Can You Succeed as a Quiet Employee?
By Pira Kumarasamy
In the workplace, it’s a common belief that the person who speaks the loudest, the most frequently, and with the most conviction is the smartest person in the room. What if that belief simply isn’t the reality? What if that person simply feels the need to fill the silence with words while the smartest person in the room sits quietly in the corner observing? This is my story.
I’ve always seen my shyness as a weakness. In fact, I recently had an employer tell me that if I didn't speak up more often in meetings, the other meeting attendees wouldn’t understand why I was present. The fact that I was engaging non-verbally by listening and taking good notes didn’t matter because I didn’t say enough words. I felt undervalued, misinterpreted and generally unsure of whether my role was the right fit for me and my quiet personality.
Speaking up in a large group is not something that comes naturally to me, and I suspect I’m not the only one. The good news is that quiet employees don’t simply need to get by in the workplace; they can thrive. It all comes down to knowing yourself and learning how you work best. Here are a few ways I’ve learned to not completely overcome, but work with my quiet nature.
I prepare in advance: As someone who is quiet, I often feel anxious about being put on the spot and saying something I haven’t had the opportunity to research, think about and extensively review. I’ve learned to work with this by asking in advance if I can cover a specific topic in a meeting. This way, I’m able to collect my thoughts and feel more confident when it’s my turn to speak.
I found a role that plays to my strengths: Working in an environment where the underlying goal was always to sell, I felt like a fish out of water. When choosing my subsequent role, I looked for something that didn’t involve a sales aspect and played to my quiet strengths like writing and research. As a result, I found that I could be myself and didn’t feel the pressure to take on an entirely different persona.
I cultivate relationships with my colleagues: Being quiet doesn’t have to mean being anti-social, but it can sometimes be perceived as such. Forging relationships with the people around you shows that you are willing to contribute to a positive team environment. I find one-on-one interactions about one hundred times more natural than large group interactions, so that’s where I’m able to make my mark and show my colleagues that I’m an enthusiastic team player.
I quietly contribute: To move up and excel in a workplace environment, you have to get noticed. Being quiet can make it more challenging to do so, but it’s definitely possible. I may not be the most vocal person at a meeting, but I try to compensate by contributing my thoughts and ideas in other ways. For instance, emails are a quiet person’s best friend so staying up-to-date on your industry and sending out emails with proactive responses and recommendations to news stories is a great way to be heard and show that you’re engaged.
No matter what your personality type may be, when it comes to happiness in the workplace, fit is important. When looking for a new role, ask questions about the type of personality your potential employer is looking for. If you are shy and terms like ‘extroverted’ and ‘salesperson’ come up in the conversation, it might not be the right role for you.
The employer I mentioned earlier would probably have preferred a more ‘sales-y’ personality, and that’s okay. It’s just not me. I’ve come to learn that though I can’t change my personality – nor should I have to – I can continue to be a solid, hardworking employee by finding ways to work with it. After all, the best workplaces embrace a spectrum of personality types, and give each one the opportunity to shine.