Let’s start with the premise that you want everyone’s best ideas – whether or not you choose to accept or act on them. Let’s further presume that you have meetings for participants to learn, contribute and decide. The problem is that meetings, by definition, are geared to extroverts and run the risk of leaving introverts behind. If you want the best ideas for introverts you must, must, must, give them things to mull over in advance and must give them a chance to weigh in after the meeting close with a p.s. with the rest of their ideas – and often, their best ideas.
Extroverts like me think with our mouths. We do best ratcheting up good ideas while sparring with other extroverts. We’re happy to float really bad ideas to prompt a discussion and debate so others can come up with better ideas in turn prompting our own better ideas, their even better ideas, our even better ideas and so on. Extroverts feed off each other.
I’m told (though I personally find it hard to understand how this is possible) that introverts think with their brains. They like to absorb information and then let it bounce around in their heads until it emerges as fully-formed ideas.
All kidding aside, you need both. You need everyone’s best ideas – however they got there.
Now do you see the problem with meetings? Almost inevitably, the first people to open their mouths on any topic will be the extroverts. The second people to chime in will be….other extroverts. The extroverts will bounce off each other leaving no air space for the introverts.
A skilled leader or facilitator will try to bring the introverts into the conversation at some point. But it won’t work. The information coming out of the mouths of the extroverts will be bouncing around in the introverts’ heads like unpopped kernels of popcorn not yet ready to see the light of day.
You’ve got to give introverts a chance to pre-think their ideas. (Pre-pop their popcorn?) Do this by giving them pre-reads in advance with enough information to prompt their thinking. Tell them what the main topics of conversation are going to be so they can mull things over in advance. This way they’ll be ready to share their ideas in the company of extroverts.
How do you know in advance which are the introverts and which are the extroverts? The bad news is that it’s hard to tell on the margins. The good news is that it doesn’t matter. Send everyone the pre-reads. The introverts will love it. They’ll dig into the pre-reads and be ready for the meeting. The extroverts won’t pay any attention to it. They’ll wait to engage with others in the meeting. This way, both will be ready to contribute to their fullest potential.
Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #612) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.
Don’t forget the P.S. There’s no way for the introverts to get the benefit of extroverts’ thinking before the meeting. This is because the extroverts do their best thinking and make their best contributions in the company of others. This means there will be new information bouncing around inside introverts’ heads. They need time to process that.
Hence the P.S. Give everyone a chance to contribute even more ideas after the meeting closes. Do this with an invitation in the final notes.
Putting this all together gets to the following basic steps for a meeting.
- One person responsible.
- Single overall objective set.
- Agenda set with clear expectations for learning, contributions and decisions by item, with time allocated to match what’s needed.
- Attendees include those needed and no one else (with substitutes allowed for those who can’t make it).
- Appropriate pre-work, analysis, and pre-reading to people far enough in advance for all to learn/contribute to their fullest potential.
Delivery/Moment of Impact:
- Meeting participation and timing facilitated to optimize learning, contributions, and action-oriented decisions, ending when overall objective is achieved.
- Meeting notes out promptly to memorialize decisions and actions, inviting other ideas to improve best current thinking, and kicking off the preparation for the next meeting.