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

an introvert at work

Introverts don’t enjoy small talk or bragging about their accomplishments, so sometimes they get overlooked in favor of people who do.

Like many introverts, I struggled with making friends and socializing during college. The mere thought of group projects filled me with dread. I chose classes with minimal public speaking and class participation requirements, concentrating solely on studying hard, alone, to get good grades.

However, a job presented a more serious challenge. As graduation loomed on the horizon, I worried about fitting into a corporate environment. It wouldn’t be as easy to sidestep social situations as I had in school.

And I wasn’t wrong. Indeed, entering the corporate world felt like stepping into the belly of a fearsome beast. I had no idea how to behave at all. Constantly worried about seeming ignorant or stupid, I found it difficult to speak up in meetings. If I ever deigned to add to the conversation, my voice came out as a meek whisper. When my colleagues wanted to go out dancing, drinking, and partying, I said no until they got annoyed and stopped inviting me.

Inevitably, when my first performance review came around, my boss focused on these issues. Her exact words: “You don’t speak up enough.”

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‘You Don’t Speak Up Enough’

Even though I was doing excellent work, she said, hardly anyone in the company knew about it because I was quiet in meetings and didn’t socialize with my team. Inevitably, over time, they would conclude that I was an incompetent buffoon. Well, she put it more nicely 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 that could transform me into an extrovert.

The 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 narrow comfort zones.

Introverts Don’t Brag About Their Accomplishments

As a result, introverts may not live up to the expectations of our role. Even though we introverts know our stuff and are good at our jobs, we may not come across as competent to our bosses or coworkers.

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, it seems they go to some extrovert who is better at schmoozing and socializing, someone who goes drinking with the bosses more than you do.

Career Advice for Introverts

Eventually, after years of receiving the same hurtful feedback about my quiet personality and being passed over for promotions, I realized something: If I couldn’t change myself from an introvert to an extrovert, and I couldn’t change the corporate culture to be more accepting of me, then I had to do something else to make myself visible.

Ideally, maybe you would start your own business, 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. You can make yourself more visible at work without having to transform yourself into a social butterfly or fake extroversion.

1. Email is your best friend.

Like me, if you struggle to speak up in meetings or have a hard time boasting to your boss, then send her an email. After all, writing tends to be easier than speaking for many introverts. And if you’re bold enough, CC your colleagues. 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.

For example, let’s say you just finished an important project a day early. Keep your email short and sweet, and use a casual tone. It’s like you’re just casually letting everyone know about some news that could benefit them. You might write something like:

Just wanted to give you a heads up that I’ve wrapped up the project earlier than expected. This means we’ve got some extra time to go over it and make any tweaks if needed. Eager to hear what you all think!

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 take some time to plan what I want to say. This approach ensures that I have at least one thing to share with the group, so I’m not just sitting there dumbly when my boss inevitably asks, “Do you have anything to add?”

It could be as simple as jotting down a few notes about a question you’ve been pondering or an update you feel is important for your team. By preparing in advance, you can contribute meaningfully without the pressure of thinking on the spot.

3. Join a social group.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking: “I’m an introvert! I just want to go home after work. At the end of the day, I don’t have the energy to talk to more people.” I completely understand, as I felt the same way. But honestly, if you’re interested in growing within the company and not missing out on opportunities, some networking is necessary.

Social groups that work well for introverts allow us to stay mostly in the background. For instance, I’m not into going to bars to drink, but I do enjoy organizing social events. So, I was part of the work social club, responsible for organizing events, while someone else (usually an extrovert) handled the actual socializing.

Other good social groups for introverts include those with a specific structure or goal. For example, you could join a workplace book club or a volunteering group. When the group has a clear focus or objective, it reduces the need for small talk, making it easier to engage without feeling exhausted.

Even better, create a social group that resonates with you. A few years ago, when I joined a company, I noticed there wasn’t a women’s group, so I started one. This move was seen as very progressive, and as a result, people began asking me about other innovative ideas I had. I appeared to be a go-getter, even though I am not really that sort of person.

4. The person who asks the most questions wins.

Often, even when I don’t have anything important to add, I ask a question. It gives me something to say, shifts the attention to me, and colleagues are usually glad to answer straightforward questions. It’s a simple tactic and doesn’t push me too far out of my comfort zone as an introvert.

Sometimes, I consider what questions other people in the meeting might have but are hesitant to ask. Other times, I ask questions to clarify something the speaker said or just to satisfy my own curiosity.

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.

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

In one of my roles, I became this person, and I noticed my boss started relying on me more because I took on the tasks everyone else avoided. It suited me just fine. It was a way to draw attention to myself without having to do too much.

For example, once we needed to organize a dinner event for VIP guests in London, and I was in Toronto at the time. Nobody wanted to take on the task, so I volunteered. Being a big food enthusiast, I actually found it fun to look through pictures of food and select beautiful high-end restaurants in London. This worked out well for my colleagues who didn’t like the stress of organizing such a big event.

So, look for jobs that others don’t want to do. Your boss will remember you if you step up and take care of these annoying tasks. It’s a good way to show you’re helpful and willing to do your part.

Introverts, I hope these tips help you see your strengths and talents. We introverts may not be the loudest voices in the room, but we are incredibly valuable employees who have a lot to offer.

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