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How to Talk in Meetings When You Hate Talking in Meetings

Source | Harvard Business Review : By Dana Rousmaniere

Nobody loves meetings. But they can be especially taxing for people who crave a quieter setting for brainstorming or thinking through issues, or who struggle to have their voices heard in a room full of loud-talkers. How can these folks make sure their ideas are well-represented in team meetings? For some practical advice, we turned to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and co-founder of The Quiet Leadership Institute, which helps companies unlock the power of the introverted half of the workforce. An edited version of our conversation follows:

HBR: Introverts tend to listen — and think — more than they speak. How can they avoid coming across as disengaged or even apathetic during a meeting, when they’re actually very deeply in thought?

Cain: One thing I often tell introverts is to do a lot of prep work before a meeting begins, whether or not you’ve been formally asked to do so, because it’s probably what you need to personally do. Preparing your thoughts ahead of time can also help give you a push to be one of the first people to speak up, which is probably not your normal style. In general, it’s best to advance your ideas early. On a psychological level, it helps you feel a part of the meeting earlier, and people will often in turn direct their comments to you, whereas if you wait awhile to speak, the opposite usually happens.

When a meeting is fast-paced and intense, how do you insert yourself into the conversation?

Many introverts aren’t comfortable thinking on their feet, and really want to process their thoughts before articulating them. That’s why it’s important to do your prep work in advance of the meeting. Then, let go of the idea that your thoughts have to be well-formulated in order to be articulated. Notice how half-baked people’s ideas usually are when they advance them, and that no one minds. Half-baked ideas often have a lot of value. That alone can give you the freedom to speak up. The trick then is to speak at a decibel level a little higher than the people around you, which is a way of unconsciously signaling that you’re entering the conversation — you’re not shouting or anything; it’s very subtle. Being able to make off-the-cuff, unprepared remarks is a muscle that you can develop over time, so it’s worth practicing.

 

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