Shhhh, I’m Talking!

July 8, 2014 by Lynn Faughey

MegaphoneWe all know someone who tends to be quiet, shy or reserved – the friend or family member who prefers to stay in the background and observe rather than be front and center and the life of the party. As project managers we need to learn how to work with all types of people and personalities and be able to get the best out of everyone, but what do you do when someone who is a valued part of the team prefers to stay in the background? Well honestly, I’ve never had any issues with my quieter team members, can you imagine what a team meeting would be like if everyone was outgoing and spirited? What’s important to recognize as a PM is that while it may be easier to know what the more extroverted, dynamic individuals of the team are thinking, we should never ignore what the introverted and quieter members have to offer, even if they aren’t as expressive.

I just finished reading a book by Susan Cain titled, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”. Did you know that over one-third of us are introverts? Cain explains that, “They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although they are often labeled “quiet,” it is to introverts that we owe many of the great contributions to society-from van Gogh’s sunflowers to the invention of the personal computer.”  

I’ve learned that it takes all types of people to make up a successful team and the shy, quiet members, while preferring a less exposed role, still bring a lot to the table. Introverts tend to be great listeners, loyal, focused and great behind the scenes. While wanting to avoid the front and center attention, my introverted team members are the ones who are able to pull the whole presentation together then hand it off to those members who excel in the limelight. It reminds me of the actors in my favorite TV shows or movies – without great writing and directing from those behind the scenes they wouldn’t be able to make their skills shine in front of the cameras.

I think Cain explains it best, “Introverts thrive in environments that are not overstimulating-surroundings in which they can think (deeply) before they speak. This has many implications. Here are two to consider: (1) Introverts perform best in quiet, private workspaces-but unfortunately we’re trending in precisely the opposite direction, toward open-plan offices. (2) If you want to get the best of all your employees’ brains, don’t simply throw them into a meeting and assume you’re hearing everyone’s ideas. You’re not; you’re hearing from the most vocally assertive people.”

What I need to remember when engaging my more introverted team members is that they are more comfortable in a one on one environment. Instead of calling them out in a meeting where they are less likely to want to share their thoughts, I enjoy the opportunity to hear their ideas, concerns or other insight on a more private level. One suggestion that Cain offers is to invite everyone to put their thoughts in writing before a meeting which may help the less outspoken team members feel more comfortable than being put on the spot for input. By having already thought out a response, speaking up may come easier. I’ve also used a method of inviting my team to email me any thoughts or ideas, allowing those that are less comfortable speaking up to offer their input to me directly. The most important point for me as a PM (or just as a team leader in general) is to get the best out of my team and that means from everyone, not just the most  assertive individuals. I love the challenge of finding the right combination to bring out the best in everyone.


The one thing I’ve learned about the most quiet and reserved members of my team is that they might not say much, but when they do I better be listening because it’s usually gold!


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