Ever feel like the people who speak up in meetings all the time need to shut up? Okay, seriously though, no offense intended especially since I sometimes pretend to be a "Type A" person, but I genuinely feel that if the people who tend to speak up in meetings would allow for some uncomfortable silence then the people who are rarely heard will speak up more often and the results will be incredible.
There are few people who I respect greater than that person who sits quietly in the meeting, intently observing while everyone else is talking, debating and posturing… That person who is taking in all the ideas and discussions- who just before the end of the meeting (before the PM decides to dish out action items and be all commanding and shit), turns their computer around, and says “hey, is this what you all are looking for?”. Then everyone is like… “uhm, yeah that’s what we’ve been talking about this whole time, where’d you find that?” and the quite genius is like “I just built it”, and everyone is like “What?! When?! How?! Just now?” and the silent observer is all calm and not smug at all and says something like “Yeah, I made it just now, while you all were talking.” These people rock. They take the people’s problems, merge it with the feasibility of technology in real time, they don’t waste time bickering or posturing, and they get shit done, I love these people. They are amazing and we SEE their work all the time, but rarely know who was behind it because we HEAR them so infrequently. These people are the thinkers, they also tend to be the doers, the makers, the ones who know how to execute. So why is it so rare that we hear them speak up?
Some people say introverts don't speak up because they don't like the attention, other's say they are too shy or afraid to speak up in a room full of people. I don't think either of those answers are correct- I think we don't hear from introverts enough because introverts just need a little more silence in the room in which to build up the inner inertia to speak up and articulately demonstrate their ideas. In the world of work the most enlightening ideas are often whispered quietly among the room initiated from some gifted introspective genius before finally reaching someone who will take the onus of announcing the brilliance to the room. Rarely have I seen a concept shared publicly by the person who actually came up with the insights - this is everything that is wrong with the world. All meritocracy debates set aside, it simply isn't fair that someone else can get up and share an idea with the room that wasn't even their insight and take the credit. It shatters my heart how often this happens- not because I am upset that someone else is taking credit for another's insight (I've already given up on meritocracy if you couldn't tell) rather it upsets me because the fountain of insight from brilliant people gets cut off from the rest of the world we we don't know the source of the insight.
If you look closely and you'll notice that most of the time people who are speaking up in the meetings tend to be the same people over and over, they are often attractive, tall, have great teeth and they have a few very powerful gift - they aren't afraid to embarrass themselves in front of a group if their idea is not good enough and they don't cave under the pressure of group think. This makes me think that the problem isn't that introverts don't care to talk, the problem is we need more silence and less pressure in meetings.
One thing I love about Design Thinking is the variety of ways in which people are empowered to share their ideas and brainstorm. For example putting sticky notes on the wall with my ideas have always been easier for me than standing up, commanding the room to pay attention to what I have to say and stating an idea to everyone at once. To be brutally honest, the more time I spend in women's groups the more I find most women (I'm generalizing) tend to hold back on whatever they have to say unless they are absolutely sure it's the "right way", or the "right time", while more aggressive individuals leap for the chance to persuade the room. The problem isn't that men or extroverts or type A's are more aggressive, the problem also isn't with women or introverts being more passive- the problem is that the engagement models we use to communicate ideas tend to favor alpha personas.
My message to organizations that really want to increase innovation from the very top and increase diversity among their leadership is simple: Make it easier for extroverts to listen, and make it easier for introverts to speak up by introducing more variety in the engagement styles among leadership and throughout your organization. Take a lesson from agile best practices which have proven to increase success among development teams by introducing more democratic ways to accommodate diverse communication styles i.e. Slack and innovate the way you engage from the very top. Encouraging changes in communication and engagement models throughout your business and finding ways to accommodate silence within informal groups so introverts feel included and empowered to speak up is a good start.