February 24, 2017

5 Ways to Run an Inclusive Meeting for Introverts and Extroverts

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By Guest Blogger, Tommi Paris, Southern Company Gas

I have a love-hate relationship with my Outlook meeting reminder alert.

On one hand, the reminder helps me keep pace with the day’s planned meetings. Fifteen minutes before the hour is usually my cue to brush up on the project objectives, so I can contribute to the conversation, ensure we have enough printouts for each participant, and confirm the meeting location (because it was updated twice).

On the other hand, my Outlook reminder alert never fails to send a nervous flutter to my belly. As an introvert, workplace meetings can be challenging. It often feels like in order to succeed and be perceived as a valued member of my team, I must trade my natural tendency for quiet reflection, analysis, and writing for a more appreciated, more extroverted, way of being part of a team.

The meeting culture in corporate America has evolved away from the original intent of collaboration and progress. It is increasingly competitive and unproductive. Don’t get me wrong – in today’s working world, we intend to call meetings for a clear purpose, whether it’s to keep a project on a set timeline or generate ideas for the next big pitch to a new client. However, despite our best intentions, somehow meetings (and the way we typically run them) reinforce the value corporate America tends to place on extroverts over introverts.

But introverts are very important to your team. Famous introverts include Albert Einstein, Rosa Parks, and Bill Gates – can you imagine a world without their contributions? As Susan Cain notes in her bestseller Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, “There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.”

Susan Cain Quiet

So instead of letting that nervous gut flutter get the best of me, I’m harnessing that energy and using my powers for good.

Here are five things to consider when running inclusive team meetings:

  1. In brainstorming sessions, allow introverts and extroverts to work independently. Some introverts generate their best ideas when they have time before a meeting to think quietly. Give participants the topic they’ll be brainstorming before your meeting. You might even invite folks to prepare a few ideas in advance if they prefer.
  2. Be aware of how you value team contributions. Is quantity or quality highest on your list? Do you reward contributions based on how often someone speaks up in a group? Valuing quantity over quality automatically gives extroverts an edge, because they tend to process information best by talking through lots of ideas. Deep-thinking introverts tend to process information internally, and are likely to share carefully formulated ideas.
  3. Even meetings that don’t focus on brainstorming call for clearly communicated meeting objectives and items to be discussed. Use the PAL structure in the body of your email invitation. PAL stands for Purpose, Agenda, Logistics. Circulate your PAL — short bullet points will do – andintroverts will appreciate knowing what they are walking into. Extroverts will also appreciate the heads up (they just may not know it yet).
  4. Appoint a contrarian to poke holes in the meeting’s generated ideas. Rotate the responsibility each meeting so those who may not naturally offer constructive criticism on the spot feel more comfortable doing so. Those extraverts who always have two cents to share will still be able to be heard. They’ll just have to wait their turn.
  5. Assign a designated timekeeper, scribe, or facilitator. Keep meetings short, or add breaks. Introverts need time to recharge. Implementing some of these suggestions can positively contribute to your culture of inclusion and help produce better results.

Oh look: It’s 15 minutes ‘til. Off to a meeting!

Tommi Parris is Manager of Diversity and Inclusion at Southern Company Gas. The Southern Company is an Unconscious Bias Training customer of Delta Concepts Consulting, Inc.