The Shy Girl’s Guide to Speaking Up at Work

You’re a driven, goal-oriented and passionate collegiette, and you’ve just landed your first real job. That’s a major accomplishment in and of itself, so give yourself a pat on the back. You walk through the door in a crisp pantsuit with flawless makeup, feeling on top of the world. With a bright smile, you greet your boss and shake hands, ready to start the day – that is, until you notice the curious eyes of your coworkers burning holes into your back. Unfortunately, as the day goes on, the stress of workplace communication really starts to kick in – especially since you’re quite fresh-faced and a little timid.

Introverted people, while having provided some of the most intellectually astounding theories in human history, often have difficulty communicating their ideas. That difficulty is exacerbated by the highly collaborative environment of the workplace. Fortunately, for all the shy collegiettes out there, we’ve talked with experts and students on college campuses with the same anxieties as you to create your go-to guide for workplace interactions.

1. Find people who make you feel comfortable

When you start working, it’s easy to feel like any conversation makes you uncomfortable, especially when you have a soft-spoken personality. As you find your way around the workplace, you’ll realize which of your co-workers you can relate to most. Maybe you’re binging the same Netflix shows, or they’ve played the piano for ten years just like you. Latch on to those people and really get to know them. If you have people you trust and can talk normally with in the workplace, you’ll begin to feel much more comfortable in general. Work friends definitely would be willing to help you adapt to the environment and enjoy your time at work.

Ashley Drayton, who graduated from Georgia State University in 2015, encourages you to build genuine relationships at work. “As a quiet girl, it's hard to build up the courage to express your opinions at work, but I've learned it's helpful to go to someone you feel comfortable speaking with first,” she advises. “Since I've built genuine relationships with the management team, my introvert personality isn't as bad at work anymore. If there was ever a problem or the managers needed opinions, they are open to hearing what I have to say and trust my opinion because of our work relationship and my work ethic.”

Apart from finding friends that make you comfortable, check if your company offers any mentoring programs. Susan P. Joyce, an online job search expert and owner of job-hunt.org, encourages you to find a mentor. “Finding a mentor and building a solid relationship with them is a great way to grow communication skills,” she says. “After time, mentors become a safe place where you can disclose information and get advice on your opinion before sharing it with others.”

Remember, your job is supposed to be an enriching experience! Connect with people that will help further your career goals.

2. Ask questions

The easiest way to become an active participant at a collaborative event is to simply ask a question. A question isn’t an intimidating form of communication, as it relies less on original content but rather the words of the speaker at the event. If you have any doubts, always clarify them with a question. It allows you to engage in the discussion and alert others in the room that you aren’t afraid to contribute – perhaps giving you an opening to further voice your opinion later in the meeting.

Especially when you first join the workplace, ask questions soon and often. Simple questions like “how do I log on to the company website?” or “could you explain that project in greater detail?” can open up avenues of discussion for you to ultimately benefit from. If it’s difficult for you to ask a question, work on asking questions to people you feel comfortable with first. Then, when you feel better accustomed, start asking questions to your superiors.

3. Practice and prepare

When you have to present on a topic at a meeting or simply want to speak about something with your co-workers, prepare in advance. It’s an extra step that extroverts might not have to do, but it actually organizes your thoughts and keeps your mind sharp. You won’t blank on the spot and you’ll be less nervous, too. Practice with your SO, friend or family member to get accustomed to speaking about the topic. You can even look at plans for a meeting beforehand and formulate potential questions or comments you could add to the discussion.

Joyce lets you know how to prepare for both a planned meeting and spontaneous discussions. “Being prepared is an introvert's friend. If you know you’re going into a group meeting with many extroverted personalities, write down a few bullet points you want to discuss. Make a goal for yourself to voice at least one or two of those thoughts before leaving the meeting,” she says. “When you’re in a spontaneous situation, it becomes more of an internal process. Take a moment to collect your thoughts, breathe, and listen for a moment to jump in when you’re most comfortable.”

Destinye Barnes-Hall, a junior at the University of Texas at San Antonio, agrees that preparation is helpful. “I myself am an introvert and my biggest piece of advice is to prepare what you want to say when you speak to your boss or your peers. Have it ready, so you aren't stumbling for words and about to break into hives,” she says. “Take a deep breath because you can do this!” If you still feel nervous, don’t be afraid to bring a few notes with you – it’s okay to read off a notepad at a meeting.

4. Be a good listener

As an introverted person, talking may not be your strong point. However, you can take pride in your listening skills. In today’s world, most people’s “listening” consists of waiting for their turn to talk and an occasional glance at their phone. You, on the other hand, really dig into a speaker’s words and actually pay attention, offering eye contact and gestures – a simple and effective skill that’s become something of a lost art.

Joyce acknowledges that listening skills give quiet personalities a step-up in the workplace. “Introverts may be quiet and shy, but this gives them the ability to listen intently,” she says. “Sometimes extroverts end up talking too much or talking over one another. However, introverts are able to listen and better understand goals, expectations, what’s happening in the office that could get them to the next level, or simply effectively listen to a client’s needs.”

That’s a great advantage you have as an introvert, and don’t be afraid to flaunt it. Whenever you have a conversation, don’t feel obligated to jut in all the time. Let the other person talk, and he or she will appreciate you for your attentiveness. It’s less stressful for you and leaves a great impression on your co-worker, which will in turn improve your work performance.

Katy Palmer, a graduate of Loyola Marymount University, agrees on the quiet power of listening. “I show up to the office, meeting, network event, job review and commit to reacting in real time,” she says. “If I’m listening and reacting, I won’t be stuck worrying about what to say next. Not only will I show off my true personality when chatting, but I’ll stand out by simply being myself.”

Related: 7 Skills That Make You a Better Employee, No Matter Your Job

5. Don’t be afraid to innovate

Many companies stagnate after long periods of no change. As a new worker with a young, ambitious mindset, suggest ways to better the system. With a shy personality, it can be difficult to act against the status quo, but it’s really not as hard as you think. You can innovate in small ways that exemplify your talents. For example, if you have web design experience, tell someone that you’d like to update the company website, as you think it could be more accessible for customers. It doesn’t have to be a whole speech and doesn’t even have to be in front of all of your co-workers. If public speaking makes you nervous and you feel more comfortable speaking one-on-one, pull someone aside and share your ideas.

Alicia Nagla, a senior at the University of Denver, tells her success story that she accomplished by speaking up. “I had always been extremely introverted and had a really hard time making myself heard,” she says. “I first pushed myself to start speaking up with my direct supervisor and took baby steps to talking to bigger groups of people. Before I knew it, I was addressing a staff of 50+ employees at once and running meetings every week.” Alicia did it, and so can you.

Even if you’re stuck fetching coffee or making copies most of the day, you can still be bold and offer new ideas. That’s how you make a difference in the company and show that you’re not the average worker. You know that your ideas are valuable – you just have to prove that to your team.

6. Embrace conflict

With a shy personality, you probably don’t like confrontation much. In fact, it seems really scary. However, disagreements in the workplace can actually enhance productivity by generating new viewpoints and finding the best way to handle a problem. If you meekly sit back and don’t voice your opinion when you disagree with the majority, you might miss a major opportunity to increase productivity and get a jump-start on your career. Still, despite all the benefits, it’s hard to get through confrontation as a quiet person.

Joyce gives you a quick solution. “Conflict in the workplace is uncomfortable for most people, but to introverts, it feels painful,” she says. “While your first line of defense may be to avoid the situation until it goes away, the best thing to do is get a third party involved. Managers will act as mediators within the conflicted group. This way, the heavy weight of attention and uncomfortable tension isn’t all on your shoulders."

When conflict comes your way, don’t back off. Get a manager to help mediate tension and encourage discussion. Use conflict to your team’s advantage and create a sounding board for your ideas. You might just hit on exactly what the company is looking for – and if not, you’ll still be able to receive some great feedback.

7. Don’t force yourself to be extroverted

While it’s great to talk with your co-workers and build essential relationships, you don’t have to force yourself to be as outgoing as possible. As a naturally shy or anxious person, planning too many events and saying ‘yes’ to too many weekend plans will eventually tire you out. You need time to recharge – make that time a priority for you.

Your team needs extroverts, but it needs people like you as well. You can work diligently and independently without having to rely on constant back-and-forth with others. That is a skill in and of itself, and integral to your company’s success. Remember that and take pride in your unique skill set, making sure to get your alone time to work successfully.

Monica Perez, a sophomore at Florida Atlantic University, notes that working independently helps your co-workers take you seriously. “You shouldn’t be scared of talking to people at a higher level than you. If you’re not someone who speaks up much, complains, or ask for things then they will see you as responsible and independent. When the time comes for you to speak up, they will definitely take you seriously.”

8. Be confident

Don’t forget that you were chosen for your position. You didn’t just waltz in, but were handpicked from what was most likely a long list of candidates. Your boss interviewed you and thought you would genuinely add something to his or her team – whether it was creativity, a new perspective, or otherwise. Keep that in mind as you interact with co-workers. You are there for a reason, and your personal contributions matter. Be confident, and let that confidence radiate from you. Your co-workers will notice and treat you with respect.

You are a strong woman, and you deserve to have your voice heard – regardless of your position in the workplace. Never forget to speak up when you feel you could contribute to a discussion. Ramisa Chowdhury, a sophomore at Palm Beach State College, agrees that speaking up is important in the workplace. “Most employers actually appreciate it if you speak up. They see it as taking initiative and take you more seriously. Especially if you work hard, they like you more. My managers love me and I love them – it makes our professional relationship a lot easier because I know I can go to them if I have any problems.”

It’s a win-win scenario – you improve both your work performance and relationships, while taking initiative and getting your valuable ideas out there. Good luck, collegiettes! Don’t let a little shyness keep you from excelling. Use it to your advantage and show the world that you can make a difference no matter where you work.