I am a very quiet person, not so much shy as simply quiet. I am interested in people but have almost no need to be interesting to others. Social events aren’t hard for me, except for feeling the expectation from others to be entertaining.
My problem at work is that I feel that I am not seen. I am one of very few women on the management team of the business and I am often overlooked. Our Regional VP will go around the table to get input and he will actually skip me. It is becoming clear to me that I need to change the way I behave. I would appreciate any ideas you might have for me. Thank you in advance.
I love your distinction between shy and quiet. They are indeed two different things. Shyness is a whole separate challenge, so yay for you that you don’t have to overcome that. And guess what? You don’t really have to overcome being quiet, either, because you have something very specific you can leverage that could turn your quiet way into a superpower. You say you are interested in people. This is great, because most people are way more interested in themselves than anything or anyone else. So, all you have to do at obligatory work social events is encourage people to talk about themselves and you will be all set. How do you do that? You could begin with these classic conversation starters:
- What are you most interested in these days?
- Tell me about your family.
- What do you do for fun?
- Tell me about what you do.
- Do you like your job?
- If no: What would be your perfect job?
- If yes: What do you like most about it?
As you’ll see, most people absolutely love to talk about themselves. Back in my acting days there was a joke about actors that went, “Okay, enough about me—what do you think of me?” Ha! But seriously, it isn’t just actors. It’s almost everyone.
In terms of your boss overlooking you at meetings, I think you need to ask him what is going on. You wouldn’t be in your job if you weren’t deemed capable, so your boss is probably oblivious to the fact that he is skipping you. In a non-defensive, neutral tone, you can ask if he is aware that he tends to skip you when soliciting input in meetings. If he says no, well―now he is aware. You can request that he include you in the future and ask if it is okay to remind him if he skips you again. If he is aware that he’s skipping you, you can request that he give you feedback about what is behind this choice. If he gives you feedback, listen carefully and say thank you. Showing you are eager for feedback and are prepared to take his insights under advisement will keep the door open for meaningful communication between you in the future.
Be prepared to be included either way. Jump in when it is your turn; be brief and to the point with your contribution. You have to fight to be included when you are overlooked, and you will probably keep having to fight until people get used to you claiming your place. The beauty of being quiet is that when you do speak, people will probably pay more attention. Everyone kind of tunes out the people who talk too much, bluster on, and repeat themselves, taking up all of the airtime. You can pride yourself on being a woman of few, well-chosen words.
You might consider checking out the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Many of my quiet clients have taken great solace in it and have found useful guidance for how to ensure that you are seen and heard without trying to be someone you’re not. You can get the gist of Susan Cain’s work here, right away. You will find that you are not alone and in fact, are in excellent company.
About the author
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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