How to Use Your Strengths to Succeed in Meetings
Introverts make up 56.8% of the worldwide population, and 50.7% of the U.S. population.
Yet in societies with an extrovert bias, meetings are often set up for extroverts to thrive, which means the strengths of introverts are ignored or devalued. This is particularly true for meetings with little structure, where the loudest voice is considered the smartest or the most important voice. I call these loud free-for-all meetings and brainstorming sessions Hunger Games meetings.
If you have difficulty participating in meetings, please know that you’re not the only one. You are not broken; what’s broken is a myopic company culture that devalues the strengths of over half the population and equates speaking up in meetings with leadership, when leadership is so much more than that.
I am excited to welcome Thea Orozco as our guest writer this week.
Thea is a thought leader on how introverts can use their strengths to be their best selves at work. She applies her own experiences as she reaches introverts through her book, podcast, and coaching services.
While Hunger Games meetings might not play to the average introvert's strengths, particularly the shy HSP introvert's strengths, that doesn't mean we are doomed when it comes to meetings. In fact, with a few tweaks, you can become an important and visible part of company meetings.
Here are six tips introverts can implement so you can start speaking up more in meetings:
1. Prepare. Ask to see the meeting agenda. If you can at least find out the purpose of the meeting ahead of time, you can walk into the meeting with talking points and questions already prepared instead of trying to think of something to say on the spot.
2. Speak Spark. Most introverts prefer to think before they speak, while most extroverts form their thoughts through speaking. Unfortunately, meetings tend to not devote any time to thinking, and in Hunger Games meetings you cannot afford to wait until you know precisely what you want to say and how you want to say it. For many introverts, by the time you feel like you can share a fully formed thought, the conversation will have moved to another topic!
Try this instead -- pay attention to your "Speak Spark." A Speak Spark is a momentary buzz in your brain when your mind goes from passive listening to interacting with information. When you sense a Speak Spark, take it as a sign that you have something to say. You may not immediately know the reason you had that "spark" -- sometimes it accompanies a furrowed brow when you're confused, or widened eyes when you're excited -- but pay attention to when you feel that change in your mind.
You can give your brain a few extra seconds to gather itself before you talk by using filler phrases like “I disagree because ...” or "Hmmm, that sounds like a good idea, I ...." If you freeze and don’t know how to finish a filler phrase, that’s okay. A good manager should be fine with you saying, “My gut reaction is yes/no because ... well, that thought is gone. Can we revisit this idea at a later meeting? I would like to think more about this.”
3. Ask. If you aren't used to sharing your opinions in meetings, one way to increase your visibility is to ask a question. If your Speak Spark feels like confusion, jump in and ask a question. Chances are that other people in the room are confused too.
4. Reach. Personally, I have a soft voice, so instead of trying to interrupt a colleague by shouting, my arm does the interrupting for me. When I feel that "spark" and I believe that a thought is starting to form, I motion my hand a little toward the center of the table, as if I’m reaching in to participate. For Zoom meetings where one person steers the conversation, I will often raise my hand for a moment and move it briefly until it seems like the meeting organizer has seen me. If the Zoom meeting is more a free-for-all, take yourself off mute as soon as you feel that mental spark.
5. Believe. Don’t let your brain override your arm and tell you your voice isn’t as important as everyone else’s in that room! You were most likely invited to that meeting for a reason. Entering the meeting believing that you should be there and that there's a reason for you to be there, will help you realize that your viewpoints are important and deserve to be heard. So before going into a meeting, ask yourself why you were invited to that meeting, and why you're invested in the meeting topics.
6. Go early. Don’t wait until your anxiety goes away before you speak up. Speak up before your anxiety silences you! You may even want to set yourself a goal, like "speak within the first 5 minutes of the meeting."
Plus, if you speak up early you can spend the rest of the meeting listening deeply to what your colleagues are saying instead of just listening for a space to interject. To take full advantage of this go-early tip, I suggest you release any mistakes you may have made while speaking. Let it go and enjoy the fact that you have voiced your opinion and don’t have to sit in anxious anticipation anymore. You might even find it easier to speak up once the pressure to speak has gone.
We introverts have so much to contribute in the workplace, and your voice deserves to be heard in meetings.
About Thea Orozco
Thea Orozco is the author of The Introvert's Guide to the Workplace, an MBTI consultant, hostess of the Introverts Talking Business podcast, and an introvert coach. It’s her life mission to help introverts use their strengths to be authentic and thrive in business or life. She can be found at introvertology.com.
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