Updated: Jun 29, 2021
Have you ever been in a meeting at work where you felt under a huge amount of pressure to contribute to the conversation, but you didn’t know what to say?
You’re not alone.
Whether it’s a fear of saying the wrong thing & being made to look stupid, you’re overwhelmed at everything that’s being said & trying to focus on just keeping up with the conversation, or your nature just does not lend itself to standing up in a room full of people…
You. Are. Not. Alone.
And if one source of your panic is the belief that if you don’t make yourself heard in meetings, you’re going to miss out when it comes to opportunities to progress in your career, guess what?
You’re not the only one!
But the good news is, not only is that simply not the truth, I’ve got the tools you need right here to make yourself feel a whole lot better about it too - so you can use these to go on & shine your brightest light at work, secure those opportunities, scale up the promotion ladder & find true fulfilment...all without making a peep!
There’s a lot of pressure (particularly when we start a new job) to be visible & make a good first impression. When we think about what it means to be successful at work, we often look at role models of others - which in its very essence means we are looking at people who are visible.
The pressure continues throughout our careers because too often that belief is never questioned - when we make a contribution in a meeting that is well received, we like the praise & feel like that was the right thing to do. It’s evidence from somebody else that we’re doing well.
On top of that, as new people join the company, the competition for visibility is refreshed - there’s always somebody else trying to make a good first impression, which either keeps us on our toes, or encourages us to relay that pressure down to them - we had to suffer it, so why should they get a free pass?
Meetings provide a concentrated, open forum for feedback. That’s why we assume that people who interact & put forward ideas in meetings are confident - because in doing that we’re totally vulnerable.
We’re asking for feedback in public, and we have no idea what that feedback is going to be.
So... how can you be successful at work without volunteering for the judging panel?
First of all, if this culture of visibility = success is present in your workplace, think about what you can do to change that. Whether that’s in setting an example to others by demonstrating your own success in different ways, or simply not creating that expectation for them to live up to.
In order to create change, we must first understand a wider perspective than our own.
Having an awareness of how the meeting environment affects the dynamics of a group, the way we approach solutions & the time we have to think & process the conversation provides you with an opportunity to get creative.
Why not try setting a meeting agenda, so people have time to consider the discussion ahead of time (perhaps enabling them to come prepared with something to contribute), or create bubbles of time within the meeting to reflect as points are discussed (rather than rushing onto the next thing while people are still scribbling down notes)?
Many people who find meeting environments to be challenging are introverted - which in this case is often & incorrectly mistaken for shyness. Introverts in particular process information in a different way than extraverts - information goes through the memory systems more immediately (sensory - short - long term memory), which means reacting right away is difficult as they need more time to formulate the response they’re truly on board with.
Rushing an introvert to respond is only going to create an unnecessary emotional (& stressful) situation - sacrificing the depth of thought that could give you a much better solution.
If you find the idea of speaking up in meetings uncomfortable - whether that’s because (like me) you’re an introvert, because the pace of discussion is quite overwhelming, because you like to take time to absorb & reflect on what everyone else is saying, or because the idea of speaking up & being shut down with feedback is a situation you’re just not ready for, here’s how you can take action (& seize the opportunity for success) anyway:
If you can, record the meeting either to listen back to in full, or refer back to points you want to reflect on
Take note of points you find interesting, how somebody else communicated an idea that you share, & what the response to that was
Ask questions - one way to make sharing an idea in a group much less daunting is to pose it as a question, rather than a suggestion. This could be as close as ‘what if we…’ to as dissociated as asking for more information about the data being discussed, as this could lead the discussion on to grounds much closer to your idea
Ask a key member of the group, a close colleague, a buddy, mentor or your boss to stay behind for a couple of minutes & chat through your thoughts 1:1 - make sure they understand your working style & are happy to support you
Follow up the meeting with an email - it’s not a great idea to immediately send a list of ideas that could have been discussed in person, but by consolidating & sharing key notes you made, you create an opportunity to add something for everyone to reflect on, demonstrating exactly what you were doing during the meeting & how valuable your way of processing is
The virtue of somebody like you in a meeting is that you have the ability to go to that next level of depth when it comes to solutions.
While everyone may be queuing to get their point across, or talking over each other - they’re not listening. When people don’t listen to each other in a discussion, it makes depth of thought almost impossible. Ideas aren’t considered properly, feedback is vague, & progress is slow. By sitting back & absorbing everything that’s being said, you’re able to unpick what people are excited about, worried about, & the gaps they haven’t spotted.
When you take the time to then use that unfair, natural advantage that you have, you create your own lane - and you start to quietly build your own reputation of expertise, consideration & authority, having considered all the perspectives brought to the table.
Confidence in a new job is something that can take time to build. If you’ve had your confidence knocked in the past it can take longer - and that’s OK. Most people who struggle with confidence issues find that if they share this with colleagues, the reaction is “oh - I would never have known!” so take the pressure off yourself that you should feel more confident than you do right now.
As long as you’re taking steps to build yourself up so that the action you take towards your progression comes with ease, you’re doing yourself a favour. And as long as you’re taking those action steps regardless of how confident you feel, you’ve nothing to worry about.
That pressure you feel to be visible at work is more often than not associated with your perception of other people’s perceptions of how successful you are, rather than what you’re actually doing. Once you decide that delivering on your role is more important than what people think about your status (because let’s face it, only one of those is going to get you promoted!), you should feel it start to lift.
I work with ambitious professionals lacking in confidence every day, to help them make those mindset shifts that really free them up to not only take consistent action towards their career progression, but to enjoy their time at work while they’re doing it.
If this has really resonated with you & you’d like to know more about how you could join one of my coaching programmes, so you can start feeling fulfilled, valued & successful at work, click here to find out more or connect with me directly to talk about your options.