As an introvert, how many times have you been coached to "find your voice"? Or warned not to be too quiet in meetings? To be heard? I used to think that was a prerequisite for being a great leader and for having a seat at the table. For introverts, that feedback can be daunting.
Personally, I've heard that advice way too many times over the course of my career journey. In the beginning, it used to freeze me up. I felt like I had lost something that needed to be found. That advice was wrong. Very wrong.
Denise, a great coach and mentor of mine, once gave me an amazing gift, which I still remember today. It's a piece of advice that I want to share with you. When I told her I was working on "finding my voice," she asked, "Aren't you an introvert?" I answered yes, which is why I had to find that voice that everyone told me about. Apparently I was too quiet. To be a leader I had to be heard. I believed I needed to change, as I wanted to be a great leader.
Denise then asked me if I had thoughts running through my head. I said yes -- a million of them at any one time. That's how I absorb information, process it and make it mine. That processing piece is why I'm quiet in meetings. This, by the way, is typical for most introverts -- we live in our heads noodling on many thoughts.
Finding is Different From Choosing
"When someone tells you to find your voice, that advice is coming from a position of weakness," Denise explained. "You should come from a position of strength. You didn't lose anything. You're processing, and you are in your head. What you can do is choose which voice you want to be heard. You have a million thoughts flying around from which to choose. That is a position of strength."
I liked that. I wanted to come from a position of strength. Feeling like I had to find something to say put me on my heels in a defensive position. It was uncomfortable. It actually caused more stress when I was in a large meeting to continually think I had to find something to say. It made me exhausted. I missed key points, as I remained in my head, worrying too much about what I was planning to say. Has this happened to you?
Choices Bring Energy and Confidence
Now knowing I have so many options of thoughts I can choose to share is energizing. If I agree with the general flow of the dialogue, I will share that perspective and why. If I disagree or want to inject further thoughts, I can choose from several floating in my head. I feel empowered.
You Don't have to be Perfect
Oh! I almost forgot; you don't have to have a fully baked thought in order to share it. That was another piece of great advice. Just express that you are "noodling" on this thought or that you are "exploring potential options" and want their initial feedback. Wow -- that was liberating. This process invited others to add to my thinking. That was a gift! In addition, this ability to share without a perfectly formed idea encourages others to take risks too. They begin to share earlier and are more open to feedback.
By Choosing and Sharing We Learn Together
As an introvert who spends a ton of time in my head, I no longer have to find my voice. I just select which "voice" I want to be heard. I share my thoughts as I noodle on them to allow others to inject and further refine my thinking. It's fun.
As a leader, this process allows my team to know how I am processing the information they are sharing. It builds their confidence and we learn together as a team.
Now It's Your Turn to Choose
So my advice to fellow introverts: don't waste time trying to find your voice. Just reach inside your busy mind and choose what you want to share. You have a ton to offer. Most importantly there are many people waiting to hear what you have to say. Go for it!