Do I have to be talkative to become a manager?

Originally answered May 10, 2017

Q: I feel I have lots of good traits for a manager. However when I express interest in moving up, bosses are usually surprised. Am I not talkative enough? I am a high performer, get along well with others, and mentor. However I focus on getting work done and am not a chit-chatter by nature.

A: You don’t have to talk all the time, and idle chatter is not required, but you do need to be able to communicate effectively. Talking one on one with your team members, your peers, and those to whom you report must be done regularly and effectively. And you will need to speak up in meetings, give presentations, and advocate for your team.

So it’s a good idea to start practicing. Start with trusted friends and family, requesting their suggestions for improvement. Then make a conscious effort to speak up more with others, and when that goes well, you should be able to keep expanding your sphere. As you talk more, you should become more comfortable doing so.

Q: Perhaps I should clarify. I don’t have any problems talking with people, nor do I have trouble “speaking up” or dealing with difficult (sensitive) topics. What I tend not to do, however, is interrupt others in meetings, answer questions directed toward someone else, bog down my manager with small questions (“Should I write ‘Plug charger into wall’ or ‘Plug the charger into the wall’ in my report?”), attempt to tell my peers what to do or even how many hours to work, or other similar “talkative” things. I view these as a waste of time at best, and rude or “sucking up” at worst.

However I notice that coworkers who exhibit these traits tend to get a lot more attention from managers! They are given more responsibilities and generally receive a lot of praise. This is frustrating to me, because I tend to work more behind the scenes and feel I’m the one making sure everything gets done and everyone “looks good” to higher ups. To be fair, these same coworkers give me the utmost respect and absolutely realize the work I do. It just disappoints me that, despite being the one to pull the team together, make sure we’re hitting our metrics, and mentor low performers, I am seemingly not regarded as “leadership material” from managers.

I guess I am just frustrated as I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong, aside from not being a super chatty person. It feels to me like managers tend to value “talk” over quiet productivity.

A: Interrupting, answering questions directed to others, bogging down managers with trivial questions, or telling peers what to do or how many hours to work are NOT desirable behaviors. If in fact that is all that is going on, then you should find another company where such behavior is not expected nor rewarded. Such behaviors are not the norm in all organizations, so you should go work somewhere else.

It’s possible that there are other reasons that you either don’t see or don’t acknowledge. If you tend to be quiet, that is something that you can change without having to suck up or be rude. Have you sought the opinions of trusted colleagues? Do they see it the same way? If not, then take a fresh and candid look at the situation, trying not to view it as quiet/getting things done versus talkative/sucking up. There may be more to it than that, and you may need to look for other causes.

If your company is not completely nefarious, you can take steps to be viewed as leadership material without behaving in the ways that you listed. Ask trusted colleagues, a personal coach, or a mentor to help you with suggestions, feedback, putting in a good word for you, and other encouragement. Then try to follow their suggestions as best you can. My posts about leadership and posts about communications may also be helpful.