The path from quiet to quiet confidence: 5 strategies for getting your voice heard at work
“You’re too quiet to get that promotion.”
“You don’t seem confident enough.”
“Can you speak up more in meetings?”
Have you heard these phrases before? Have you wondered how, as a lifelong quiet person, you could suddenly change your entire personality to accommodate the louder people in the room, rather than the other way around?
Well, I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to change your personality to fit in. The world needs quiet, thoughtful people like you. In fact, a Yale study found that introverts actually understand people better than extroverts do. Another study done by Adam Grant at the Wharton Business School and Francesca Gino at Harvard Business School found that “introverted leaders tend to listen more carefully and show greater receptivity to suggestions, making them more effective leaders of vocal teams,” and, in turn, deliver better outcomes than extroverts. Susan Cain, who wrote the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, points to lots of research around the strengths of introverts, including the tendency for introverts to be more creative.
Based on this research, it’s clear that your quietness is a strength. You shouldn’t have to change who you are to fit into a loud world. Instead, there are strategies you can use to have influence and to change your “quietness” to “quiet confidence.”
1. Start with a question.
I often found myself in meetings, waiting for my opportunity to say something, but the moment would pass. 20 minutes into a 30-minute meeting, my voice hadn’t yet been heard, and my confidence was low. At that point, it felt easier to just stay quiet. However, I found that jumping in early with a question would almost warm up my voice in a way, giving me more confidence to then speak up again, and again.
In fact, asking questions can be incredibly valuable in a meeting. It can cause others to pause and think for a moment. It can change the direction of a decision. Tanner Christensen, Head of Design at Gem, says it best in this LinkedIn post. “Speaking up in a meeting isn’t always about sharing your opinions”, he says. “Sometimes asking questions is more valuable (and easier to do).”
It feels easier to speak up once you’ve already had your voice heard.
2. Sign up to facilitate meetings.
As valuable as it is to ask questions, it’s also valuable to facilitate a meeting. Facilitation can come in many forms. It can be as simple as pausing a conversation to draw complex concepts on a whiteboard (ever been in a meeting where people are swirling around a topic?). I realized how much value I could add by taking a step back and whiteboarding it for people. I could wrap my head around the concept more easily, and everyone else could, too.
Facilitation can also be a more thoughtful, prepared way of running a meeting. For example, if you know that a project kickoff meeting is needed, you can volunteer to lead the meeting. As the facilitator, you have the opportunity to prepare ahead of time, putting yourself in a position of power in the meeting and ensuring that you won’t be quieted by someone else’s loudness.
For a project kickoff meeting, for example, you may pull together an activity ahead of time, using a whiteboard and post-it notes (or virtual tools, like Figjam, Mural, Miro, etc.) with sections for “What do we already know?” and “What open questions do we still have?” As the facilitator, you prepare the activity, introduce it in the meeting (bonus points for prepping people ahead of time), and then ensure that the meeting moves along smoothly by pushing group participation. You will have set yourself up as a leader, without having to jump in on a conversation.
3. Find places where it feels safer to speak
When it doesn’t feel comfortable to speak up in a meeting, try to find other places where you can get your voice heard. For example, make it a goal to be more active in your company’s Slack. You can set yourself up as an expert by sharing links to valuable resources, by jumping in to answer questions, and by engaging in conversation around important topics. This may also feel scary, but, if it feels less scary than speaking up in a meeting, try to consider it as a step outside of your comfort zone.
I often tell folks on my team to ask their questions and leave their comments in the Zoom chat during a meeting if it feels difficult to unmute and interject. They are still a contributor to the conversation, and it even gives them the space to clarify or jump in.
There are many other places where you can use written word to get your voice heard. For example, you can write external blog posts or pull your ideas into an internal wiki and share it with folks in your company. There is no better way to get alignment than to have ideas written down and agreed upon. You’re not only getting your voice heard, but you’re creating an artifact that can be referred back to again and again.
4. Capture your accomplishments
I often urge folks to keep an accomplishments journal, or a hype doc. A hype doc, according to Marie Chatfield, is a running list of all of your accomplishments and successes. This doc not only allows you to look back and feel proud about all you’ve accomplished, but it empowers you to advocate for yourself to your manager. Be “noisy” about what you’ve accomplished by capturing examples of your work.
The next time your manager tells you that you’re too quiet to get that promotion, you’ll have all the proof you need in your hype doc.
5. Follow up after the fact
This strategy comes from my dear friend Olga Perfilieva, Product Design Manager at Botkeeper. After a meeting, if you didn’t have the chance to get your voice heard (or even if you intentionally didn’t speak up because it didn’t feel comfortable at the time), gather your thoughts in a message or a document, and send it out to the meeting attendees afterward. Plus, this gives you the opportunity to process after the meeting, while still having the opportunity to share your thoughts.
As an added bonus, reaching out to send a message after the fact can help to ensure that everyone is aligned around the main points of the meeting and future plans. You’re continuing to set yourself up as a leader on your team, without being the loudest person in the room.
Despite how your team or company’s culture may make you feel, your quietness is a strength. You’re uniquely positioned to bring alignment to your teams. Your thoughtfulness is an asset. The next time someone tells you that you don’t seem confident enough, remember that you can find your voice while remaining authentic and true to yourself.
Part 2 of this post will come next: Are you a manager? I’ll share some tips on what you can do for the “quiet” people on your team.