Weekly meetings are the standard at many workplaces, but they can be downright stressful for quiet, shy and/or introverted people who may have a hard time speaking up. "Introverts are in their heads a lot, and they question their statements," says Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, Ph.D., author of The Genius of Opposites: How Introverts and Extroverts Achieve Extraordinary Results Together. "Many times the talkers dominate the conversation, so introverts don't find an opening to insert their ideas." What to do if you find it hard to contribute at meetings? Dr. Kahnweiler shares strategies.
Before the Meeting
1. Find out the meeting agenda.
Prior to any meeting, find out the topics to be covered so you can figure out what you'll want to say about them, whether an idea, a comment or a question. "One of the things introverts excel at is preparation," Dr. Kahnweiler says.
2. Plan and practice what you're going to say.
Quieter people may not be the best at thinking on their feet—quite the opposite, they often like to think (sometimes long and hard) before they speak. Practice in front of a mirror what you're basically going to say, or imagine what you're saying in your head to build your confidence. "By the time you get to your meeting, it’s like your brain is tricked into believing you’ve said it, so you're comfortable," explains Dr. Kahnweiler. Avoid memorizing, however, and instead go for a conversational tone: "You could even have notes, but just say it in your own words so it will sound more natural.”
3. Find some quiet time before the meeting.
Don't rush into meetings last-minute, which could make you feel more stressed. Rather, give yourself some time alone before the meeting starts to help you feel more settled.
4. Put yourself in a calm state.
Look for ways to lower your anxiety about speaking up. For instance, pay attention to your breathing and avoid negative self-thoughts before and during the meeting. "Focus on your breathing, slowly in and out," advise Dr. Kahnweiler. "When you do that, it's pretty impossible to be anxious, because you can’t be thinking about obsessive thoughts when you’re focused on your breath." If negative thoughts are holding you back from contributing, figure out what irrational thought is getting in your way, such as Everyone is more knowledgable than me, and come up with an opposing argument, such as I'm very knowledgeable about this topic, so you can pump yourself up and realize you don't have to get freaked out.
At the Meeting
5. Get it over with quickly.
If there's something you really want to say, make sure you do it early in the meeting—within the first 5 to 10 minutes. The longer you wait, the more of a deal it'll become in your head.
6. Give yourself time to think.
If a colleague catches you off guard with a question, you don't have to answer immediately. Saying phrases like "That's a good question," or throwing back an open-ended question to your colleague may give you extra moments to formulate a response. If you really are unsure of what to say, you could also say you need time to think it through.
7. Regain control after interruptions.
If a colleague cuts you off while you're stating an important point, regain focus and control of the conversation by putting a finger up to let your colleague know you weren't finished talking. You could also say, "I'd like to continue my thought," or the even gentler version (if the person interrupting you happens to be your boss), "I had a couple more thought to share with you on that.”
Although learning to contribute more at meetings may be difficult at first, remember that holding back at meetings may have ramifications for your career. Says Dr. Kahnweiler, "Meetings are places where people make judgments. You’re doing a disservice to people if you’re not giving them info about you and what your results are. You become invisible that way when people don’t really know you, and the organization is not really getting the value of your contributions."
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