As a leader, you’re responsible for managing all different kinds of people. And that’s a good thing, because research has shown that diversity helps prevent groupthink and drives creativity and innovation.
But managing an assortment of different personality types also poses certain challenges — like creating an environment in which both extroverts and introverts feel comfortable sharing their ideas in meetings.
Since meetings often involve brainstorming and active group discussion, they can be challenging for introverts. Not comfortable enough to speak up, they wind up keeping good ideas to themselves.
So what can you do as a leader to create an environment in which introverts feel safe to contribute their insights? Check out our science-backed tips below.
1. Help me help you
‘Every employee is different, and no one approach will work for every introvert on your team. What will work, though, is taking the time to find out what each person needs.
If someone on your team seems hesitant to speak up, talk to them privately and say something like: “I’d love for you to have a voice in our group discussions so we can put you and your ideas more front and center. But I want to do that in a way that feels comfortable for you. Can you give me some ideas about how I can support you in doing that?”
By treating each person as an individual rather than a broad personality type, you can tailor your efforts to their unique style. Often it’s as simple as saying, “How can I help you?”
2. Don’t wait for an invitation
Some leaders try to be sensitive to the needs of introverts by watching for signals, such as leaning forward or making eye contact. If an employee gives signs of wanting to speak, leaders may assume they can then help that person out by giving them the floor.
It sounds reasonable enough. But in the throes of a fast-paced meeting, with ideas flowing freely and many people talking, you’re likely to miss or misinterpret those cues.
More importantly, an absence of cues doesn’t imply a lack of ideas. Many introverts who make no attempt to speak up nevertheless have valuable ideas they’ll share if called on. So when you notice that someone hasn’t had a chance to share, do them a favor and give them the opportunity.
3. Create opportunities for people to shine
When you know someone’s uncomfortable speaking up in a group, it may seem like the best way to help them out is to speak on their behalf. Especially if that person has previously articulated their ideas to you one-on-one, you may be tempted just to paraphrase what they said and give them credit for the thought.
But there’s a fine line between empowering someone and overshadowing them. Rather than speaking for introverts, a better approach is to create opportunities for them to shine. You can do this simply by asking them if they’d mind sharing their thoughts with the team.
By inviting introverts to present their own ideas, you help them build a sense of agency — and you promote an inclusive environment where everyone feels comfortable. The more you create such opportunities over time, the more people will feel comfortable speaking up on their own.
4. Make time for thinking
Extroverts are comfortable thinking out loud, formulating their ideas in real time as they go. Introverts are different. They tend to be careful thinkers who take more time to process information and formulate their ideas.
An easy way to help introverts feel safer to share their ideas is to give them time to think about what they want to say before they say it. You can do this at the top of the meeting when you talk through your agenda, saying something like: “Here’s the question we’re discussing today. Later I’m going to ask each of you to weigh in with your thoughts.” Even better, you can send an email to your team in advance listing the questions you’ll be discussing.
Another approach is to carve out time during the meeting itself for people to reflect on a critical question. Too often, meetings are about jockeying for a chance to speak. This creates a dynamic that prevents anyone from listening enough to reflect deeply on what they’re hearing.
Try creating a Google Doc in which you pose a critical question to the group. Then, give everyone time during the meeting to record their own thoughts and insights. Finally, ask everyone to read and reflect on each other’s answers before you begin the group discussion.
The introverts on your team will appreciate having time to think about their answers and express them in written form, and the quiet time will help spark creative insights. The result will be a discussion that’s more thoughtful and productive for everyone on your team.
To learn more about raising voices, click here to download the white paper “The NLI Business Case: How Diversity Defeats Groupthink.”