rising. Cain says it's important that introverts learn techniques to regulate their emotions, such as deep breathing.
What managers can do. It's not just introverts' responsibility to improve, Cain says. Managers should also take steps to help gain value from their introverted team members, such as:
- Distributing agendas in advance of meeting so introverts can prepare;
- Seeking out ideas and feedback from introverts one-on-one, when possible; and
- Proactively ensuring that everyone in a meeting has a chance to contribute and that a select few are not dominating the conversation (Rousmaniere, Harvard Business Review, 4/21).
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