How to handle the quiet person on your team

September 18, 2016 3coze

In my last post, I shared my response to an audience member who asked how to reduce the impact of the person on her team who needs to talk everything out. You can read that post here. As I was writing, I realized that the opposite is a problem worth discussing too. How do you handle the person who keeps quiet and doesn’t share his perspective with the team? So, in the interest of thoroughness and impartiality, today I’m talking about the challenges of the silent types.

Remember what’s good about the quiet ones

It can be frustrating when there’s a person on your team who sits quietly in your meetings and seldom interjects. You’re not sure where they stand or what they’re thinking. Before talking about the downside of having a silent type, it’s worth noting their strengths.

  • The people who don’t talk much usually listen well. They are paying attention and taking in everything that’s going on
  • The quiet folks tend to be thoughtful and reflective, particularly on complicated issues. When they do arrive at an opinion, it’s well-considered
  • When the silent types do speak up, their input carries a lot of weight and can be very influential

Why you should worry

There are times when you’re not getting enough from your quiet team member or where their reluctance to chime in can have negative consequences, such as when:

  • The person has concerns that you don’t hear about (or don’t hear until too late)
  • The team only sees the output of the person’s thinking, not the thought process that got her there and therefore struggles to follow and get onboard
  • The person can appear disengaged from, disinterested in, or judgmental of the work of her teammates

How to Manage the Silent Type

The quiet person is not likely to think of himself as a trouble maker. He probably feels like he’s the one who is appropriately measured in his contribution.

As with my advice for the talker, your first conversation should focus on self-awareness. “I want to talk with you about your participation in meetings. I’m concerned that the contributions to our team discussions are imbalanced. I know you’re engaged in the issues and at the same time, worried that you’re not sharing your value with the team. How can we benefit more from your contribution?”

Give concrete examples to help the person see where his silence was a negative for the team. For example, if you had a 60-minute conversation about an issue and he only raised a concern as you were walking out of the meeting room, you can talk about the impact of his timing. “I think your point about the risks was a really good one. Unfortunately, when you raised it after we’d left the room, we didn’t get the chance to talk it through as a team.”

Listen carefully to the person’s response and dig a little deeper with one or more of these questions?

  • How do you think about your participation in our meetings? What do you see as your role? Where do you think you contribute most?
  • How do you prepare for these meetings? What might you do before the meeting to be ready to share your thoughts earlier?
  • How could I help draw you into the conversation more often or sooner?
  • What could you do to monitor your contributions and balance them with the rest of the team?

Tips to Try

Ideally, greater self-awareness and a little encouragement will inspire more active input from your quiet team member. If you need to a little more than that, try these tips:

  1. Interestingly, both talkers and non-talkers benefit from good pre-reads. That’s because they help them collect their thoughts outside the meeting room. Include questions you’d like your quiet type to weigh in on during the meetings so he can prepare.
  2. On the way into the meeting, encourage the person to participate, “I’d like to hear your perspective on these issues today.”
  3. Solicit input when you don’t receive it. “Maurizio, how are you thinking about this decision?”
  4. If the quiet person lobs a grenade right at the end of the discussion, be clear that the timing could be better. “We’re out of time now. That’s the kind of question we need earlier in the discussion.”
  5. On the way out of the meeting, share feedback on how he did. Make a specific request about how he might continue to improve in the next meeting.

As one of the people in the world who talks too much, I’m always wondering what’s going on in the minds of the quiet types. In my experience, most of them are taking everything in, analyzing it, and concocting really astute plans. All that is great if you can get them to share it with the team. Make sure your quiet types are being heard don’t accept introversion as an excuse for not contributing.

Further Reading

How Do You Interpret Silence?

Extravert vs. Egomaniac: Are you too much for your team?

Are you a good listener?

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