“You have to be more visible.”
If you’re an introvert, you might have heard these two pieces of feedback before. And if you’re a high performer, they can be especially irksome. Speaking up just isn’t something you do. But be that as it may, failing to make your voice heard at pivotal moments might be hurting your career.
Most high-performing introverts tend to have good reasons for staying quiet during meetings and other situations where sharing their views would be helpful. In those cases, it first helps to figure out which of your assumptions are preventing you from contributing to the discussion.
Here are three of the most common reasons, and how to overcome them:
“I want to be respectful.”
Good intention: When you’re invited to a senior-level meeting, chances are you’re one of the more junior employees in the room. Your natural tendency might be to defer to those more senior to you and soak in the conversation since it’s not your place to talk. This deferential inclination is especially strong for individuals raised in cultures that respect and value hierarchy.
Unintended impact: Your deference causes you to become invisible in the meeting. When no one knows you, they don’t know what you can do and will not think of you come promotion time. After you reach a certain level, the number of senior executives who know you and have a good impression of you will directly correlate with your career success.
Practical Fix: Prepare to say something at the meeting. One senior executive shared with me that for every meeting he goes to, he’ll ask the person who invited him the following questions: who is going to be there, why has he been invited and what will we be discussing? He then takes time to prepare how he’ll add value to the conversation.
Understand that you can share your viewpoints and still be respectful. As long as you can contribute something substantive without overstepping your bounds or reaching beyond your knowledge base, you’ll be fine. For every meeting, strive to say at least one thing – you can ask a question, play back what you’ve heard or comment on what’s being said.
“I have nothing else to add.”
Good intention: Everything that needs to be said has already been shared. You hate it when others waste time saying nothing in meetings, so you refrain from talking for the sake of talking. If you’re a good listener and have a tendency to let others speak first, or if you’re on a team with a few dominant personalities, you’ll most likely fall into this category.
Unintended impact: Imagine seeing yourself from another attendee’s perspective. Even if you have the best ideas, someone who doesn’t know you will reasonably assume you don’t have any ideas as long as you don’t share them. Worse, you might be perceived as someone who doesn’t care. Neither one of these misperceptions will help you in your career, and it’s up to you to set them straight.
Practical Fix: Speak up earlier. If you wait until the end of the meeting, chances are someone else will already have shared your idea. Make it your goal to be one of the first two people to speak in the meeting. You might also want to observe those who speak up first, and note what they say and how they say it.
“I don’t want to say the wrong thing.”
Good intention: You don’t want to appear incompetent in front of people who will judge you and have a say in your career. If you’re with a client, you may not want to say anything to jeopardize the deal or damage the relationship. Why not let your more senior and experienced colleagues handle it? Isn’t that why they are there in the first place?
Unintended impact: Your client sees you as the scribe or assistant and you never build the working relationship you need to get to the next level. For internal meetings, your boss thinks you don’t have a mind of your own and sees you more as an order-taker than an influencer.
Practical Fix: Before the meeting, ask your more senior colleagues what they want you to cover and how they want you to participate. This will help you decide when you can jump in during the meeting. You might also ask your senior colleagues to help pull you into the conversation for certain topics.
During the meeting, for every question that’s asked, come up with you answer silently and compare it to what your more senior colleagues are saying. As your answers begin to consistently align with what you hear, you’ll gain the confidence to speak up knowing that your responses will be on the right track.
Being invited to a senior-level meeting or a high stakes pitch are rare windows of opportunity showcase yourself. Don’t waste it. Prepare diligently for the meeting and be clear on the value you can add to the conversation. When you do share your views, make sure it’s concise, articulate and focused on the topic at hand. There is nothing more annoying than to hear someone trying to impress others or prove how smart or how hard-working they are.
Speaking up effectively is a delicate balance. If you don’t talk, no one knows you. If you talk too much, people begin to wonder, “Who do you think you are?”
To fine tune this balance, get feedback after a meeting wraps up. If your manager or mentor will be there, share with them beforehand that you’re working on speaking up and ask them to give you specific feedback and feedforward (suggestions for improvement) after. They’ll let you know if you need to speak up even more, or if you’re going overboard.
When it’s between speaking up or staying quiet, your habit will be to let others talk. Consciously take the risk to speak up whenever you can – the upside is tremendous and the downside is fairly limited.
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Original version first published by Fast Company.