Trends in the meetings industry are following, to some extent, the educational trends you write about in Quiet, including moving away from lecture formats to more collaborative environments. For example, meeting attendees may be asked to break into groups and discuss content. Is there a way to make that work for both extroverts and introverts? I think introverts hate that stuff, honestly.
The thinking is that there is a lot of information now accessible online, but you go to meetings to interact with peers and solve problems by working with the content. I don’t know. I guess one thing I would say to people plan- ning meetings in this way is, have you ever really taken surveys to find out how introverts and extroverts feel about this? Because I can imagine some breakout sessions really being great, but also, I would predict that many introverts are sitting there thinking, “Oh, God, do we have to do this?” And people might feel annoyed, thinking, “I flew all the way here to get this information, and now I have sit and make conversation with someone next to me who doesn’t have the information to give.”
Another trend is to give people a lot of choice. If somebody wants to go into a roundtable environment, you offer that. If somebody wants to just go to a lecture, you offer that, too. I think that is a great idea. My great takeaway from doing all of this research [comes from] an interesting experiment by psychologist Russell Geen. Geen gave introverts and extroverts math problems to solve with varying levels of background noise. The introverts did better when the noise was lower. And the extroverts did better when the noise was higher. We need environments where some places are noisy and some places are less noisy, so that everybody feels at their best.
One thing you write about is that in group work, ideas are usually reported more readily by extroverts. Can you recommend ways to balance that? Well, I think there are things people can do. You can have everybody first write down what they think about a ques- tion, and have a forum where you then hear what everybody thought about beforehand. That way, introverts have time to think things through instead of having to rely on sort of the quick back and forth. And also, I think people should make more use of elec- tronic media. That is a great leveler. If you have people brain- storming online, you can’t really tell the difference between an introvert and an extrovert.
How do organizations communicate that it is okay to be quiet and thoughtful? That is an interesting question. I think a lot of it has to
66 PCMA CONVENE JUNE 2012
‘Have you ever taken surveys to find out how introverts and extroverts feel about [breakout sessions]?’
happen through very subtle signals, things like how office space is designed. Is it designed so that the quiet places are seen as inviting and cool places to be, or are they off in the corner and dusty? And also, it has to do with who are the leaders of the organization. We know from research that most companies groom extroverts for leadership roles. And yet introverts often deliver better outcomes when they are leaders. And so having introverts in prominent roles does a lot to convey that different personality types are welcome.
In Quiet, you advocate giving freedom to introverts to be themselves. Do you think that it’s counterproductive for introverts to go to a conference and follow a schedule from seven in the morning until 11 at night? Oh, absolutely, I think introverts should not. Probably most extroverts, too, need a break, but introverts, for sure. I think you should pick the points of the day that are not going to be that interesting to you and go back to your hotel room, or get a cup of coffee by yourself, or whatever. You will feel so much more recharged at the end of the day. There is no point in putting yourself into a situation where
you are going to feel grumpy and overwhelmed — you will never be your best self. A lot of it is entitlement to take the breaks that you need.
Do you look forward to going to meetings? Oh no, I never look forward to meetings. No, no, no. I look forward to getting together with friends. And as for the meet- ing, I might enjoy it once it is happening. But I don’t want to overstate that. What I would say is for introverts, they are much more likely to enjoy meetings and congregating when they are really into the topic and where they feel like they are with kindred spirits.