Entrepreneurs

Susan Cain Says There’s a Perfect Time for Introverts to Speak Up in Any Meeting. Here It Is


If you tend to sit silent and let other people talk during meetings, you should know there’s a perfect time to speak up and tell everyone your insights or ideas. That time is near the beginning of the meeting when your thoughts can become “anchoring ideas” for the discussion.

Susan Cain, author of Quiet and a famous introvert explained at this week’s virtual Adobe Summit why speaking up near the start of the meeting can give you the biggest reward for the effort of pushing yourself forward. If you’re a company or team leader, it’s also important to solicit opinions for your quieter team members early in the discussion instead of waiting till the end and then asking for final opinions right before the meeting breaks up.

“There’s a statistic out of the Kellogg School [at Northwestern University] that found that in your typical meeting, you have three people doing 70 percent of the talking,” she explained. “We’ve all been there. We’ve all seen that there are some people who just tend to be that much more assertive, that much more dominant. So what do we about it?”

She had some advice for introverts who want to fight this trend. “I want to challenge you to think in advance of what you might want to say, what point you might want to make, and what questions you want to raise.” This is important because, she said, while extroverts like “thinking out loud,” introverts often prefer to have completely worked something out in their minds before they start speaking–one reason they usually don’t speak up right away. “I cannot tell you how many times I hear from introverts that by the time they thought of the thing they wanted to say, the meeting was over,” she said.

Instead, give yourself a push to speak up early she advised. “Because what we know is that the ideas that get advanced early tend to become the anchoring ideas in a discussion. Even more important, you will emotionally become the center of the room. Other people will start directing their energy towards you, their attention towards you.”

If you wait until the meeting is nearing its end and then force yourself to speak up, the opposite will happen, she said. “You kind of start to drift to the margins of the room. It’s not to say that you can’t get back there from the margins because you absolutely can. It’s just that it’s a little bit harder.” Cain says she’s used this speaking-up-early technique with introverts at countless companies. “It’s one of those things that just has a strangely disproportionate bang for the buck.”

“I think my boss is checked out.”

She had another piece of advice for introverts in meetings, especially if you’re a leader: Make sure to express the enthusiasm that you feel. “I say this because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come in to work with a company and I hear something like, ‘Gosh, I think my boss is checked out. I think my boss doesn’t care that much. We just had this big win and my boss doesn’t even seem that excited about it.”

Then when Cain or her team talked to the boss, they’d learn how wrong that impression was. “They really care, they care deeply. But maybe they don’t express it in the same enthusiastic way that another person might.”

If you’re the one leading the meeting, Cain has a few helpful tactics to ensure you hear from your introverted team members and not just the same three people who always do the talking. First, she said, make sure everyone coming to the meeting gets an agenda or knows the subject of the meeting well in advance (which you should do anyway for lots of reasons). Then, she recommended stealing a technique from education called “Think-Pair-Share.”

You begin by stating an idea that you want to discuss or a problem you want the group to figure out. Then ask everyone to think quietly at their seats about it for a few minutes. Next, have everyone in the group pair up with another person to talk about whatever it is between them. “That one-on-one style of discourse is the way that tends to get the best of everybody’s brain,” she explained. Make sure to complete those two steps before having everyone discuss the issue as a group.

“This is a way of really greasing the flow of conversation,” she said. “You’re going to be hearing from more people than you otherwise would.” How many more new ideas or solutions would you hear about if everyone spoke up?

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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