Introverts in Meetings

January 13, 2010 Leave a comment

I recently read an interesting New York Times article by Nancy Ancowitz that a friend sent me about the ways that extroverts are privileged in meeting processes and work environments.  It’s something we talk about at IISC as well. What are the ways that we can design and facilitate meetings so as not to privilege extroverts over introverts – or people with different learning styles – or people with different abilities or aptitudes?

There’s a lot known. And there’s a lot still to discover. Much of generic group process (if not attending to these kinds of things) favors those who freely express ideas in groups. Day-long or multi-day meetings can be great for extroverts, who get energy being in groups – and challenging for introverts, who need alone time to recharge and process internally. Introverts will participate more fully if given time to consider material ahead of time.  Extroverts tend to be exactly the opposite – or can quickly scan something in the room and go. Brainstorming is a natural thing for extroverts (who are comfortable putting forth ideas without necessarily knowing how fully “cooked” they are), but not so much for introverts (who tend to want to spend internal time thinking through an idea before putting it out).

So it can be helpful, sometimes, to offer information ahead of time. Or to give people a few minutes to think individually (or even write) about their responses before going into full-out brainstorm. But what about full-day or multi-day meetings?

What are ways to structure meetings to allow people to work across these differences? The goal seems to be designing and facilitating processes that bring out the best in everyone and allow voice for all.

So how do we create processes that bring together all of this? That don’t privilege one over the other?

I’m wondering about processes you may have used that worked really well for you – both for introverts and for extroverts. What is your experience about what works?

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  • Gibran says:

    This quite a quandary Linda, one I’ve become increasingly sensitive to as an extrovert living with an introvert. I too am looking for ways to balance everyone’s needs while remaining aware that “the system” is built for extroverts. Maybe online tools allow us to start the meeting ahead of time and continue beyond it in a way that privileges introvert participation?

  • Linda says:

    Absolutely Gibran – it’s a huge quandry! As in many dimensions, my question is whether there’s a way to at least lessen priveleging one group over the other. There are folks in the conflict resolution world who’ve been working toward privelege-free facilitation. An amazing concept! And, as with so many things, will require lots of experimentation and messing around. We’re seeing it right now at IISC, as we’re shortening our historically six to eight hour staff meetings to three-hour sessions. I’m all for staying in the messiness of trying to figure it out.

  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    An important privilege for us to pay attention to. Some of the things I’ve seen work….
    * a few minutes of silence after asking a question and before opening the floor for comments/responses (extraverts often need a reminder or they jump right into conversation anyway);
    * a few minutes of silence before a brainstorm session
    * time to journal before or after a segment of a meeting or training
    * “buzz” with a partner before a large group conversation–gives space for a conversation on a small scale for folks who are reluctant to speak in larger setting
    * “write around” — introduced to IISC by Catherine Wong. Write a question/issue or several questions/issues on individual sheets of paper. Pass around so people can respond/engage in writing, read the pervious comments and keep going.
    And, as you’ve said, getting info out in advance so everyone can think–often helpful to also include a reflection question or something else to focus the reading/reflection time before the large group discussion.

    Looking forward to hearing more ideas folks!

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