I’ve been posting a lot about feedback - asking for feedback, implementing feedback, making assessments and seeing how you can up your game. Today, a little honestly and a more personal story. I’m sharing how I 100% did not take that advice for a long time.
It’s true. For years (YEARS!) I got the same feedback from peers, managers and my team and I actively ignored it. In fact, I defended myself from it.
The feedback? That I could speak up more often. This request for more outward expression was given to me in the most encouraging and supportive ways from my manager and my peers. Things like:
- “You have so much to share and I’d like to hear your voice in our meeting more often.”
- “I’ve learned so much from you and I’d love to hear you step up and speak up more frequently.”
- “Courtney is a good manager but I’d like to her her talk more about her thoughts on the team and our discipline.”
Nice, right? My team was inviting me to step up to the podium. Share more! We’re here for it!
My response? Nope.
I had a million reasons. For one, I was an introvert. Hadn’t anyone else read Quiet by Susan Cain? I reserved my right to be smart and insightful and quiet. And besides! plenty of smart people on the team said smart things. Usually we could barely cram in all the smart commentary into each meeting - so, I didn’t need to add to that. And what difference will I make anyway? I don’t have revolutionary things to share. Besides, aren’t too many people talking too much as it is? We could all do with a little more thoughtfulness and consideration before we opened our traps actually. Instead of me speaking up more, maybe other people should quiet down!
And that’s how I defended myself around these (kind, supportive) pieces of feedback. Sigh.
Underneath my perfectly reasonable and blaming defense, I was actually scared. I was honestly terrified to say something dumb. I didn’t feel up to par with the brilliant people I worked with. I often felt I was last in the pack trying to keep up with the gang. While was true that I did like to have more time to process my thoughts before speaking, I was also unwilling to take the risk of saying something that wasn’t a fully formed fully magnificent remark. What if I said something that was too obvious or just plain dumb? I might lose respect or professional standing. I was happy to give other people the leeway of working things out in conversation, but that wasn’t my way (I told myself). I’m just happy to be here. And opening my mouth might get me booted out.
I suppose I hadn’t developed the habit of speaking in meetings, either. So, some days I’d gather my courage, determined to get in a few points. This was going to be the day! Aaaand, I couldn’t quite jump into the pool. Or as my coach would say, I hadn’t developed the confident body that would allow me to take the action I intended.
Ufff. True. I needed a low-stakes “speak-up boot camp”.
So finally, after getting the same feedback (for years, my friends, Y. E. A. R. S.) I knew it was time to change. My professional growth was on the line if I didn’t take action. I signed up to run a mentoring circle for folks new to the company. I figured new employees were usually desperate to get insights, guidance, friends — and I could do that. The first meeting, everyone had arrived, waiting patiently for me to dive in and lead the conversation. I jumped into the pool—by having other people introduce themselves and tell me about their backgrounds. Well, it was the first of many turning points.
Secondly, I started developing the body to be able to speak up. This meant that I challenged myself to speak up in every meeting. Not a sidebar chat to person next to me, but speak loudly to the room. So, even if we were waiting for the meeting to start, I’d sometimes just state a fact. “It’s cold in here. Do you think it’s cold?” I combined this with sitting AT the conference table spreading out my notebook, coffee cup and some pens like I belonged there (instead of the row of benches behind the table that was my safe place). If someone sat next to me, I would not rush to gather my notes or tuck my coffee cup closer. I called it meeting-spreading. Creating a space for myself in the meeting. I started to relax. My body was learning that I belonged.
I gave more presentations. I started to practice my meeting openings at home - standing, walking, or moving my gaze around the room. I tried actively facilitating instead of having my eyes locked onto my laptop screen reading PowerPoint slides. I practiced taking feedback from my uncomfortably honest 7-year old (brutal).
With all of these practices, I become more aware of how I show up in my life - and where I do not. When do I speak up? When do I flake out? How does that impact the quality of my relationships and how do I feel about it? What’s possible if I’m willing to show up more fully not just in meetings but in every aspect? More truthful, less varnished, more vulnerable and more extension?
My career took off. I can honestly say work was more fun. I felt invested - after all, I was in the game. I built more confidence, taking on bigger projects, meeting new teammates or leaders with more enthusiasm. Did I say things that were “dumb”? Maybe? Who knows? But I felt the shift and was encouraged to step up more frequently.
Today I lead workshops, I speak at conferences. It’s quite fun and while I still get jitters now and again, I’m glad I took the feedback.