I’m kind of shy. I don’t love to talk and I’m really only comfortable talking freely with people I know well. My marketing company is full of loud mouth extroverts and I have a hard time getting a word in edgewise. What’s worse is I’m very junior at this company. I’ve only been here about 6 months and I feel pressured to have an opinion on things I don’t fully understand yet. The worst times are in staff and team meetings. They are loud and fast paced and I feel overwhelmed just keeping up, let alone speaking up. It’s not like I’m sitting on great ideas and afraid to say them, mostly I’m worried about sounding stupid and speaking up with nothing to say. I guess what I’m asking is how do I balance not having an opinion with the continued pressure to say something (anything) and if being brash is not my strong suit, am I maybe in the wrong industry?
Have you ever seen Ever After? I have a point, I promise. In this excellent movie, consummate boss bitch Angelica Houston plays the “evil stepmother” character (a complete bitch boss). At one point she says to her daughter “do not speak unless you can improve the silence.” Now, I know what you’re thinking; she’s the villain, should we really be listening to her? And maybe I’m not supposed to think this is excellent advice. Maybe I’m supposed to see this as stifling and antiquated (this is a feminist retelling of Cinderella after all), but I don’t. If silence is not your choice, that’s one thing. But in a world where dozens of blowhard presidential wannabes are televised fighting with one another and battling to the death over who can talk in the most circles while saying the least, I think there’s a lot to be said for silence and actually considering what you say. When every word is scrutinized and immortalized on the Internet forever, maybe silence and thoughtful consideration deserve more attention. Maybe it’s time for a silence renaissance. Power to the sound of silence! I’m getting off track.
What I’m saying is, don’t speak just to have said something. We all know that one jerk who just talks to hear the sound of his own voice. If you don’t have anything to say then don’t say anything. If you do have something to say and you’re fighting with your own nerves over sounding stupid, that is another story. In my experience the people who are worried about saying something stupid, don’t tend to say many stupid things. It’s the guy who thinks his vocal shit don’t stink that you have to watch out for. You know the type. You can just hear self-satisfaction oozing from every word he says. Do you hate that guy? I do. Don’t be that guy.
So I think there are two eventualities in your future. 1) As you get more comfortable with your work and form more lasting relationships with your co-workers, your team meetings will feel less like playing catch up and you’ll have more time and brain space to devote to your own contributions. As this alleviates I think you’ll worry less about HAVING to talk and start to be an organic part of the discussion. Or 2). You’ll continue to battle the loudmouths to get a word in edgewise. This is the more difficult road, obviously. If this is the case I recommend keeping Ron Swanson levels of silence. Stare those suckers down until your silence is your ally and your weapon. Not really. Fight to be heard if you have something to say, but don’t force it. Let the loudmouths tire themselves out and sweep in with the solution like a calm rational marketing ninja. Either way, if you like your work then of course you aren’t in the wrong industry. There’s room for us introverts in every field.