When I read Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, I felt validated in being an introvert surrounded by extroverts. All my life, I’ve felt the push to conform, to be more extrovert…and, Susan’s book helped me accept who I am, who I’ve always been, and who I can be in the future. Other introverts with whom I’ve shared the ideas in Cain’s book also are gifted with flashes of insight into their lives.

It also helped me appreciate “the talkers” I work with, the extroverts who can’t seem to “shut up” about whatever they are trying to say. Of course, I came to realize that they perceive me in the same way–they talk too much, while I write too much.

We…see talkers as leaders. The more a person talks, the more other group members direct their attention to him, which means that he becomes increasingly powerful as a meeting goes on. It also helps to speak fast; we rate quick talkers as more capable and appealing than slow talkers.
All of this would be fine if more talking were correlated with greater insight, but research suggests that there’s no such link.

But what does this mean in terms of who I am as a leader? I’ve been told that I’m too quiet in meetings. There are so many people who want to talk, while I look for pauses in the conversation, for a silence that will allow me to share that one insight others have expressed. I often identified with the Quakers, who waited for an idea to set them quaking until they broke the silence of their meeting.

In this research study, what a joy to read the following, Introverts, Extroverts, and the Complexities of Team Dynamics:

Extroverts gravitate toward groups and constant action, and they tend to think out loud. They are energized and recharged by external stimuli, such as personal interactions, social gatherings, and shared ideas. Being around other people gives them energy. In contrast, introverts typically dislike noise, interruptions, and big group settings. They instead tend to prefer quiet solitude, time to think before speaking (or acting), and building relationships and trust one-on-one. Introverts recharge with reflection, deep dives into their inner landscape to research ideas, and focus deeply on work.

In my own observations of people who’ve completed Myers-Brigg personality tests, yes, this is so true. Consider these additional findings about leaders:

The intuition here is that extroverted leadership may drive higher performance when employees are passive but lower performance when employees are proactive

Take-Away #1: If you are an extrovert in a leadership position, it’s best if you have “followers” who will do what you say.

Team leaders who are extroverted can be highly effective leaders when the members of their team are dutiful followers looking for guidance from above. Extroverts bring the vision, assertiveness, energy, and networks necessary to give them direction.

Take-Away #2: If you are an introvert in a leadership position, it’s best to have “extroverts” who you can empower to speak up.

By contrast, when team members are proactive — and take the initiative to introduce changes, champion new visions, and promote better strategies — it is introverted leaders who have the advantage. Extroverted leaders are more likely to feel threatened, I’ve found. When employees champion new visions, strategies, and work processes, they often steal the spotlight, challenging leaders’ dominance, authority, and status. As a result, extroverted leaders tend to be less receptive: They shoot down suggestions and discourage employees from contributing. By comparison, an introverted leader might be comfortable listening and carefully considering suggestions from below. 

What I like about this information is that there is a need for balance in a team. As an introvert leader, it’s important to not be defensive when team members bring up great ideas. As an introvert follower, I would love to participate in a meeting that worked something like this:

How can you get the best from deep, quiet team members during meetings? A look at practices used in some organizations points to an answer. At Amazon, every meeting begins in total silence. Before any conversation can occur, everyone must quietly read a six-page memo about the meeting’s agenda for 20 to 30 minutes. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos instituted this process after recognizing that employees rarely read meeting materials sent in advance. Reading together focuses everyone’s attention on the issues at hand.

The type of clear thinking that these structured memos require also serves the purpose of leveling the playing field for team members who differ in their level of introversion and extroversion. The imposition of writing as a medium turns self-discipline and personal reflection into effective meetings and participative decision making. After devoting time to reading, the group can then focus on engaging in a valuable discourse: reaching shared understandings, digging deeper into data and insights, and perhaps most importantly, having a meaningful debate. 

The process gives introverted team members the time they need to formulate their thoughts and, for some, build up the courage to share them with the rest of the team. It also encourages the extroverted to listen, reflect, and become more open to the perspectives of their more silent peers.

According to this site, the “six-page memo” is structured in the following way:

1) the context or question.2) approaches to answer the question – by whom, by which method, and their conclusions3) how is your attempt at answering the question different or the same from previous approaches4) now what? – that is, what’s in it for the customer, the company, and how does the answer to the question enable innovation on behalf of the customer?

When I reflect on my own approach to meetings, I can’t help but notice that I DO write a narrative in the form of an email, plan out the agenda methodically and try to get it out to people ahead of time, but only a few will read it. It may be worthwhile to try this approach to meetings.


Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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