How many times have you sat in a meeting and one of your team members has been silent? Perhaps you’ve even wanted to say “You never have anything to say”. That isn’t the best response in the world, but it’s better than telling them they’re disinterested, shy or don’t have any ideas. Why don’t some of your team members have anything to say and what could you do to change that?
TLDR: You never have anything to say
It’s fairly common for managers to believe some of their team members have nothing to say, and blame it on them being quiet or introverted. Introversion doesn’t mean they have nothing to say, but it may require a change in the way team meetings are run. The real problem could be more deep seated, either in the person or how your meetings are run.
Do they introverts really have nothing to say?
Firstly this isn’t just about introverts, there are many ambiverts and extraverts who don’t say much in team meetings. A better question is why do some people not want to say much in your meetings.
- Repeating: The most common reason is that others are saying something similar and there’s no point in repeating (in their view). Many people (especially introverts) are mindful of what they perceive as “meeting rules” and extending discussions by adding pointless points simply extends the meeting. This is often made worse where there are some who insist on making their point, even when it’s been said more than once already
- Internal processing: Some people think first and speak afterwards (think to talk) others talk to think. There’s nothing wrong or right in either of these points, they’re just different. There are good things to be said for internal processors (think to talk, typically introverts) and external processors. The outcome of this is often that when they’ve got a point it’s well considered and is worth listening to. A downside is that if they also thing “no point in me speaking up”, you don’t get to hear it.
- Don’t perceive any point in speaking up: This could be because it’s already been said or because they believe it will get ignored. It may also because they consider that for this point there’s a negative utility value in speaking up (I’ll return to this in a moment, but simply put the group upset will outweigh the pain created by speaking up).
So the quiet people do have something to say; they just need you to manage the meeting differently for them to say it and there may be a great benefit in doing so. See “running Meetings that make things happen, for ideas on changing and getting these voices into the open.
Why do you want them speaking?
This topic came up recently when working with a senior manger. She said “xya never has anything to say“. After asking for “evidence” of this statement I asked why she wants them to say anything. This caused silence for a while, followed by the meeting feels better if there’s chat and conversation.
But what’s the purpose of the meeting and more specially what’s the purpose of that part of the “discussion”? There are meeting segments where you really do want all feedback, so you can all learn and change your mind(s). Equally there are many meetings where the purpose is to pass down information and such debate is pointless.
Do you consider what the purpose of an agenda item is and if discussion is relevant? Do you then let the team know that?
What might be causing the problem
You may still have some people who don’t have anything to say in your meetings. Having nothing to say, or believing you have nothing to say, is not a sign of introversion.
If they really have nothing to say it’s more likely to be because:
- They consider that there’s a negative utility value in speaking up. That is to say the benefit in saying anything is outweighed by the “pain” of making the point.
- It may be related to self esteem or something that’s happened to them in the past.
- They may not think your meetings are worth adding anything to.
The first two points need you to work with them on a one to one basis and understand how you can help them. The final point might be about you working one a one to basis with them, to understand how they can help you.