When Your Boss Says, ‘You Don’t Speak Up Enough’

an introvert not speaking up at work

Introverts don’t brag about their accomplishments or holler their expertise in meetings, so sometimes they get overlooked for people who do.

One of the concerns I had as a younger introvert was how I was going to function in a corporate environment when the time came for it. I had barely been able to deal with all the social requirements of high school and college. It had been stressful, to say the least. The thought of group activities still causes goosebumps to crop up all over my body.

However, a job is a much more serious affair. It wouldn’t be as easy to avoid certain things as it was in school. In college, I enrolled only in courses that minimized group presentations and class participation, and I focused entirely on studying really hard (alone) to get great grades. My academic years had nothing to do with extracurricular activities. I spent a lot of my time focused on solo activities like swimming and yoga.

As soon as I entered the corporate world, I knew I had entered the belly of a fearsome beast indeed. I had no idea how to behave at all. I was worried all the time that I would come across as stupid or clueless, because I had a hard time speaking up in meetings. My voice came out as a meek whisper (if I ever deigned to add to the conversation). And I spent all my time saying no to my extroverted colleagues who wanted to go out drinking, dancing, partying, or bowling.

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‘You Don’t Speak Up Enough’

Inevitably one of my first performance reviews focused on this exact issue. My boss said I didn’t speak up enough. Even though I was doing excellent work, she said, no one else in the company would have a clue about it — and they’d conclude that I was an incompetent buffoon. Well, she said it nicer than that, but that’s what I heard.

Once again I started lamenting to myself about the trials and tribulations of being an introvert. If only there was a legal pill I could take that would transform me into an extrovert.

Truth is, being an introvert in the corporate world is akin to being a fish out of water. It’s highly uncomfortable for many of us introverts to be in such an environment, in part because a lot of our colleagues are extroverts. (Supposedly about 50% of the population is extroverted, although I swear that percentage is higher in the corporate world.) Thus, all the trappings of extroverted culture — meetings, presentations, group work, and more — force us introverts out of our very narrow comfort zones.

As a result, introverts may not live up to the expectations of our role. Even though we know our stuff, and we’re good at our jobs, we may not come across to our bosses or colleagues as competent. Why? We don’t chit chat about our accomplishments. We don’t holler our knowledge in meetings. And we don’t boast about working overtime to our higher ups.

We might work as hard, or even harder than anyone else. But no one sees it, or at least they don’t hear about it.

Inevitably, when it comes to promotions or opportunities, they go to some extrovert who is better at socializing, someone who goes drinking with the bosses more than you do.

How to Make Yourself More Visible, the Introverted Way

Eventually, after years of struggling in my corporate position, I realized that if I can’t change myself from an introvert to an extrovert, and I can’t change corporate culture to be more accepting of me, then I have to do something else in order to make myself visible.

I mean, ideally, you would start your own business or do your own thing, where you don’t have to work in a corporate position anymore. But if that isn’t your thing, or it’s just not practical for you right now, then here are some tips for you.

1. Email is your best friend.

Like me, if you struggle to speak up in meetings, or you have a hard time boasting to your boss, then send her an email. And CC your colleagues, if you’re bold enough. It’s about sharing your accomplishments with others in a format that works for you. Don’t overdo it, though — maybe just once a week.

2. Plan what you’re going to say.

Of course, being spontaneous would be nice, but it doesn’t usually work well for us introverts. So, before a meeting, I planned what I wanted to say. It meant that at least I would have that one thing to share with the group, and I wouldn’t be dumbly sitting there, waiting for someone to rescue me when my boss asked the inevitable: “Do you have anything to add?”

3. Join a social club or group.

Yes, yes, I know what you’re going to say: “I’m an introvert! I want to go home after work. At the end of the day, I don’t have the energy to talk to more people.” I get it, because I felt that way, too. But seriously, if you’re interested in growing with the company and not losing out on opportunities, some networking is necessary.

The kinds of social groups that work well for us introverts allow us to mostly stay in the background. For example, I don’t like to go to bars or pubs and drink, but I do like to organize social events themselves. So I was part of the social club at work, in charge of organizing the events, but someone else (usually the extrovert) would be the one in charge of the actual socializing.

Do you ever struggle to know what to say?

As an introvert, you actually have the ability to be an amazing conversationalist — even if you’re quiet and hate small talk. To learn how, we recommend this online course from our partner Michaela Chung. Click here to check out the Introvert Conversation Genius course.

4. Even better, create a social group that jives with you.

A few years ago, I joined a company and realized that they didn’t have a women’s group, so I created one. It was looked upon as really forward-thinking and brave of me, and as a result, people asked me about other innovative things that I could share with them. I came across as a go-getter, even though I am not really that sort of person.

5. The person who asks the most questions wins.

A lot of times, even if I have nothing important to add to the situation, I will ask a question. It’s something to say, it puts the attention on you, and the presenters or colleagues are always happy to field some easy questions. It’s easy to do and it won’t take you too far out of your introvert comfort zone.

6. Volunteer for the projects no one else wants to do.

In one of my roles, I was this person, and I noticed that my boss started relying on me more and more because I did the jobs that everyone else despised. It was all right with me. It was a way for me to put the spotlight on me without really doing much.

For example, one time we had to organize a dinner event for our VIP guests in London (I was in Toronto at the time), and no one wanted to do it. So I volunteered. Being a major foodie, looking through pictures of food and beautiful high-end restaurants in London ended up being fun for me — and it worked out for my colleagues who didn’t like the craze of organizing such a large event.

Introvert, I hope these tips will help you shine the light on your talents and abilities. We are not the boldest of beings out there, but we are still valuable employees.

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