Speaking in a group conversation can be intimidating and depending on the organization you work in or the expectations of your job there maybe nothing wrong with being quiet, it may be a liability to your career. It can even matter in social situations that come up at work. Generally, speaking there is nothing wrong with being quiet, but if you want to assert yourself more in conversations here are some ideas.
First, give yourself permission to be silent. Otherwise it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy in which you never speak because of the feedback loop of pressure and anxiety you create for yourself.
You can try talking more often than it feels like you should. Even if this is a simple affirmation of what someone else has said. If you speak more often than you feel is necessary as a quiet person you are probably chiming in about the average amount. If you don’t force yourself to participate every so often you almost certainly will default to your normal amount of speaking.
While this may seem in opposition to the first point it important not deride yourself but at the same time encourage yourself. Don’t stress yourself out. Do your best to find a happy medium.
If it is work meetings you are concerned about make sure to be prepared, have some talking points written down ahead of time. If the conversation takes a unanticipated turn towards an unscheduled topic do your best to improvise.
Remember also that if the goal is to be heard and make yourself more present small contributions are better than nothing. Try accenting other people’s larger ideas with small thoughts. If someone is making an argument for or against a certain action or direction the organization might take fill in the gaps with little thoughts.
If you aren’t speaking remember to at least be honestly engaged in the conversation. Look the current speaker in the eye. Don’t appear too relaxed, sit up with a good posture. Take notes by hand even if you don’t need them. Be the person in the room who isn’t distracted by their cell phone.
Much of digital technology seems tailor made to enhance productivity and increase communication in the realm of business. Email, instant messaging, text messaging, social media—all of these are great for communicating data, media and information. But do any of these media platforms successfully transmit our humanity? Our identity?
In her 2012 TED Talk, “Connected, but alone?” Sherry Turkle, psychologist and author, tells us that all these “snippets” of conversation we have with each other over digital media do not sum to a real conversation.
She tells us that when using digital media to communicate we experience what she calls “The Goldie Locks Effect.” When it comes to digital communication, we can control how much of our selves we reveal—not too little, not too much, just right. We can edit ourselves and thus show only a polished and safe version of ourselves. While this is sometimes a boon in a professional setting, being too cold, too polished can also be off-putting.
Adding a personal touch when interacting with people inside or outside of our organizations can send a signal loud enough to be heard over all the digital disruption about who we are, what we do, why we do it and what we care about. The naysayers of digital technology worry that we will lose our humanity—this is a way to keep that as a part of your business model. Things like signage and mission statements, body language, handwritten messages and cards. Think tangible. Think personal.
Don’t make new team members fill out paper work their first morning. Don’t immediately jump into some kind of intense meeting or financial review. Use the time and the power of first impressions. Focus on what really matters—the culture of your organization.
One leader suggested the following. She has a conversation with each new team member on their first day. During this conversation she has them take a pin and place it in a large map of the US she keeps in her office and asks the new employee to place the pin near their home town.
She begins this conversation by pointing out that they all come from different cultures. They all have different values. They all have different educations. They all have different family dynamics. Different faith traditions. And that all of them have different motivations for being on the team.
She might even point out some of the more interesting things about some of the senior team members (with their permission, of course) and discuss the new comer’s background and how they see themselves fitting in based on all the unique things about them.
This valuable first conversation is about inclusion and diversity. While there are many valid first conversations with a new team member, making them feel unique and included and letting them know that the organization welcomes diversity can go a long way towards making the new guy feel at home immediately.
Absent leaders are those who enjoy the privileges of leadership yet avoid useful involvement with their team. This style of leadership is marked solely by its destructive nature.
For some team members having a boss that lets you do as you please sound great—especially if they are being bullied or micromanaged by their current leader. However, a top complaint among team members about leaders is when they are absent. Team members tend to be most concerned with what their leaders don’t do.
Being ignored by one’s team leader doesn’t foster a work culture of individual responsibility, rather one of being treated poorly and being alienated. Impact of an absent leader on an organization is more immediate and long lasting than any other kind of destructive leadership archetype as well as the constructive ones. Some even believe it contributes to other organizational issues like increased bullying between team members, role ambiguity, additional stress and possibly even health complaints.
In large organizations, despite their destructive nature, absent leaders often go unnoticed. For example, in one fictional organization two senior team members go over the head of their absent, do-nothing leader to complain. The higher-up they complain to says that they already have a handful of bad leaders to deal with—one who has a substance abuse issue, one who is constantly being sent to HR, and another accused of misusing the organization’s money. This higher-up tells the senior team members they simply don’t have time to deal with someone who isn’t actively making waves and they will just have to deal with it.
While this fictional organization clearly has all kinds of problems it demonstrates how do-nothing, absent leaders can fall between the cracks and be left in their position because their offenses are not overt. So, an absent leader can be left in their position for years, slowly poisoning the organization.
Mistakes are unavoidable but we can avoid making “dumb decisions.” There are things that all people with different kinds of intelligence do to themselves that lead to these dumb decisions.
One classic mistake is overthinking. Intelligent people often make the mistake of over analysis. Especially as a leader we will have both external and internal pressure to make the right decision. More than like there is no way for us to turn down the external pressure, we can only control the pressure we put on ourselves.
No one will ever make the right decision always—so we must stop putting that pressure on ourselves. We will make mistakes, but we are prepared for that. Don’t over analyze your every move or you will paralyze your decision-making ability.
Something we can do to streamline decision making is to make small decisions and often. The further we put off making single, small decisions the more they grow into monsters pending on our to-do list. In business and often in life decisions have a due date. Keep up with the small ones to avoid to-do list full of monsters on down the line. Additionally, making a bad decision on a small matter is more fixable than the alternative.
Not making a decision is also a decision and getting caught in that feedback loop can be dangerous.
Any good writer will tell us that a single word can totally change the shade or tone of a sentence or passage. This is true of conversation as well. A single word can act on the subconscious of subordinates and peers alike and could change the level of confidence they have in your communication.
One of these words is “think” especially used in the phrase “I think.” But who doesn’t use the phrase “I think?” While it may sound as if you are taking possession of the idea with this short preface, but in reality when one says something like “I think I have a good idea” this will often lead the listener to believe that you are unsure of whether the idea is good or not, that you are still mulling it over.
In casual conversation, “I think I’ll have lunch with George,” it is essentially a throw away phrase. But you might want to drop this phrase from your professional lexicon.
Another trouble word is “need.” While it may seem to emphasis an obligation on the part of the subordinate or peer it can also come of as, well, needy. “I need this project finished by the due date” might make it sound as if you are dependent on the person or obligation.
Similar to “need” is “want” which can be taken as an emotional appeal rather than a statement of fact. “I want your reports to be of a higher quality” is not as definitive as “These reports need to be of a higher quality.” Or try “I want a raise because my work has been good” sounds emotional compared to “The quality of my work this year is worthy of a raise.”
Other words like “guess,” “hope,” and “suppose” all work in likewise fashions. Using “hope” can add an element of uncertainty or even doom. “Guess” and “suppose” both, again, could lend an element of uncertainty to an idea one is proposing.