Why Covid-19 has been good for introverts

Zoom and Team meetings have drawbacks, but they can be used to give less vocal employees the chance to shine, says Shola Kaye

Speak up! Be bolder! Think faster! As an introvert in the workplace, these are some of the thoughts that might go through your mind during meetings. Research shows introverts often express their ideas more hesitantly, tend to wait for others to finish speaking rather than interrupt, and need a little more thinking time before speaking up. 

So introverts generally give themselves a hard time and see themselves as less effective than extroverts when it comes to brainstorming sessions, panel discussions, group meetings and any situation where impromptu speaking skills are advantageous. However, working from home and teleconferencing has proved, I believe, a surprising help for introverts, levelling the playing field a little. 

I frequently work with clients from the fields of tech, data and professional services and, as a communication specialist, I see that this switch to Zoom/Team meetings and teleconferencing is actually an opportunity that’s giving quieter folk the chance to shine. In particular, the use of chatboxes to elicit responses from participants has been particularly liberating. 

Here are three reasons videoconferencing and the humble chatbox can act as a leveller, if used right:

You don’t have to physically interrupt the speaker 

Sharing comments via chat can be a game-changer. No longer do introverts have to think of what to say and then find a moment to interject (only to often have someone with a louder voice speak over them) or be ignored in favour of more charismatic speakers. Now, they have the time and space to pop their thoughts into the chat without worrying if they’re interrupting or whether their tone of voice is too hesitant. 

Of course, a decent facilitator or panel moderator should treat every participant equally. But sometimes when someone is particularly overpowering or strident during an in-person meeting, it can be hard to stop them from dominating. Chat takes care of that. 

You can express yourself in written rather than spoken form 

This is a sweeping generalisation of course, but many introverts find it easier to express their ideas in written form. This means that, again, the chatbox aids self-expression. Rather than worrying about ‘ums’ and ‘aws’, the introvert can pop their thoughts into the chat, expressed clearly and elegantly. 

I recently posted on this subject on LinkedIn and someone excitedly responded that she had made a comment on chat, at a meeting of 100 people, which had influenced a key decision. She confessed that she would never have dared to voice that comment during an in-person conference of such a size. 

You can speak up without everyone looking at you 

Introverts don’t necessarily enjoy being the centre of attention. Being looked at can be unnerving; freezing or seeming nervous is a great worry for many. This worry disappears when a person is contributing via chat. 

Also, the fact you’re in your home environment, not seated in a meeting room with distractions, can help you think and process information more effectively. One client, Janette, shared that she hates speaking to groups and even considers certain one-on-one, in-person meetings stressful. But she finds it very easy to communicate with her consulting clients online because she’s not in the same room, and doesn’t have to make eye contact with them. She can go through her notes and recommendations, looking at these most of the time while she reads, with occasional glances at her client. While it’s not ideal, it’s making her life much easier and the next step might be making more extended eye contact (with the camera) and spending less time looking at her notes. 

Teleconferencing is of course far from ideal in many ways. When trying to concentrate in a meeting, some people see chat as a distraction. But others feel the chat function has provided new opportunities for participation, contribution and influence. So will we soon favour the online meeting even when we’re physically able to come together in person? That remains to be seen…

Shola Kaye is a communication specialist, author and keynote speaker