Welcome to another edition of “Ask DrGraham,” my online newsletter addressing common client questions. Every other week I’m sharing my answer to one work-related question, offering recommendations based on experience and grounded in research.

This week I’m responding to a common leadership concern. This question centers on how introverts can confidently contribute in meetings without pretending to be someone they’re not. My response provides some proven strategies for both ambitious introverts and executives focused on helping next-generation leaders reach their full potential.

Dear Dr. Graham:

I’m not sure how to follow my manager’s advice. He wants me to contribute more in meetings to promote my leadership skills. After our team meetings I tell him my ideas, and he says, “Why didn’t you share this?” But I have to think things through, and there’s never a pause for me to say anything anyway. How should I handle this?

 Ambitious Introvert

Dear Ambitious,

Congratulations on your ambition and your great ideas. First, kudos to you for not trying to be someone you’re not. You won’t come across as authentic if you pretend to be an extrovert. But I would also suggest some tactics you can use to increase your confidence and contributions. Here’s what has worked for my clients in similar situations:

  • Ask the meeting organizer for an agenda before the meeting. If that’s not available, ask about the meeting’s subject matter. Explain that you like to prepare ahead. Then do so, considering whether there’s something you’d like to contribute.
  • If you have an idea, tell the organizer before the meeting, or as the group is gathering, that you have something to share. He or she may be willing to write you into the agenda or ask you to speak.
  • Remember that contributing to a meeting is not always about offering ideas. A thought-provoking question can be of high value. You might say, “Julia, I know you have worked in ABC department. Did you encounter anything like this there?” Or, “Does anyone see any barriers to this policy that we haven’t talked about?”
  • If your meetings consist of extroverts happily talking over each other, use body language to gain attention. Sit up and lean forward. Raise your hand a time or two. Another attendee will likely note your body language and interrupt on your behalf.
  • If your best ideas come immediately after a meeting, consider sending an email to participants, briefly explaining that you’ve been pondering all the good points made in the meeting and want to share an idea that just occurred to you.

Again, don’t try to be someone you are not. I have coached many exemplary leaders who happen to be introverts. Many of them found their “voice” after setting — and achieving — a series of small goals aimed at sharing their expertise. Your first goal might be to make one contribution to the next meeting. Your second goal might be to speak twice at the following meeting, and so on. You might be surprised at how quickly participants start soliciting your input, and your manager starts smiling, because — just as he predicted — your leadership skills are being recognized.

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