I remember a time when I attended a celebration with my colleagues and people from a client project team. Out of the blue, someone said to me, “So you’re really quiet, huh?” I just smiled, but I was fighting back tears the rest of the time. People would point this out ever since I was a child, but I didn’t know how to “fix” it. I thought, if I have nothing to say, why should I force myself to say anything? I was told to just speak up more, so I felt pressure to be more outgoing, but I realized over time that wasn’t true to who I am.
Here are five things I did to successfully grow my career as a quiet person:
Seeking feedback was daunting to me because I already knew people were going to bring up that I should voice my opinions more. However, what really helped me grow were the sessions on how to effectively receive feedback. These were my top takeaways:
Ask for examples on how a particular situation can be improved
You don’t have to take immediate action on every piece of feedback if it's not urgent
Keep it simple: try connecting feedback you receive to your immediate goals.
I felt empowered when my tech leads and teammates focused on my strengths. Instead of commenting on how quiet I am, they told me that they saw value in my patience and listening skills. These traits mean that I complete tasks well and learn things quickly. From their comments, I started to see the value of being an active listener, and in turn, how I can use my strengths and apply them to projects and meetings I’m involved in.
At the start of my career, I realized that I struggled to contribute during meetings. I had always attributed it to a lack of ideas or skills. A teammate once told me that I don't always have to have the answers, that clarifying things can be just as valuable. Keeping this in mind, I kept track of my ideas and what people were saying by writing things down. This helped me reflect on what was going on. When I found something confusing, I would ask questions. This enabled me to clarify some misunderstandings that other people might also have.
In an estimation session, the business analyst did not understand why the complexity was so high, and everyone started to have a long-winded discussion. By gathering everyone's thoughts, I mentioned that, due to the way that the previous functionality was implemented, it would take extra effort to complete the said story. This summary helped everyone agree to the estimate.
Having used this approach many times, my teammates and the client mentioned to me that having a person like me in the team gave them a chance to pause and reflect on their statements. Therefore, as long as I was not holding back information, it was better to stay silent.
In my experience, excellent facilitators created a safe space for the attendees to contribute. There may be people who already have great ideas to put on the table. For some, they could only think of something after they have reflected on the things that occurred during the meeting.
One of the methods that worked really well was when the facilitator did the following:
Send a meeting agenda and share a clear goal beforehand
Allocate time for everyone to write down their ideas first and put them somewhere visible to everyone
Ask each person to explain their thoughts
Gather votes on the topics in order to prioritize them
Schedule a follow up meeting for other important points if the time is not sufficient
As a result, I believe that more people's thoughts were heard. This allowed me to reflect first before being put on the spot.
I enjoy helping others improve. I saw many opportunities for this, because I was often placed in teams where front-end development expertise was needed. This pushed me to find ways of how I could effectively upskill and learn from my teammates. Doing so enabled me to constantly practice putting my thoughts into words and having more confidence in myself.
After being told by those I paired with that I was good at explaining things, I eventually felt motivated to do some presentations, run workshops and facilitate meetings.
I tend to beat myself up over my weaknesses. However, I've learnt to be more aware when I'm doing this and to let the thoughts go. By doing so, I was able to focus more on my work.
For anyone in the same situation, my advice is to take small steps and celebrate the moments that enabled you to move forward.
The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some, it's a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk. Use your natural powers -- of persistence, concentration, and insight -- to do work you love and work that matters. Solve problems, make art, think deeply." ― Susan Cain, "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.