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

Introvert News & Highly Sensitive People News

by Boom Shikha,

One of the main 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 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.

But a job is a much more serious affair — it isn’t as easy to let things slide as it would have been in school. In college, I enrolled only in courses that avoided group presentations or activities, 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 all the extroverted colleagues who wanted to go out drinking, dancing, partying, or bowling.

‘You Don’t Speak Up Enough’

Of course, one of my first employee reviews was about that exact issue. I didn’t speak up enough, so my boss worried that even though she knew about the work I put into the company, no one else would have a clue about it — and they’d conclude I was an incompetent buffoon. Well, she said it nicer than that, but that’s what I heard.

So 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 convert me from an introvert to 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 introverts to be in such an environment, partly because many around us are extroverts (50% of the U.S. population, 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, it may not come across to our bosses or colleagues. Why? We don’t chit chat with colleagues 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 harder than everyone else around us. But no one sees it, or at least they don’t hear about it.

Inevitably, when it comes to promotions or interesting job 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

After years of struggling in my corporate position, eventually 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 more visible.

I mean, ideally, you would start your own business or do your own thing, where you don’t have to be a corporate slave anymore. But if that isn’t your thing, or 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, 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 impromptu would be nice, but that doesn’t usually work well for us introverts. So, before a meeting, I planned out 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?”


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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 social networking is necessary.

The kinds of social groups that work 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.

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

A few years ago, I joined a company and realized 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 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 brings the attention upon you, and the presenters or colleagues are always happy to field some easy questions. It’s easy to do and won’t take you too far out of your introvert shell.

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. Of course, 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 high-powered 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 highly competent, valuable employees. 

Introvert Dear

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