Updated: Mar 7, 2022
Wallflower. Aloof. Disengaged. Disconnected. Detached. Distant.
These are many of the descriptors that get placed on introverts, especially in work meetings or social gatherings.
We've all been there. Sitting toward the back of the room as others keep the conversation going, sometimes bantering back and forth and other times joining the chorus of popular support, while appearing to say nothing at all.
We may often endure those experiences and even ourselves feel like we are not confident enough or possess enough social skills to join in. We wish we could but it's just not our forte. So we "endure", a somewhat aggravated and desolate word.
Listening is Learning
However, let me turn the tables on this discussion. What may be mistaken as uninvolved can actually be one of our greatest strengths.
Listening. Observant. Gathering information. Weighing input. Formulating unique opinions.
These are more accurate descriptions of what most introverts are doing in social and work situations. We may not be as intuitive as others. Certainly, we are not as impulsive or flamboyant. We don't "shoot from the hip" comfortably so we naturally steer clear of that banter.
Whereas many in the meeting will dominate the talk and their confidence often recruits others to their position, oftentimes their conclusions are not well thought out. After all, when they are speaking off the top of their head they just don't have the time (or the inclination) to consider different perspectives, weigh the pros and cons, and connect the dots scattered throughout a meeting. The result is often groupthink, where the wave of consensus forms without proper consideration, creativity, and challenge.
What these meetings actually need is the observant introvert's perspective. But how do we transform ourselves from the wallflower to the valued participant?
5 Steps to Transformation
Recognize your strengths: generally, introverts get caught up in the negative stereotypes of introversion that are not only recognized by many others, but also by introverts themselves. It is incumbent upon us to do some research on introversion in general (see our Resources Page, read Susan Cain's Quiet, take the free BeyondIntroversion.com Superpower quiz to learn more about your talents and how to apply and grow them. If we aren't aware of our own strengths, then it's quite hard to move away from "a glass half empty" perspective. Of the over 1600 quiz respondents, listening is one of the most common introvert talents.
Apply your listening/observational skills: there is a big difference between someone who is truly disengaged, perhaps daydreaming during a meeting, and someone who is actively listening. To be that valued listener, follow these pointers:
Prepare for the meeting: study the agenda, read the pre-read, prepare your questions and observations. This will help you avoid introvert's paralysis (the feeling of being frozen and unable to communicate) so you can contribute to the discussion when warranted.
Sit strategically: you don't need to be at the head of the table, but steer clear of the back of the room or the periphery. These locations only add fuel to others' perceptions, but more importantly, it may be harder to hear or interpret others' body language. It's also hard to share your observations from the back of the room.
Take critical notes: you don't want to get lost in the notetaking, but do listen for key data, positions, objectives and jot them down so you can recall them as you formulate your opinions.
Observe others: most people are too busy talking, trying to get their minutes in, that they miss a lot of action. Observe others. Who appears nervous, who else is actively participating, who is completely unprepared, who appear to be allies, who is frustrated, who is talking a lot but saying very little? This may help separate the wheat from the shaft as they say.
Peruse your notes: during the meeting, consider the questions and positions you noted during your meeting prep. Is the meeting providing new information? Have your questions been answered? What is missing? Does it feel like groupthink, like everyone is agreeable and has climbed onboard a position that has not been challenged? Has the big picture been lost or have the details been avoided?
Share your points: Great listening skills and unique perspectives are of little value if they are never shared. As you peruse your notes and consider what is missing, prepare to inject a question or point. Our greatest value resides in our observations and our succinctness. No need to grab the pulpit for minutes on end. Concisely share what you observed from the pre-read and/or meeting discussions thus far, and make a bold statement or ask a question others have failed to address. This is often the hardest step but the most critical to affecting the meeting objectives. Your preparation and a bit of courage will help you stretch your comfort zone and share your perspective.
Be yourself: if you don't have anything unique to share, that is okay. No need to join the groupthink. If you haven't quite figured it out yet, perhaps you need more time after the meeting to cogitate. Take that time and then share your points with the meeting leader and others. This way, you are building your reputation as a quality meeting participant. Others know they will get unique perspectives from you when you have them. They may begin to defer to you. They may also recognize their own groupthink and seek the contrarian view that you often tactfully introduce.
Be proud of who you are. Cherish your skills like listening and observation. Follow these steps and others will quickly shift their view of you from that of a wallflower to one of you as a critical and valued team member.
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The Questions Introverts Ponder
The Answers Extroverts Need to Hear
Introversion often feels so alone and many of us assume no one else could feel this way. Contained in this book are many of the questions that have been asked, often by introverts trying to understand this personality trait that can at times govern our lives.