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3 Tips to Help Your Remote Team's Introverts Succeed

As busy managers, we rely on input from the folks on our teams. On phone calls or webmeetings we encourage people to speak up and listen intently when they do. The problem is that not everyone speaks up, and those who do aren't always the people with the sagest advice. In fact, it's often the quiet introverts who have the most thoughtful input, if you can actually pull it out of them.

This requires work and might not be our natural inclination. Psychologists will tell you that the majority of people (about 75% or so) are extroverts. Ask people to name the attributes of an extrovert and you'll hear "people person", "outgoing", "friendly" and the like. Ask people to give you the traits of an introvert and you'll hear, "quiet", "keeps to themselves", "doesn't bother anyone"... basically the same thing the neighbors say when they capture a serial killer.

Here are 3 ways to tap the talent that doesn't always speak up voluntarily:

  1. Get people to submit ideas in writing, before and after the meeting. Just because you tell everyone that their ideas are welcome and "there are not stupid ideas", doesn't mean they believe you. Many people, not just the pathologically shy, are leery of blurting out the first thing that comes to them. Some people actually like to think before putting something out to the group (a foreign concept to many of us extroverts, who often start talking and hope the result is coherent). If your goal is to really generate good ideas, have people submit ideas in writing before the meeting as a way of jumpstarting the discussion. They can write their thoughts and questions after the meeting on the group site to fine-tune solutions and break up the "groupthink" that often happens in brainstorms.
  2. You know who the smart people are -- ask direct questions. If you're leading the meeting, you might know that someone has something to contribute but for whatever reason isn't speaking up. You might ask a direct question like, "Jen Lee, you have some experience in this, what do you think?". A good tip is to send them an Instant Message or private chat message telling them you are going to do this so they're prepared and not caught off guard. You want their contribution to be positive for them as well as the rest of the team. Don't ambush them or put them on the spot, it can leave a scar.
  3. Assign specific reports or tasks before the meeting. It's critical to long-term team success that every member of the team has faith in the competence of everyone else. If people don't get a chance to show what they can do, how do you build that confidence? Try assigning a small portion of the meeting or having someone send their thoughts to the group as prework. During the meeting you can then show the quality of their work and have it be more of a "Q and A" session, than a full presentation. Many introverts are more comfortable answering questions conversationally than being put on the spot.
On project teams, busy managers often believe that the "squeaky wheel gets the grease". By paying some consideration and attention to, the contributions of your introverts you get the best from them and your team. You also don't need to hear the same voices over and over which might just help your sanity.

Picture by Flickr user Michael_Comeau CC 2.0