I’m the kind of person who speaks up a lot in meetings. I’ve done this my entire career, well before I was given a job title that starts with the letter C. I process information fast and make decisions quickly. I have the kind of personality that corporate America gravitates towards.

And I’m here to tell people like me to pipe down.

Americans place particularly high value on extroversion. People who talk a lot, process out loud or are very social often get the lion’s share of attention. They are often associated with appearing confident or assertive. Conversely, introverts who might be less likely to speak up in meetings can sometimes be misunderstood as not having an opinion or an idea but in reality, they simply process information and ideas in a different way. For the purposes of this conversation, we’ll define introverts as people who need quiet time to recharge their energy, prefer depth over breadth, are more likely to process information internally rather than aloud and listen more than they speak.

Let’s have a quick history lesson, shall we?

If we take a spin back through history books, we can clearly trace a line back to when Americans began putting such high value on extroversion. As Susan Cain describes in her book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking,” the early 20th century saw a shift in American values when we moved from distributed agricultural communities and began migrating into larger metropolitan areas. When the majority of the population lived in small, close-knit communities that were centered around family and farming, we placed value on inward traits like morality, work ethic, integrity, good deeds, and kindness. Enter the Industrial Revolution. People move into metropolitan areas. In these more anonymous environments, the ability to stand out and have your ideas heard became more important. Voilà! A society that places high value on extroversion.  

By understanding that history, we can see that being an introvert or extrovert says nothing of someone’s capability or competence. Not all assertive or talkative people are competent. Not all introverted people are shy or lacking ideas. Of course, introversion and extroversion are not black and white. Everyone exists on a spectrum between the two.

Creating space for introverts is inclusion

Diverse personalities are critical for creating a well-rounded team. Having introverts on your team can balance out your more outspoken personalities. Introverts can bring a level of thoughtful deliberation and depth of perspective compared to extroverts who may be quicker to act.

Today’s business culture often doesn’t take introverted tendencies into consideration, especially in our meeting-heavy world. Inclusive communication strategies that take into account the preferences of introverts can lead to more thorough and thoughtful discussions and decision-making processes. Remember that this is not about adapting “best practices” to suit something that is “flawed”--because there is nothing flawed about introverts. The business world is designed to best accommodate extroverts, as history clearly shows. I’m simply proposing that there is a better way.

Here are a few tips for meeting facilitators to provide a more inclusive experience for various personality types:

  • Me Time, We Time: I’m a big proponent of quiet time in meetings. I realize this sounds counterintuitive, but hear me out. By creating space for people to write down thoughts and ideas before sharing them, it levels the playing field and makes space for everyone to participate. I wrote more about this over here.
  • Use collaborative tech: Our team lives and breathes in Slack all day. Tools like Miro or even the chat feature in Zoom or Teams can be helpful tools for a mixed-personality group. Real-time commenting, polling apps and other tools that allow for non-verbal communication can help facilitate more equal participation.
  • Stop interrupting: Giving introverts the time to get all of their thoughts out is key. Allow space for an introvert to articulate all of their thoughts without interrupting and wait a moment before responding to comments.
  • Provide a clear agenda in advance: Time to process ahead of a meeting can give introverts space to come with their thoughts prepared.
  • Consider smaller teams: Gotta love a breakout room! Smaller groups allow for deeper conversations. Introverts may feel more comfortable being vocal in smaller group settings.

Taking these considerations into account provides direct value to employers.Making space for all work styles means employees are more likely to feel engaged and satisfied at work. By considering the needs and preferences of everyone and valuing individual differences, we create a culture of respect and acceptance. Teams that have a mix of both personality types tend to be more balanced and productive. If you want the best output from all members of your team, inclusive practices matter. Extroverts, now’s your time to listen loudly.

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