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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

How to Get the Quiet Colleague to Talk

The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't being said. Anonymous

Do you come to meetings hoping for lively dialogue but despite all your efforts to pose great questions and stimulate discussion you produce nothing but veiled eyes and blank stares? Do you feel you're pulling teeth trying to get your less-than-talkative co-workers to speak up? If your more forceful efforts to get your introverted colleagues to talk have failed, try using a gentler approach to open them up.

Know what drives introverts. Introverts aren't shy. They simply don't like to speak before they've carefully considered what they think and want to say. The fastest way to get them to share their thoughts is to give them time to think before you ask them to speak.

Let time work for you. The worst thing you can do if you want introverts to talk is to put them on the spot—ask a question and expect an immediate reply. Don't wait until you're in meetings to ask questions. Give introverts time to mull over and process information in depth. Send out lists of questions or issues that need to be addressed prior to meetings. Ask everyone to think about the issues and come prepared to discuss.

Get comfortable with silence. When you're faced with a moment of silence in a meeting, let it be. Don't try to fill all the empty spaces by talking. Show respect for more introverted colleagues by giving them time to think in silence. When you leave an opening, your quiet co-workers are more likely to speak up.

Practice the 3-minute test. If your habit of always filling lulls in the conversation is strong, get in the practice of giving others three minutes to talk before you speak again.

Give everyone time to talk in small groups. If keeping quiet this long makes you nervous, set up the topic of discussion for meeting members to deliberate in pairs for five minutes and walk out of the room for that period of time. This gives everyone in the group an opportunity to speak up.

Surprise!--that quiet colleague is an extravert. You may be surprised to discover some of those quiet colleagues who fail to speak up in your meetings are actually extraverts. Extraverts aren't shy either--so what makes these more gregarious coworkers hold their tongue? You haven't made it safe for them to speak up. Just like introverts, extraverts need a safe environment to join in the conversation and share their ideas.

Small group discussion works for extraverts too.  Extraverts may not feel safe jumping into the discussion in their preferred manner of thinking as they talk. Extraverts are the ones who want to engage in a dialogue to figure out what they think—they work best by bouncing their ideas off others. You need to make it safe for extraverts to speak up without already having their ideas fully formed.

Small group discussions are good for everyone. Not only do small group discussions stimulate fruitful talk from the introverts in the group they make room for the extraverts to jump in and freely play with their ideas too.

'An inability to stay quiet is one of the conspicuous failings of mankind.' Walter Bagehot

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For more than 35 years, Susan Meyerott has been helping people lighten up and step over invisible barriers to change one step at a time. She speaks to your heart, puts you at ease, and makes letting go and moving forward with life easier than ever before.

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Karin Wills said...

Another option that I have found works quite well is to leave decisions open for several hours after a meeting ends and invite everyone to forward any further thoughts (either via an internal social network or by advising a specific person) later on. It never fails to produce some important information and lets introverts, extroverts and just shy people all contribute in a comfortable way.

Susan J Meyerott, M.S. said...

Karin thanks for talking back! Your suggestion to leave decisions open for several hours after a meeting ends is excellent. Really gets at making it safe for people to contribute and be included. How many times has this ENFP thought of what I would have contributed well after the meeting ended!
Appreciate your comments.


Sean Gibbons said...

Great quick advice for how to engage the listeners. :)

Susan J Meyerott, M.S. said...

Thanks for stopping by an d leaving a comment, Sean Gibbons! :)