How to Get Shy Employees to Open Up During Meetings

Lead by example in creating a personable and respectful meeting environment.
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Most people are familiar with the challenges of dealing with workplace “Chatty Pattys” – the type of employee who dominates meetings and other employee gatherings. The “Shy Di” employee presents another challenge, especially if you depend on her knowledge, expertise and ideas. So, you want to engage her in meetings. Just like a teacher in a classroom, it’s up to you to create a friendly meeting atmosphere in which ideas are encouraged, respected and valued. Over time, you will build her confidence – the real key to getting introverts to relax and open up.

    Step 1

    Take the shy employee aside before a meeting and ask her to bring an article or other relevant talking point for your meeting. By giving your shy employee time to prepare, you will build her confidence to speak up. If she momentarily falters, she can refer to her written document.

    Step 2

    Establish a personable, friendly tone for your meetings. Employees often take their cue from the person running a meeting, so if the meeting leader is friendly, laid-back and displays good listening skills, employees should be put at ease and willing to contribute ideas.

    Step 3

    Set behavioral standards and consequences, much as a teacher would in a classroom. Assure your employees that there is no such thing as a bad idea. If another employee snickers or laughs, rebuke the behavior so that it doesn’t happen again. Make the point that mutual respect is a non-negotiable expectation for your meetings.

    Step 4

    Require all of your employees to participate in meetings. Set aside a roundtable portion in which you literally call on one employee after another to hear their ideas.

    Step 5

    Turn to the shy employee periodically during a meeting and ask her a question that requires a quick response, such as, “That’s a great idea, don’t you think?” or “Have you ever encountered anything like that?” Building her confidence with public speaking is the key to engaging her in more meaningful conversation.

    Step 6

    Validate the shy employee with thanks or praise, as long as it is sincere. Remember that you still have a roomful of other employees who are listening to your every word. So, if the shy employee suggests an idea that falls short, don’t say, "That's great!” Rather, say something like, “Now there’s an idea that has merit. How can we tweak it to make it even better?”

    Step 7

    Get to know your shy employee outside of meeting times. To your surprise, you may find that in her office or among her peers, she is not as introverted. The trust and confidence you build with her should carry over to your meetings.


    • Give your efforts time to succeed. Shy people don’t change overnight or even after one lively, successful meeting. With your good leadership skills, they will become valuable contributors in time.

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