I just started a new full-time job two months ago—and for the first time since then, things are starting to click between my coworkers and me.
I have reached the point where I have no issues speaking up during meetings, sharing jokes, or acting like myself in general. In many ways I can attribute the change to my company’s laid-back work culture—but it’s also because of the decision I made to talk more at work.
Surely there’s a term for it—and if you know what it is, do leave a comment and share—but I’m what I call an introverted extrovert. I’ll act shy initially when situations intimidate me, but when I get comfortable enough I’ll loosen up more. For instance, I usually get anxious during off-the-cuff events like parties or meetings, but I used to slay in my college speech classes because I could rehearse and polish myself beforehand.
Problem is, most conversation on the job is off-the-cuff in some way. And for the first few weeks while I sat in silence during meetings and listened to everyone else voice their thoughts so eloquently, I realized something: this fear of talking at work is total BS.
My fear of talking stemmed from what others would think of me—and not even in a “she’s so unprofessional” way. It was more a fear that people would think I’m incompetent, inattentive, annoying, or undeserving of anyone’s time and attention. I’ll say it again: that’s complete and total BS. I was hired because of my capabilities in those very fields. And I’m confident enough to know I’m a damn fine communicator. So why, why would I do myself and my employer the disservice of not sharing my ideas, questions, or concerns?
The biggest issue is looking vulnerable. Surely people don’t want to expose any rawness from their innermost thoughts, especially when American culture so heavily favors toughness at work. But think about it: the best thinkers, parents, and bosses share their thoughts—however tender—with the people who rely on their guidance. Long story short, vulnerability is more engaging… and most importantly, it allows you to be yourself.
But if you’re not used to talking or showing vulnerability, there are two (yes, just two!) ways to get started with the whole “talking more at work” thing:
1. Be curious. Ask questions.
It can be as simple as asking for clarification. Asking questions proves your desire for understanding and solidifying details. Only the most unprofessional people would think you stupid for asking questions, and those are the people you definitely don’t want to work with anyway. Plus, if you’re new to your job (or an intern), you have zero excuses for not clarifying your job role, your company’s working relationships, who you ask about what, and so on.
Curiosity and questions can also take the form of simple emails to coworkers who peak your interest. Maybe they have a killer workflow you’d like to emulate, or they just returned from a cool event you want to attend someday (Burning Man, anyone?). People love when you call them out on their experience and expertise, and 99% of the time they’re happy to help you achieve it for yourself.
2. Share something—anything.
If you’re a private person, you don’t have to spill every intimate detail about the cute thing your boyfriend did yesterday or the weird dream you had last night involving Ryan Gosling and a bag of marshmallows. But if you work with the same people for 8+ hours a day, things should get a least a little personal. Instead of treating them like strangers, at least let them in to the next layer of your onion-like personality (the layer where you can talk openly about harmless hobbies or that time you tried to go raw vegan). You owe it to them to go one step further because it will make your workday exponentially more pleasant.
If nothing else, sharing details about your life builds rapport faster with your coworkers. For example, if I had not dared to share a meme with one of my colleagues in response to a request she had, I never would have learned that she loves memes as much as I do. If I was too afraid to share for fear that she might misunderstand or think it was stupid, we never would have bonded so quickly.
For introverts, implementing these two steps means starting small and making this practice a habit. Start talking more to the people who seem more approachable, and work your way up. And you’d better be working your way up, or I’ll find a way to give you crap for it.
Speaking of crap, acknowledge that this process of talking more at work will scare the crap out of you. My voice still gets shaky and I still stumble over words when I share personal details and ask complicated questions at work. Just own up to it—even while you’re talking. Tons of people will identify with that fear, and will respect you all the more for facing it. It says so much about your personal and professional demeanor when you’re willing to get uncomfortable in the name of personal growth.
So start talking. Because life is too short to tolerate the BS.