how to get heard at meetings — especially if you’re soft-spoken or introverted

It pays to speak up and contribute in meetings. But if you’re someone who finds it tough to speak up when others don’t leave you a natural opening – or worse, interrupt you – how can you get your voice heard?

Even introverts and the soft-spoken can get heard in meetings if you have the right strategy. Here’s how.

1. Don’t stop talking if you’re interrupted. Ever notice that the person who gets to finish speaking when two people start talking at once is usually just the person who keeps talking? Most of the time, the other person will quickly cede you the floor.

2. Explicitly ask for the floor. If people keep talking over you, try saying something like “I’d like to get a word in here” or “Let me interject.” People will usually immediately let you talk, since otherwise they’d look rude.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask to go back to a topic. If you’re having trouble getting a word in edgewise, one option is to jot down your notes so that you don’t forget what you wanted to say. Then, when there’s a pause – even if the conversation has moved on – you can jump in and say, “Can we go back to ___ for a minute? I had a thought about…” Do this a few times, and you may even train that they need to slow down to let people speak before rushing onward.

4. Speak up early in the conversation. It often gets harder to find an entry into the conversation as the meeting goes on. Plus, once you’ve involved yourself in the discussion, people will often more naturally include you in the conversation as it progresses. Plus, if you tend to be shy, speaking up early on can build your confidence and make it easier to jump in again later, in part because you won’t be feeling like it’s someone else’s conversation in which you’re not playing a part.

5. Sit toward the center of the table. It will be much harder to leave you out of the conversation if you’re physically right in the middle of it.

6. Don’t use language that undermines your own message. Language like “I might be wrong but…” or “This might just be me, but…” will downplay what you’re saying. Start with the assumption that your contributions have value, and choose language that reflects that.

7. The long game here is to build a reputation of being knowledgeable and thoughtful and making valuable contributions during meetings. If you do this enough over time, eventually you shouldn’t need to fight for the floor nearly as much.


I originally published this at Intuit QuickBase’s blog.

{ 86 comments… read them below }

  1. A*

    This is right up my alley and I so appreciate it. I have a lot of trouble with feeling like I have anything of value to add in most scenarios, partly because of the fact that I’m the most junior person on the team and partly because I have trouble interpreting the reactions of those around me and often assume the worst (rightly or wrongly, I don’t know). In most situations — work or otherwise — I assume that everyone else’s opinions and thoughts are more valuable than my own, either because they can articulate it better, have more experience, are more attractive, any number of things. Clearly I have some self-esteem issues to work out. Some of these will be a challenge for me, but it’s nice to see them articulated and I hope to put at least some into action!

    1. A Definite Beta Guy*

      So I notice a lot of junior workers saying something similar. I can add to the pile and say that I am also a silent Junior peon, and my fellow Junior peon only speaks during meetings to say his name.

      I hate to wax nostalgic, but things were not always this way! My fellow peon and I both began as Contract workers on a different team and practically led entire meetings: that’s why we were hired in the first place. But this team has an entirely different mindset, and speaking out tend only result in lengthy Shakespearean soliloquys offering no real solutions and resulting in even more Asks from management.

      How do other Junior employees muster the courage to push back on management and demand some real answers? Or do I need to tilt at a different windmill?

      1. A*

        The funny thing is, I haven’t felt this way on other teams I’ve been on (on-campus jobs, an internship at a government agency, fast food…). So I’m inclined to believe it’s largely the environment and the culture thereof. But I’ve also had a past supervisor who gave me conflicting feedback — one year, she said I didn’t speak up enough. I responded that I had been practicing “step up, step back,” and felt that I had been over speaking anyway. So I resolved to speak more. The following year, she gave me the feedback that I spoke enough, but I didn’t think about what I said before I said it enough. So I went back to not saying much of anything because the way I process things require more thought or speaking out loud as a thinking process. Maybe I’m just a stupid Millennial?

        I imagine others gain the courage from being in environments which encourage it and/or having natural courage. Among other things.

  2. Swarley*

    I want emphasize how important #4 is for me. I used to wait to speak up during a meeting, even if it meant backpedaling the discussion. However, I’d get so nervous waiting for the “right” moment to speak up that I couldn’t get my message across clearly. Speak up early, it really does calm your nerves for the rest of the meeting.

  3. Regina 2*

    What if you just don’t have anything to say? I feel agnostic about work 99% of the time. That is to say, I frequently see multiple sides to an issue at hand, and only rarely do I feel something is totally wrong. My work is incredibly subjective, so there’s rarely a right answer. We need direction, and I’m not senior enough to make that call. Additionally, I hate conflict and dislike being a dissenting voice. A lot of other times, I either just don’t know enough or don’t know the context, and so I’ll look like an idiot for not knowing the full picture with my comments.

    Pretty much the main criticism I’ve had throughout my career is that my managers want me to speak up. They have said they think I’d have good insights, but since I don’t have strong feelings, I think I really don’t. I know it’s something I should work on if I want to progress up the chain — but that’s not really my goal. I think I have pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes to thinking I have greater depths than I actually do. I’m a hard worker, get things done, and am fairly good at details, but that doesn’t mean I have anything profound to say.

    Mostly, my unwillingness to speak up is deeply embedded in my personality. I was a shy kid, I never raised my hand in class (despite getting all A’s), and as a mid-30s adult, I don’t contribute much in meetings. I am starting to feel this won’t change, and since management isn’t my goal, I don’t see why it’s an issue.

    1. Kyrielle*

      I wouldn’t do it when they’re handing out a fait accompli, but when it’s in discussion phase: “That sounds like a reasonable plan to me. Just to make sure, have we considered factors X and Y?”

      Strong feelings aren’t necessary for useful insights; neither is being profound. In fact, I’d argue that by sitting in the middle, you’re the most likely to have insights that will be useful for others – and be reasoned rather than desperate grabs for support for a position. You don’t have to pick a side and defend it; you can always just make sure that the things that might push it that way were considered.

      If you don’t want to speak up, don’t. But bear in mind that besides affecting entry into management, it could also (depending on what you do, but you’re getting feedback about speaking up!) affect your salary and performance. A technical expert, a subject matter expert, a senior Almost Anything That Requires Thought, is also expected to be able to contribute to decision-making even if they’re not the decision-maker.

    2. LQ*

      Even if you don’t feel strongly about a direction to go, do you feel like a point on one side or the other wasn’t raised? It doesn’t always have to be “Do This!” It can be, “What about this?” or “What happens if that?” You don’t have to make a call to give input. You can just add in information or ask questions. A lot of times I phrase things as questions (more than I really should, but it makes me much more comfortable as I get into getting my point out), “I’m not sure I understand why we are doing it this way, what about this problem thing that no one else has raised?” Questions like this can often bring up helpful points and a new perspective, which is something that you might be bringing to the table without knowing it.

      If you don’t want to change that’s ok, but you’re here and you’re raising a question now so I’m going to toss an answer (or more questions) your way.

      1. Ultraviolet*

        Phrasing your points as questions can be really helpful with some audiences. Some of my colleagues are pretty open-minded and helpful when asked a question, but unduly skeptical and dismissive of assertions. (The question has to have some direction though. “What do you think of X?” is no better than stating your own take on X, but “How will X impact Y?” can get some good discussion going.)

    3. Ad Astra*

      You might try asking thoughtful questions and see if that feels more comfortable for you. It shows that you’re paying attention, gives you an opportunity to learn more about the issue at hand, and then there’s usually a natural pause for you to respond to someone’s answer.

      When I truly don’t have anything to add, I like to say little things like “That’s a great idea” or “Oh, I love the artwork” or some other (appropriate, warranted) praise for someone’s ideas. It’s the sort of comment you can make quickly, almost under your breath, so you’re not stopping the whole conversation to chime in. And everyone likes compliments.

  4. irritable vowel*

    6. Don’t use language that undermines your own message. Language like “I might be wrong but…” or “This might just be me, but…” will downplay what you’re saying. Start with the assumption that your contributions have value, and choose language that reflects that.

    I find that this is predominantly an issue for women. Women are socialized to use language like this to soften their tone and avoid sounding “strident.” My current pet peeve is the “I feel like” construction that so many young women use. As my teacher friend says to her students in class, would you say “I feel like the sky is blue”? Own your opinions!

      1. Oryx*

        That’s one thing I’m working on at work (and, well, in life): being more assertive and confident in my voice and point of view.

      2. Anonymous Educator*

        Even though some men may struggle with it, the repercussions aren’t quite the same for men, unless you’re in a particularly cutthroat industry. Most men can definitely get away with starting sentences with those phrases and still being taken seriously and with authority.

        1. Weekday Warrior*

          In fact, they may get kudos for being “sensitive”. :) But I have also seen men, often younger, undermine themselves with apologetic phrases. A fine line for men and women.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It varies. Personally, I use phrases like that in some discussions, but because it’s against a background of being assertive and generally willing to say what I think — and people know that — I don’t think it weakens me. (In fact, I think I use it specifically when I want to soften what could otherwise come across as “I know best on All Things.”) But when you’re someone who’s struggling to speak up in meetings, I think you’d want to avoid it.

          But yeah, I get the gender differences. I just might lose my mind if we have to bring them up on every letter. I understand why they might be relevant on many letters. But I still might lose my mind.

          1. OOF*

            I want to second this comment. IF you are someone who is regularly perceived as confident, direct, and perhaps able to occasionally be a know-it-all (ahem, me), these qualifying phrases can be a great tool when used correctly. Not so often that it becomes obvious it’s a tool and then is entirely insincere.

            1. Data Lady*

              Totally agree – sometimes the people who over-use these sorts of qualifying phrases are doing it as a cover for behaving in really ugly, officious ways. I can think of a particular guy I’ve worked with who was really great at his job, but kind of a know-it-all. He often got away with all manner of bossy nonsense to people above and below him because he was really careful to wrap it up in a very “sensitive” package. Because he was so smoothly professional, though, he was more or less unassailable.

          2. LBK*

            In fact, I think I use it specifically when I want to soften what could otherwise come across as “I know best on All Things.

            Yep, this is totally me and why I use softening language – I’ve gotten feedback about coming across like a know-it-all before, so occasionally feigning ignorance by qualifying my statements/questions even when I already know I’m right helps dilute that perception.

            1. LBK*

              (And for the record I’m male, so no biases at play here about my gender influencing my perception as a know-it-all vs. just being smart.)

          3. Katie the Fed*

            Eh, I’d be frustrated too. The gender differences may be the cause, but they’re ultimately somewhat irrelevant when it comes to the solution. So it’s not terribly helpful to examine all the socialization differences between the genders.

      3. Tommy*

        Yep, it depends on the individual person, not on the person’s gender. (Thanks for not calling this, “How Women Can Speak Up and Get Heard in Meetings,” Alison.)

        In meetings, I have a tendency to over-hedge just like Alison describes, and I feel that it has caused some people to immediately discount what I say. It doesn’t help that I look about 10 years younger than I am, either.

  5. the_scientist*

    This is very timely and relevant to my interests! I am especially guilty of undermining/softening my message. Partly because I’m often the one with the least experience/expertise in a subject. I guess I wouldn’t be asked to attend if my contribution wasn’t appreciated…

  6. Chantal*

    All of these are helpful, especially #1! I have a lot of trouble continuing after I’ve been interrupted – and even when I keep talking, the other voice usually drowns me out. Something to work on ….

    1. Kylynara*

      Me too. I always feel like when someone interrupts me, continuing to speak is interrupting them back and just as rude.

      1. Charity*

        I agree. Also, it can be a little awkward if you can’t tell who started to speak first. Were you interrupted, or are you the interruptor? It’s not always clear-cut. It’s kind of like when two cars approach an intersection at basically the same time — no one wants to just barrel forward when neither is sure who ‘should’ go forward, but inevitably someone has to take the initiative.

        I think the point is that it doesn’t always have to be the other person who breaks the gridlock. Maybe you can yield 1/2 the time and then go forward 1/2 the time.

        1. Snork Maiden*

          We need some sort of right-of-way directive for conversation. Maybe a literal interpretation of the “on the right” rule where the person on the left yields?

          1. Snork Maiden*

            except then you’d have to keep running around the boardroom table to alternate turns! Oh well.

      2. Zahra*

        Sometimes I’ll say “Excuse me, I’d like to finish my point/expressing my thought/etc.”.

        With friends, it’s more a “I haven’t finished speaking yet.” or, with a chronic interrupter “I’m. Not. Done. Wait for your turn.”

      3. Tommy*

        That might be because you’re assuming good faith on the part of the interrupter: “Oh, he must have a really good reason to interject, so I’ll let him talk.” The problem is that some people take this as a signal of weakness or lack of confidence (indicating weakness), so they end up just interrupting you all the time.

      4. Stranger than fiction*

        Me too. Also, should you continue to speak if the person is a couple levels above you? That happened to me once last year. I assumed it was polite to let her keep speaking because she’s so senior.

        1. Marty Gentillon*

          No, interruption is a kind of negotiation where we establish how important our continuing is by how long we overtalk. I cannot interrupt you without you agreeing to be interrupted (by stopping talking). When you immediately allow the other person to override you, you are stating that “what I was saying was relatively unimportant.” This is one of the key rules in high involvement conversations.

          1. Marty Gentillon*

            Of course social standing may impact this, but it is still apropiate to state that what you were saying is important to you by overtalking at least a little

          1. Marty Gentillon*

            And this is because you usually practice high consideration conversations where the rule is usually some form of “don’t interrupt at all.”

    2. Ultraviolet*

      Same! I can usually only go a few seconds before stopping. Is there any help for it but practice?

      1. LQ*

        You can practice feeling less weird about hearing it by doing it with something that isn’t a person. Like an audiobook or even the radio. Being able to continue to talk and finish your point can be hard just because of the distraction of it and the sound, so being able to do that even with something that isn’t live can be good practice. (Though it is still practice, so I’m not sure it helps.)

    3. Gene*

      That’s something you can work on. LQ has a good way to practice the mental part. You can also work on learning to become louder without yelling. I did years of field and court heraldry and had to learn that so I would have a voice the next day; so now I can drown out pretty much anyone short of Steve Tyler.

      1. Tommy*

        I’ve noticed a lot lately hearing one side of a phone conversation that the talker will be in the middle of talking and their voice will just get louder all of a sudden for no apparent reason, and then it occurred to me that the person on the other end was trying to interject something and the talker was not allowing them. I’m pretty sure this is the only way to get this done.

      2. Marty Gentillon*

        With this, the goal isn’t really to outvolume the interruptor, so much is it is to outlast him. As long as you are talking at close to the same volume, people will be able to understand what you were both saying. (Yes there is quite a bit of research that people can understand both bits when people overtalk)

          1. Marty Gentillon*

            And I am trying to point out that “being drowned out” may not be exactly what is happening.

            1. Ultraviolet*

              I do agree with your point that speaking at the nearly same volume as the interrupter but outlasting them is better than speaking loudest. But I think Chantal is saying they’re having trouble speaking “at close to the same volume” as the interrupter, and Gene is pointing out that you can learn to do that.

  7. NYC Redhead*

    Let me add a dissent to #3 (Don’t be afraid to go backwards.) As someone who runs a lot of meetings and thinks I allow for necessary discussion, this drives me crazy. I would encourage introverts (and I can be one, too), to do more of #4 (Speak up early), rather than undermine a forward-moving agenda.

    1. LBK*

      If a discussion is moving and changing subjects really quickly, it can be hard to interject without just cutting someone off in the middle of them shifting topics. I’m as outspoken and extroverted as you can be in meetings and I still end up looping back to old topics pretty frequently if the conversation shifts before I’m certain we’ve adequately covered the nuance of the previous topic.

    2. Kyrielle*

      Agreed, but some meetings barrel right over people unless they’re willing to shout down the topic change. At a meeting that’s allowing space for those, I’m less concerned with it (although people who are slower to think through things may be getting left behind).

      Wrapping up a section with “Okay, I think we’ve covered that; does anyone have any points we haven’t considered before we move on?” and waiting long enough to give someone an opening probably covers it, tho.

      1. irritable vowel*

        That’s a good point — there’s definitely a role to play for the meeting leader in making sure everyone who has something to say has the opportunity to speak.

      2. NYC Redhead*

        And that’s great language to use, too, to prevent, “I agree with what Mary has said because…”

    3. Stranger than fiction*

      I agree with keeping things moving because sometimes it can really get detailed but you should still allow time at the end then for questions.

  8. Mimmy*

    With all the meetings I attend on a regular basis, this is very helpful. I am VERY guilty of #6. I may say something like, “I may be off-base here…”; it’s because I often worry that I’m not fully understanding the topic at hand. Thank goodness these are volunteer councils and not work groups in paid employment! But these tips are all very helpful because I do want to increase my confidence with others.

  9. LBK*

    I’ll vouch for these techniques working – I have a lot of meetings with a woman who could give a master class on this topic. She has one of the softest natural speaking voices I’ve ever (barely) heard and her general demeanor isn’t one that cuts naturally into conversations but she definitely employs all of the techniques mentioned and is still great at getting her point across as a result.

    1. Ultraviolet*

      Do you have any sense of how much her success with this depends on the value of her contributions? I guess I’m specifically wondering: is she managing to make herself heard despite it not coming naturally to her, or have people just learned it’s beneficial to listen to her?

      (And my purpose in wondering this is not to undercut her success or your point, but to think ahead to how I will deal with this in a new job soonish before I’ve established much credibility.)

  10. KLR*

    This is all fantastic advice, but oh my goodness, YES to #1 (don’t stop talking if you are interrupted). It took me a while to get used to this, but it is so important, especially if you’re dealing with an adversary. I was on a call with super aggressive opposing counsel earlier this week. A couple of years ago, I would have quieted down when he talked over me time and time again. This week, I just kept right on talking and made all my points.

  11. Tau*

    This is really useful – I’m taking notes. I have a speech disorder, and I often end up getting barreled over when discussion gets heated.

    And I am so, so guilty of #6, although I’m trying to train myself out of it. It’s tough because I’m relatively inexperienced and have only been in this position for a month, so I feel I *shouldn’t* be too certain about things yet, but the way our department is set up + the fact that I’m in a very technical position with high turnover means I do end up being subject matter expert surprisingly often.

  12. TotesMaGoats*

    I’ve heard someone describe how an introvert processes discussion as taking a ride on an elevator. The introvert hears the question and rides the elevator all the way down to the bottom floor gathering information as they go down and then again back up where they can then provide their answer. Extroverts tend to “transporter” themselves to the part of their brain with the answer and then back to give it. Neither is right or wrong, necessarily but it was a good analogy for me when I was having trouble understanding why one of my introverted staff members was taking so long to work her way through the answer of a question. She processed differently. Because she knew she processed slower she rarely spoke up in meetings unless she could be well prepared ahead of time. So the answers were all on the “top floor”. Might not be the analogy for everyone but it helped me be patient.

    1. twig*

      I am one of these elevator people!

      The faster the questions fly at me, the less I am able to process and actually answer quickly.

      It’s not that I don’t have the answer, it’s that I have to go back into the mental file room to pull the information. Sometimes that may include checking physical notes or email discussions.

      1. Marty Gentillon*

        I am not sure if this is introversion vs extroverson so much as it is communication style (specifically high involvement vs high considerateness). You need practice, and it doesn’t hurt to call out style differences.

        1. 42*

          Yeah. I’m one of those people where when you ask me a question, I’m silent because I tend not to open my mouth until I have a fully formed thought.

          But I don’t equate that as a hallmark of my introversion. Hm.

  13. Ad Astra*

    I’ve always been that person who just keeps talking when two people chime in at the same time — mostly because I have ADHD and it takes my brain too long to figure out when to shut up and let someone else talk. That doesn’t always serve me well (especially because I’m a woman and it can be perceived as “aggressive”) but it does ensure that I get to say my piece. If you’re that person who usually cedes the floor, keep talking! I’ll shut up eventually, I promise.

  14. First Initial dot Lastname*

    How do we soft spoken experts who do speak in meetings contend with the loudmouth who reiterats our points and getting noticed for (our) input and ideas?

    I worked with a dude who 1) countered every single thing I said, and/or 2) made my exact point using different language and was recognized as the generator every time.

    I had hoped that my managers and C Suite support would eventually notice this, but what they noticed was that I didn’t push back on dude, rather than my input. I left that job after four years and it felt like I let dude win at something. Mostly because I’d been working towards that role for 12 years, had a great opportunity to write my own job description and LOVED my work, but felt like I was trapped in a bad relationship with a jerk teammate and unsupportive management.

    1. Ad Astra*

      It won’t work in every context, but try something like “Oh good, so we agree” or “That’s two people on board with [whatever you just said]! Anyone else?” It’s a way to point out that it was your idea without sounding jealous or overly concerned about who’s getting credit.

    2. Ultraviolet*

      I’ve had these problems too. I have no advice on 1), but for 2), is it possible to ask the repeater, “Hang on, do you mean something different from my point a few minutes ago that [brief summary]? If so, I’m not catching the distinction you’re making.” Or a little more to the point, “That actually sounds just like what I said earlier, that [brief summary]. Are you saying something different?” (Disclosure: I have never gotten it together to actually try either of these out.)

      1. Marty Gentillon*

        It might be slightly better to say something more like “glad to hear you agree (with me),” or perhaps “as I said.”

        1. Ultraviolet*

          When I recall the times I’ve been in this situation and imagine saying the things you suggest, it sounds too sarcastic to be useful. (This is getting meta, but: at the risk of splitting hairs and overemphasizing slight differences in word choice, I see this is as more problematic with your suggested wording than with the similar suggestions made by Ad Astra earlier. ) I prefer my suggestions because they’re direct and actually do give the repeater a chance to say if they meant something different (and the other people there can also clarify if they understood the two points differently). My suggestions also put the focus on the content (what was said) rather than on who said it first, while still making the point that I said it first. That’s helpful if you’re worried about appearing overly concerned with getting credit.

          Can you describe the problems you see with my suggested approach?

          1. Marty Gentillon*

            I think this has to do with tone of calling out, and may have to do with style / local culture. Your responces are very direct and clear about calling someone out, sometimes this may be good, sometimes it may not be. The nice thing about a sincierly stated “Glad you agree” is that it isn’t confrontational, but still reminds everyone that this was your idea. If they actually want to make some distinction, you can trust that they will.

            Also, I sort of like your second one, but would probally leave out “are you saying something different?” Again because it has a calling out tone. (sometimes that might be good)

  15. cleo*

    #7 was key for me. I used to work in a department where it was typical for the same people to make the same points / complain about the same things in every meeting (whether or not they were relevant to the discussion) and it made for unbearable meetings.

    I consciously decided to not do that – to make a point once and let it go. I did it mostly to make the meetings shorter and less horrible, but I realized later that it made me more effective – because people listened when I did speak up. There were a couple times that I broke my self-imposed rule and brought up something for a second time because I thought it was important and in those cases I was able to convince the rest of my team to make a change that I wanted.

  16. Katie the Fed*

    This is really useful. I have a REALLY hard time with this – I get super flustered if I get interrupted and I hate interrupting others.

  17. Data Lady*

    How do you deal with #6 when you’re the only person responsible for advocating for specific things? My team makes both caramel and chocolate teapots, and I’m our caramel teapot specialist. I’m often the only one who can speak to caramel teapot issues while everyone else is more versed in how to make chocolate teapots. Because making caramel and chocolate teapots at the same time tends to be difficult in a way that the chocolate teapot people aren’t familiar with, I feel like I’m naysaying a lot.

    That, combined with being a woman who tends to be kind of process-oriented, I feel like I *have* to hedge my language to avoid being seen as pushy or strident. If I don’t use undermining language if I’m making an even slightly contrary point, I seriously run the risk of being seen as uppity.

    I spend a lot of time in meetings thinking about the softest way to say something potentially difficult but necessary, and I often keep my mouth shut because I can’t think of a cuddly-but-impactful way to do it in time. Not only does this affect how well we make caramel teapots, it means that we’re losing opportunities to help the chocolate teapot gang learn more about caramel teapots – both these things make my job difficult. How do I fix this and stay likable?

    1. Ultraviolet*

      Would you feel better about naysaying if you replaced the undermining language with a brief explanation of why you’re bringing it up? Like instead of, “I know this might not seem important to chocolate teapots…” or something, say, “As the caramel teapot person here, I want to point out that _____.”

    2. Jillociraptor*

      One of my team members is fantastic at this: he manages an area that often gets overlooked (one of those great “they’re awesome at their jobs so you never know they’re there” types of groups) and so he is regularly in the position of trying to politely remind folks of the implications for his area.

      Sometimes when people are in the position you and he are in, they can kind of take a put upon tone, which I think can make it easier to be dismissed with “there so-and-so goes again!” But he’s really effective at sharing information in a way that makes it sound like he’s contributing a unique viewpoint that adds to the conversation, not jumping on a soapbox or protecting his turf.

      You can leave room for the limitations of your own perspective without “hedging.” There’s a difference between “This is only my opinion, but if we do this we’ll lose opportunities for cross-training on caramel teapots.” and “One implication of this decision would be that we could lose opportunities for cross-training on caramel teapots.” It’s subtle, but rather than making the implication that you could be wrong, it sets up your argument with the implication that you might only have part of the story (which is always true!).

  18. Road Warrior.*

    I’m an introvert to the nth degree but realized long ago that being shy about speaking my mind was getting me nowhere in my professional life. I’ve implemented most of these tips over the years and they have worked beautifully. However, now I feel like I’m having the opposite problem… I’m worried that I’m seen as the company loudmouth or worse, the “asshole at the meeting”. Everyone in my position works remotely and we only get together 2-3 times a year so maybe I come across as too aggressive in my delivery because I keep it all bottled up for months? It doesn’t help that the communication in between these in-person meetings is abysmal so when we do get together, oh boy, I’m raring to go!

  19. Winter is Coming*

    I had the WORST experience with this, although it was in a college class vs. a job. The class was History of Psychology, and the format was that everyone sat in a big circle and participated in a large group discussion for the entire class period. I froze. I could never think of anything to say that I thought was worthwhile, and I got nothing out of it. It was my senior year, and I ended up dropping the class which left me just enough credit hours to graduate on time. It embarrasses me to this day that I couldn’t cut it; particularly since Psychology was my major!!

  20. Raia*

    I am usually bad about pulling out my introvert ID card at meetings, but NewJob has a good climate for helping me get over it! We’ve got a small group of people hashing out a new project, so we have been encouraged to speak up. A huge confidence builder was realizing that I have a unique history and perspective than my colleagues, and I should bring up things that I think because really no one else may see it! And I will be dealing with the problems if I don’t bring it up and resolve it beforehand. Also, my managers have told me that I have had good points to contribute, so that helps IMMENSELY.

    If you have ever foreseen a problem, didn’t mention it, and had to work on the solution later when your team found the problem you saw, start speaking up!

  21. Jam Wheel*

    I really really struggle with this and got feedback at my last role that I needed to talk in a meeting at least three times blah blah blah. But I absolutely struggle with following conversations and by the time I come up with something worthwhile to ask, the moment has passed. At my current role I work with people who utterly LOVE to take the contrarian viewpoint in every single damn meeting just for kicks. Its mentally exhausting for me to follow everything when after a certain point I just want to either 1) have a reasonable discussion or 2) get some decisions made. Listening to my boss whine (literally, hes very nasally) and come up with every single fact ever from his long experience at the company just to prove hes right is about the worst way I can think of to spend an hour, next to being in a meeting with the people who have no mental filter and just yak yak yak, regardless of does the question make sense and is it valuable to ask.

    Maybe its an introvert thing, but I feel much more comfortable writing things down, processing and reflecting. I do try and chirp up when I can, but i doubt I will ever be one of those contrarian people fighting to be heard over the general din, and I have more or less accepted that for now.

  22. Julie Noted*

    Oh, I’ve been wanting to ask a question related to this topic for a while!

    How do I draw out the reticent members of my team?

    I already use several tactics to make sure quieter staff aren’t drowned out in the contest of ideas and perspectives. Standard stuff – don’t let the more talkative folks dominate the floor; explicitly ask individuals for their thoughts; give opportunities for those who prefer quiet, careful deliberation to contribute to discussions via email or one-on-one discussions with me at their pace; treat all contributions with respect; follow through on issues/suggestions raised. Still, in every group of more than 3 or 4 people there will be some who almost never contribute to the discussion in any form (in larger groups, some who *never* ever contribute).

    I really want to act in good faith, so please advise, oh ye who don’t talk in meetings – what else can I do to draw you out? I lean introverted but can turn it on for work so I can’t get inside the head of someone with great stuff to contribute who just doesn’t. What am I missing? I don’t want to conclude social loafing unless there really are no other possibilities that I’m blind to. But, for example, an executive group I was part of for 4 YEARS had several members who did not once contribute a thought, idea or suggestion, either speaking or in writing, to a roundtable discussion forum that we were all supposed to contribute to. Could the chair in this case have done anything differently (other than maybe resort to telling people not to bother showing up if they planned to never take part)?

    (Sorry, frustration started coming out at the end there.)

    1. A Definite Beta Guy*

      Honestly, you are acting in good faith and doing everything you can. My thought: a reminder that silence during meetings reflects poorly. We need to adjust corporate culture to include all personality types, but those personality types also need to do their part to step up.

      The reminder would serve as a “come on, you have to do your part, too, and I’m already bending backwards for you.”

    2. Ultraviolet*

      It sounds like the problem might not be that people are struggling to participate, but that they don’t want to–whether because they’re not prioritizing the meeting like other people, or because they don’t think their input would help.

      Do you think they have useful insights that no one else is sharing, or is the problem more that they’re not buying in? Is there a particular perspective they’re there to represent, like in Data Lady’s post above? Is there any chance that the quicker people just end up saying the thing the quieter people are thinking, and the quieter people see no benefit to repeating it? Would it be enough if they occasionally spoke up just to say, “I agree with so-and-so?” What happens when you explicitly ask for their opinions? Is there any chance the meetings are less important to their work than to others’?

    3. DuckDuckMøøse*

      Hi, I don’t talk in meetings. :) Why do you feel the need to draw people out? Don’t assume people who aren’t talking aren’t taking part in the meeting. As others have said here, people process information input and output differently. I sit, I listen, I think. If others are making the necessary points, why extend the meeting length, just so everyone can voice their agreement, and rehash the same points over and over again?

      Meetings are terrible if no one talks, AND if everyone talks. It irritates me when too many people talk, basically agreeing with everyone else. Why? Are they talking just to hear themselves talk? Are they talking to score brownie points with the boss? Is that how they think, out loud? If you’re not adding anything to the conversation, please stop talking. Keep the discussion on topic, and concise.

      While your goals are admirable, to run the meeting to make sure quieter members get a chance to speak, please don’t explicitly call them out for their opinions. Putting a shyer person on the spot like that is not the right thing to do. It’s embarrassing. Thanks for pointing out that I have nothing to add, or can’t verbalize my thoughts on demand. Nothing will make me shut down faster than to be called upon when I’m not expecting it. If I had something worthwhile to say, I would say it.

      Introversion is not an on/off thing for many people. You can adjust at work, but not every introvert is you, with your set of knowledge, coping techniques, resiliency, etc. Projecting your adaptability on every person, saying “if I can do it, you can!” is wrong thinking. Keep giving people openings, but in the end, it’s up to them to take them.

      1. Wanna-Alp*

        Very good points.

        I’m not shy, but I don’t talk at meetings much either. It’s almost always because I lost track of what’s going on, or I don’t understand/know sufficiently much to have an opinion in the matter, or someone already made the point I was going to make, or I do have an opinion on the matter which I would like to share but I’m struggling with phrasing my words in a way that is a) coherent and b) doesn’t make any one of a myriad possible faux-pas. Either way, if you put me on the spot, you’re unnecessarily prolonging the meeting, or showing up my inattention, or my ignorance, or my lack of understanding, or my verbal kerfluffery.

  23. techfool*

    Sometimes when someone softspoken (man or woman) starts speaking, everyone shuts up to hear what they’re saying because the speaker is so quiet. Not sure what’s going on there, but I’ve seen it many times. I can be quite loud and I’m thinking, “how do you do that?”.

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