Question: “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
Marie’s Answer: Social events and meetings pose different challenges. In casual conversations, you’re not sure what to say. In meetings, you undoubtedly have much to contribute, but something holds you back. Here are suggestions for both settings:
• Socially, the best conversation-starter is a question that shows interest in the other person. However, you must be specific. If you say, “How are things at work?” the likely answer is “fine.” 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, inquire about family, pets, vacations or current events. Avoid potentially offensive subjects like religion and politics. 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. 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.