In her 2012 TED Talk, Susan Cain opens with an anecdote about the first time she went to summer camp. A self-proclaimed introvert, Cain set off excited for a quiet summer with her suitcase full of books, but quickly realized that summer camp, like many things in modern society, is decidedly designed for extroverts who thrive on social interaction. But what about those who are more reserved?
As a result of society's fondness for collaboration -from the abundance of group projects to the growing number of open-concept office floor plans- the positive qualities of introverts can sometimes go unnoticed. That's why it's important for people in leadership positions to learn how to draw out the best from everyone on their team, whether they are quiet or outgoing.
Tim Fortescue is a senior coach and account director at Own The Room, a business that helps high-level employees from global companies refine their communication and leadership skills. He spoke to The Venture about ways to ensure that the introverts on your team are being heard.
Give Plenty of Notice
Fortescue says that introverts aren’t simply shy. Instead, they tend to be more reserved when it comes to sharing their ideas and less confident when speaking. This is why he suggests giving everyone ample notice before a meeting or brainstorming session takes place.
“Sometimes simple preparation before a brainstorming meeting is all an introvert needs to feel comfortable sharing,” he says. You can even take it a step further, Fortescue says, by structuring your meetings so that everyone is expected to speak. This way, those who may not ordinarily share their views will feel more comfortable doing so because they will see it as an expected task rather than a contest for attention. By making it a welcoming opportunity for the introverts in the group, you’re likely to gain valuable insights from them.
The Power of Pairs
Fortescue understands that group work is an important component of nearly every work place, but he believes that reducing the size of group projects to just two employees may help make everyone be more productive.
At Own The Room, Fortescue works with lots of introverts, including tech-industry executives and engineers. He’s found that they tend to perform well when working with a partner because there’s a built-in expectation that one person will talk while the other listens, and then they’ll switch roles. “In groups of four or five, it’s easy for the introvert to just get drowned out by the louder talkers,” Fortescue says.
Get to Know Your Team
“Use one-on-one interactions to build a relationship with the introverts on your team, and also get to know their areas of strength,” Fortescue recommends.
Not only does building a rapport with all your team members help put everyone at ease, it also allows you to recognize the right time to shine the spotlight on those who are quieter. “So much good can come from his or her knowledge base, and giving that person a platform to speak will take away some of the uneasiness about speaking in front of a group,” Fortescue says.
From being a good listener to a reliable decision maker, there are plenty of reasons to be proud of being an introvert. Many successful business leaders are introverts, including Own The Room founder and chief product officer Bill Hoogterp.
“Bill is an introvert and he’s adapted his skillset into a public speaking and presenting course, which is not considered a classic introvert thing,” Fortescue explains. “We put structure around how to present, and structure is good for introverts because it allows them to be thoughtful about the approach that they take.”
If you happen to be an introvert, Fortescue says there are a few simple things you can do to help you feel more comfortable when put on the spot. First of all, don’t be afraid to pause and collect your thoughts. Fortescue says taking a moment to reflect “exudes authority and executive presence.”
The most important thing, though, is remembering to act natural because audiences connect with presenters whom they perceive as being authentic. “The number one key is to be yourself,” Fortescue says.
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