Several years ago I was asked by a line manager in a previous job why I didn’t speak up more in meetings. I thought about this and genuinely didn’t know the answer. The only thing I could put it down to was a lack of confidence, which funnily enough I didn’t have the confidence to admit to!
I took the comment quite hard. I desperately wanted to be successful at my job. I worked really hard every single day and I wanted to progress. I knew that I was quieter than my colleagues but I never realised this would present itself as a problem.
I had to do something about it. I didn’t want to give anyone the opportunity to say I wasn’t good enough. I found myself a great mentor, I read several self-development books and I made myself speak up in meetings. I did everything I could to ‘fix’ this and prove to people this wasn’t an issue.
However it didn’t work out in the way that I’d hoped. I contributed more in meetings but I found myself speaking up when I wasn’t adding any value. I was speaking just to show that I could. I spoke over others in my need to get myself heard and to prove myself. And the worst thing was that I could see what I was doing.
It went completely against the way I like to do things and rather than make me feel better about things I ended up feeling worse. I felt tired, exhausted and annoyed with myself. I didn’t like my new approach.
It is only recently that I’ve learned about being an introvert and what that means, and to fully appreciate how this presents itself at work. If I had known this back then I would have dealt with the situation very differently:
1. I would have been able to explain that as an introvert I like to reflect on things. I would have understood that there might be ways to prepare for a meeting and to make my contributions effective – because the important thing to know is that I did want to make a contribution and felt I could make a good one. This could be knowing the topics for discussion beforehand or working out a way to follow-up afterwards.
2. I would have understood that there was nothing wrong with me and it wasn’t something I needed to ‘fix’. Yes I would perhaps need to stretch the edges of my comfort zone, but not change myself completely as I did at the time. I would have felt more confident in myself as I was and as a result, given myself much less of a hard time.
3. I would have focussed on my strengths, because I had lots. I would have considered how I could build on those. Could I make more use of my writing skills to share my thoughts or to encourage an alternative way to share ideas amongst the team? Instead my attention was only on what I had been told I wasn’t doing, and I ignored all the great things I was doing.
4. Most importantly I would have had the courage be myself.
And that’s the reason I now write about this. Because I have learned a lot since the day I was asked that question about why I do things the way I do, and I realise how much that knowledge would have helped me had I known it earlier. By sharing what I’ve learned, who knows, it may help someone else.