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Overcoming the ‘quiet person’ label

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in Workplace Communication

“Although I’m viewed positively at work, I believe my reserved demeanor is holding me back. I’m not shy, but I have trouble making small talk. In meetings, I give input whenever I’m asked, but seldom volunteer information. Although I prefer working alone at my computer, I know that won’t get me anywhere. Can you suggest some communication strategies for meetings and social situations?” — Not a Talker

Making small talk at a social event and speaking up at a meeting require two different kinds of gumption. Tips for managing both settings:

Socially, the best conversation-starter is a question that shows interest in the other person, advises workplace consultant Marie McIntyre. However, you must be specific. “If you say, ‘How are things at work?’ the likely answer is ‘fine,’” she says.

“Asking ‘What’s the biggest challenge on your project?’ or ‘How have you been affected by the budget cuts?’ will produce a more detailed response.”

To move past work topics, ask about family, pets, vacations or current events. “Avoid potentially offensive subjects like religion and politics,” she says. “Too many questions can resemble an interrogation, so be sure to share your own experiences as well.”

In meetings, you may fear saying something stupid or inappropriate. “But if you’re knowledgeable about the topic, that’s highly unlikely,” McIntyre says. “To get your expertise recognized, just take the plunge and speak up. Your anxiety will eventually diminish.”

Finally, be sure to appreciate your natural strengths: “Quieter folks are valued for their calming presence and willingness to listen. And when they do speak, everyone listens.”

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