Meetings and Introverts

Erik Dietrich's blog, Daedtech, contains a lot of great posts concerning programming and workplace dynamics. In today's post, Meetings and Introverts: Strangers in Strange Lands Erik writes about the vexing relationship between introverted people and typical meetings. In a prior post, he wrote about the general problem of social situations and introverts:

Social situations are exhausting for me because of their inherent unpredictability as compared to something like the feedback loop of a program that I’m writing (or even the easily curated, asynchronous interaction of a social media vehicle like Twitter).

Many extroverts are unaware that their introverted brethren feel this way. Social situations (parties, large informal gatherings, etc.) energize extroverts, so it's hard for them to realize the opposite usually happens for introverted people. At the end of a large party or a long, intense meeting, an introvert (like myself) is exhausted.

It's not that I don't like being in these situations—sometimes they're quite enjoyable. But as events progress, my energy gets sapped, sometimes to the point where I'm pretty tired, mentally and physically (e.g. non-productive for a couple hours at least). Once removed from the party, meeting, etc., energy slowly recharges.

Erik puts it succinctly:

Extroverts draw energy from social situations and become invigorated, while introverts spend energy and become exhausted. And, when I’m talking about social situations, I mean drinks and bowling with a group of friends. Introverts like me enjoy these nights but find them tiring.

Meetings, round-table discussions, pair programming sessions, and other kinds of interactions are often draining, and by my estimate, consume more than double the actual meeting time in terms of productivity loss (interrupting flow, sapping mental energy that could be used to work on other problems, etc.).

Often, meetings devolve into bike-shedding discussions (see: Parkinson's law of triviality) where the discussion starts focusing on minutiae, even after the 'official' meeting is complete. Everyone (especially the introverts, who aren't usually keen on being seen as rude and dismissing themselves) sticks around for the inevitable half-hour discussion, even if the meeting is officially over.

Erik's entire post is well worth a read (for anybody—not just introverts), but he sums up the ideal meeting format nicely:

Having reasoned analysis, cogent arguments, and a plan is the way to bring as much predictability (and, in my opinion, potential for being productive) to the table as possible. For me, it’s also the way most likely to keep the day’s meetings from sucking the life and productivity right out of you.

I'll add to that: keep it brief, and invite only the people who really need to be there. Do you really need an entire team to attend, or just one stakeholder who can represent the team, and get more feedback from the entire team later, if needed?