How to Talk in Meetings When You Hate Talking in Meetings, especially for introverts – HBR

This is a HBR article written by Dana Rousmaniere and the link to the original post is here.

Nobody loves meetings. But they can be especially taxing for people who crave a quieter setting for brainstorming or thinking through issues, or who struggle to have their voices heard in a room full of loud-talkers. How can these folks make sure their ideas are well-represented in team meetings? For some practical advice, we turned to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and co-founder of The Quiet Leadership Institute, which helps companies unlock the power of the introverted half of the workforce. An edited version of our conversation follows:

HBR: Introverts tend to listen — and think — more than they speak. How can they avoid coming across as disengaged or even apathetic during a meeting, when they’re actually very deeply in thought?

Cain: One thing I often tell introverts is to do a lot of prep work before a meeting begins, whether or not you’ve been formally asked to do so, because it’s probably what you need to personally do. Preparing your thoughts ahead of time can also help give you a push to be one of the first people to speak up, which is probably not your normal style. In general, it’s best to advance your ideas early. On a psychological level, it helps you feel a part of the meeting earlier, and people will often in turn direct their comments to you, whereas if you wait awhile to speak, the opposite usually happens.

When a meeting is fast-paced and intense, how do you insert yourself into the conversation?

Many introverts aren’t comfortable thinking on their feet, and really want to process their thoughts before articulating them. That’s why it’s important to do your prep work in advance of the meeting. Then, let go of the idea that your thoughts have to be well-formulated in order to be articulated. Notice how half-baked people’s ideas usually are when they advance them, and that no one minds. Half-baked ideas often have a lot of value. That alone can give you the freedom to speak up. The trick then is to speak at a decibel level a little higher than the people around you, which is a way of unconsciously signaling that you’re entering the conversation — you’re not shouting or anything; it’s very subtle. Being able to make off-the-cuff, unprepared remarks is a muscle that you can develop over time, so it’s worth practicing.

When you don’t have an immediate snappy response to meeting banter, how do you buy yourself time to think things through?

You can just say so. Really. Just say: “I really want to think that through.” If you think you’re going to have the answer momentarily, then you just ask for that amount of time: “Why don’t you come back to me, I want to think that through.” Or, if you think you won’t have the answer until later, just say: “Can we table that idea? It’s something I want to think through more deeply.” These requests are not that big a deal if you feel internally entitled to take that extra time, knowing that taking the extra time benefits everyone. If you say it in a forthright, graceful way, people will be fine with it.

Presenting in front of a large group can be particularly challenging. What strategies have you personally used?

I knew that the success of my book, and the ideas I cared so much about, would depend on my ability to publicly present those ideas. So before my book came out, I needed to overcome my fear of public speaking. I enrolled in Toastmasters to practice presenting in a small, supportive space. If you have something that you’re afraid of or uncomfortable with, you should expose yourself to it in small, manageable doses to extinguish the fear and gain comfort over time. There’s no way around a fear except through it. But the answer is not to begin by putting yourself in very high stakes situations and forcing yourself to perform. Start smaller-scale, and little by little you build those muscles and become better at it.

Try to expose yourself to small speaking experiences where, on a scale of 1-10, your anxiety level would be in the 4-7 range, so you’re stretching yourself, but not too much all at once. You can keep upping the ante of the stakes as time moves on. It’s useful to have a formal place you go regularly, like Toastmasters. Or some cities have other venues, such as the Public Speaking Center of New York. For people with public speaking anxiety, these classes can be tremendously effective.

Some people have involuntary physical reactions when presenting or speaking up in meetings, such as blushing, or getting blotchy hives. What do you do when people can literally see your discomfort?
In a worst case scenario, if that happens, remember that at the end of the day, people are more interested in the ideas that you’re presenting. While there are some cases where you need to be a flawless presenter, in most cases, what matters most is that you have something to say and that you believe in what you have to say. So, if you can’t help yourself from getting blotchy, I would say let it go and focus more on the message. But, since I understand that that’s easier said than done, there are two ways to prevent it. In the short term, try breathing exercises before you need to speak to calm yourself down. The longer-term solution is practice — the more comfortable you get, the less likely your body will react to the stress of the situation. And the less stressful you eventually find it, the less likely it will be to happen in the future.

How can managers change the structure or format of meetings to get more from the introverts on their teams?

This is work we do a lot at The Quiet Leadership Institute. When we work with companies to help them with this very question, we often advise having fewer meetings, for starters. You should know as a manager that you’re very likely not getting the best of an introvert’s brain if you’re asking them a question in an all-hands meeting. You’ll get a better set of responses and ideas by approaching things differently. It helps people to know in advance what you want to talk about, but agendas tend to be distributed at the last minute. When people are really expected to think about and prepare for a meeting, it can go a long way to give them more time for reflection. You also want to be mindful of who’s doing all the talking in a meeting, and who isn’t. Try to shape the dynamics. Make the floor more readily available for the more reticent people — which sometimes means calling on them. Believe it or not, people very often welcome being called on, because they get the floor when they wouldn’t feel comfortable taking it for themselves.


Boldness and Good Judgement Are Important Leadership Capabilities

This is a HBR post written by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman. The article is about the leadership quality ‘boldness’ stands apart from other leadership qualities in being perceived as an effective leadership quality. The link to the original article is here.

Fortune favors the bold, goes the old Roman saying. Our research suggests fortune is not alone in this: so do the Americans and the Chinese. But although some cultures do like boldness in their leaders, and reward it when they see it, this isn’t universally true.

Our leadership development work with organizations has given us a database of 360-degree assessments from over 75,000 business leaders around the world. In the last couple of years, we’ve heard from multiple Fortune 100 companies that they’re interested in encouraging their leaders to be bolder, so we wanted to look more closely at that type of leadership. We identified seven behaviors from the standard assessment that, taken together, would measure a leader’s boldness:

  1. Challenges standard approaches
  2. Creates an atmosphere of continual improvement
  3. Does everything possible to achieve goals
  4. Gets others to go beyond what they originally thought possible
  5. Energizes others to take on challenging goals
  6. Quickly recognizes situations where change is needed
  7. Has the courage to make needed changes

We called this the “bold index” — we then compared it to 42 other leadership behaviors. We found a highly significant correlation (r= 0.936 sig .000 N = 76,717), which suggests to us that, on average, leaders perceived as bold are also perceived as being extremely effective on other leadership skills. This accords with other, peer-reviewed research that shows a connection between displaying confidence and being perceived as competent. (If you would like to participate in this survey to get a sense of your preference for engaging in bold leadership, you can do so here.)

But the average masked big differences between countries and regions. When we sorted the data that way, we saw that in some geographies, boldness and effectiveness didn’t go together.



We noticed even starker differences between individual countries. China showed the strongest correlation between perceived leadership effectiveness and boldness, and the U.S. also ranked highly. But the story was much different for leaders in Japan and Canada, next-door neighbors to China and the U.S., respectively. Clearly, although there are bold leaders in every culture and country, cultural norms in some places may be at odds with “boldness” as a value.



Further analysis of our dataset showed us that bold leadership is much like a powerful fuel: when it’s ignited in an appropriate environment, such as an engine, it can be very helpful and propel the organization forward. But without the appropriate control, it can be explosive – dangerous and even disastrous. Bold leadership can be a great differentiator when it is mixed with other important leadership characteristics, such as good judgment, honesty, integrity, collaboration, and a strong strategic perspective.

To demonstrate this, we did an analysis with over 75,000 leaders and looked at two different leadership capabilities, boldness and good judgment. We isolated the best leaders in our data, specifically those rated at the 90th percentile or higher. We then looked at leaders who were rated at or above the 75th percentile on having good judgment but below the 75th percentile on bold leadership. We found only 1% of our population of the best leaders who had that combination of capabilities. Next we looked at leaders who were at or above the 75th percentile on bold leadership but were below the 75th percentile on good judgment. This produced a higher, but still small, result of 9%. When we looked at the combined effect of bold leadership with good judgment, we discovered that 91% of the best leaders in our database were skilled at both good judgment and bold leadership.

Bold leadership is a great differentiator when it is mixed with other leadership characteristics, such as good judgment, championing change, honesty, integrity, innovation, strategic perspective, and collaboration.

Control, Authenticity and Rituals Reduce Stress and Anxiety

This is a HBR post written by Francesca Gino and the link to the original article is here.

If you’re like me, you often ask yourself how you can get more work done in a day. How can you best boost your productivity? I always assumed that if I could just reduce any stress I was facing, my productivity would rise. But my intuition was, in fact, wrong. It’s true that stress can be a health risk, and that we’re often encouraged to avoid it if we want to live happy, productive, and long lives. But research suggests that some stress can actually be beneficial to performance.

Take a look at the picture below. According to what is known as “The Yerkes-Dodson law,” performance increases with physiological or mental arousal (stress) but only up to a point. When the level of stress becomes too high, performance decreases.

There’s more: The shape of the curve varies based on the complexity and familiarity of the task. Different tasks require different levels of arousal for optimal performance, research has found. For example, difficult or unfamiliar tasks require lower levels of arousal to facilitate concentration; by contrast, you may better perform tasks demanding stamina or persistence with higher levels of arousal to induce and increase motivation.

Given this relationship between stress and performance, it’s probably beneficial to understand how much stress you are currently experiencing at work.

Higher scores, as you might guess, correspond to higher levels of stress. Based on my use of this test in executive education classrooms and in research conducted with other groups, scores around 13 are considered average. Usually, scores in this range indicate that your attention and interest are at the proper level, allowing you to be productive at work. Referring to the Yerkes-Dodson law, such scores generally correspond to an optimal level of arousal and thus performance.

But if your score is much higher or much lower, you’re likely experiencing stress in a way that is detrimental to productivity. In particular, scores of 20 or more are generally considered to indicate an unproductive level of stress. But even scores that indicate low levels of stress—commonly, scores of 4 or lower–could be problematic since they signal an insufficient level of arousal to keep you engaged in your work. If this is the case, try to find healthy ways of raising your stress by taking on more challenging tasks or responsibilities. Increasing stress may feel counterintuitive, but remember that, according to the research, increasing arousal also corresponds to increasing attention and interest (up to a point).

For comparison, here are some average scores from research conducted using this scale:

If your score approaches or exceeds 20, here are some strategies that may help you reduce stress to a more productive level:

Increase your control. One simple solution to lowering stress is to find more ways to increase your control over the work you do. People tend to believe that high-level positions bring a lot of stress, but research suggests just the opposite: Leaders with higher levels of responsibility experience lower stress levels than those with less on their shoulders. This is because leaders have more control over their activities. Independent of where you sit in the organizational hierarchy, you may have ways to increase your sense of control—namely, by focusing on aspects of your work where you can make choices (for example, choosing one project over another or simply choosing the order in which you answer e-mails).

Find more opportunities to be authentic. Evidence suggests that people often experience feelings of inauthenticity at work. That is, they conform to the opinions of colleagues rather than voicing their own, and they go with others’ flow rather than setting their own agenda. This, my research suggests, has important implications for your stress level and performance. When people behave in inauthentic ways, they experience higher levels of anxiety than when they are simply themselves. So, try to find ways to express who you are at work, such as offering to share your unique talents or decorating your office to reflect who you are.

Use rituals. Basketball superstar Michael Jordan wore his North Carolina shorts underneath his Chicago Bulls shorts at every game; Curtis Martin of the New York Jets reads Psalm 91 before every game; and Wade Boggs, as third baseman for the Boston Red Sox, ate chicken before each game and took batting practice at exactly 5:17 p.m., fielded exactly 117 ground balls, and ran sprints at precisely 7:17 p.m. These rituals may sound strange, but they can actually improve performance.

In one recent experiment, people asked to hit a golf ball into a hole received either a so-called “lucky” golf ball or an ordinary golf ball. In another experiment, participants performing a motor dexterity task (placing 36 small balls in 36 holes by tilting the plastic cube containing them) were either asked to simply start the game or heard the researcher say they would cross their fingers for them. The superstitious rituals enhanced people’s confidence in their abilities, motivated greater effort — and improved subsequent performance.

Similarly, research in sports psychology demonstrates the performance benefits of pre-performance routines, from improving attention and execution to increasing emotional stability and confidence. And recently, my colleagues and I have found that when people engage in rituals before undertaking high-stakes tasks, they feel less anxious and stressed about the task and end up performing better as a result.

A moderate amount of stress may put you in the right mindset to tackle your work. But if you are feeling overwhelmed, I hope you’ll try out some of these strategies to not only improve your productivity but also to increase your happiness.

Please Stop Complaining About How Busy You Are

This is a blog post from Harvard Business Review Blog Network and it is written by Meredith Fineman. I am re-blogging this post as I felt the article is spot-on and it is relevant to all our lives. The post starts below.

We’re all just so “busy” these days. “Slammed” in fact. “Buried.” Desperately “trying to keep our heads above water.” While these common responses to “How are you?” seem like they’re lifted from the Worst Case Scenario Handbook, there seems to be a constant exchange, even a a one-upping, of just how much we have on our plates when we communicate about our work.

My favorite “busy” humble-brag was that of a potential client who apologized for lack of communication due to a “week-long fire drill.” What does that even mean? Does this mean there were fake fires, but not real ones, all week? Does calling it a “drill” mean that everything is okay? Is your business in flames? Should I call someone?

Then there was the date I had with a fellow who was so busy “crashing on deadlines” that he asked me to “just make a reservation somewhere” for him. I was floored.

So much of this is about out-doing each other. To say that “I’m busier than you are” means I’m more important, or that my time is more valuable, or that I am “winning” at some never-finished rat race to Inbox Zero. (Inbox Zero is another absurd contest to tackle at another time.) What you’re trying to say with these responses is: I’m busier, more in-demand, more successful.

Here’s the thing: it’s harming how we communicate, connect, and interact. Everyone is busy, in different sorts of ways. Maybe you have lots of clients, or are starting a new business, or are taking care of a newborn. The point is this: with limited time and unlimited demands on that time, it’s easy to fill your plate with activities constantly. But this doesn’t mean that you should.

To assume that being “busy” (at this point it has totally lost its meaning) is cool, or brag-worthy, or tweetable, is ridiculous. By lobbing these brags, endlessly puffing our shoulders about how “up to my neck” we are, we’re missing out on important connections with family and friends, as well as personal time. In addition to having entire conversations about how busy we are, we fail to share feelings with friends and family, ask about important matters, and realize that the “busy” is something that can be put on hold for a little while.

I am not trying to belittle anyone’s work-load in the slightest. But in using it as a one-upping mechanism, we’re failing to connect in a very substantial way. And we’re making the problem worse: When everyone around us is “slammed,” it’s easy to feel guilty if we’re not slaving away on a never-ending treadmill of toil. By trying to compete about it, we’re only adding to that pool of water everyone seems to be constantly “treading” in. And all this complaining is having serious effects on our mental health.

And yet we continue to use long hours as a sort of macho badge of honor.

We need to work smart, not (just) hard.

Just because you clocked 15 hours at your office, with likely dry eyeballs and a complete lack of focus, doesn’t mean you’ve accomplished things in a smart way. Many people have written or spoken about this. Typically, you have 90-120 minutes before you devolve into internet fodder or social media. If you’re putting in 15 straight hours at your desk, without breaks, how good is your output? How much time are you wasting?

The distinction between working hard versus smart has hit me as an entrepreneur. In high school and college I was always that girl who read all the assigned reading (and no, I was not giving you my study guide). I created outlines, outlines of outlines, and then flashcards. One of my greatest lessons as a businessperson has been to throw out that skill set. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t be diligent or that you should half-heartedly execute, but rather, that it’s crucial to know what you have to do as opposed to everything you could do. It’s about being strategic.

For once, I’d like to hear someone brag about their excellent time management skills, rather than complain about how much they can’t get done. Maybe we could learn something from each other.

In fact, I’ll start — here are three tactics I’ve been using to work smarter:

Constrain the time. The more I constrain my time, the more focused and productive I feel, and the less I waste time on low-priority work. If you can only afford to spend 45 minutes on a certain project, then only spend 45 minutes on it — and move on, even if it isn’t perfect.

Use a scheduler. If you’re really up to your neck, it’s very easy to find a scheduler, virtual or otherwise, to help put things on your calendar. Sometimes it’s a matter of freeing up that time used for coordinating plans to actually doing them. Zirtual is a great answer to this. As is the DIY scheduler Doodle.

Cut the fat. Once I cut out superfluous meetings that were not: fun, productive, leading to new business, or really had something wonderful in it for me professional or otherwise, that plate emptied a little bit. (Here’s a tool for figuring out what to cut.)

Yes, we all have some strange need to out-misery each other. Acknowledging that is a first step. But next time you speak to a friend and want to lament about how busy you are, ask yourself why. Try steering the conversation away from a complain-off. With some practice you might find yourself actually feeling less “buried” (or at least feeling less of a need to say it all the time).

And maybe that’s something worth bragging about.

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