Put Aside Labels and Engage Everybody

Put Aside Labels and Engage Everybody

Giving People What They Need to Participate


In her 2012 TED talk, Susan Cain, author of QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, defined a cultural bias that she called “the new group think,” a belief that all creativity comes from a gregarious place. She talked about how more schools and workplaces reflect this bias and, perhaps without realizing it, have mandated extensive group work. But constant togetherness doesn’t work for everyone. And, while collaboration is important, many people feel that solitude “is the air that they breathe.”


It’s a powerful reminder for business leaders who oversee diverse teams. How do you effectively engage people who may do some of their best work—and their best thinking—in solitude? And how do you merge these contributions with what you hear from extroverts who tend to think out loud? What about the people who fluctuate between the two, neither introverted nor extroverted?


Here are a few ideas that accomplish two goals: They avoid labeling people by their personality type, and they let people participate in the way they feel most comfortable.


Give people the space and place they need to contribute. Consider hosting meetings that bring everyone together for active discussion, but then give people who want more time to think through their ideas a means to contribute later.


Ask team members to complete pre-work. It doesn’t have to be extensive or time-consuming. For example, send a few questions or meeting topics ahead of time and ask participants to capture their ideas in a way that everyone can benefit from. You will find that the conversation stays more focused and engaged when all participants have had a chance to think away from the group first.


Give asynchronous meetings a try. Everyone participates on their own time within a specified time-frame. All contributions would then be collected for distribution. Consider mixing these types of meetings into your regular format.


Experimenting with different meeting formats can help managers discover new ways to engage everyone in the conversation.