Finding the courage to speak up
Q. Being somewhat shy, I find it difficult to speak up during meetings. Simply asking a question makes me uncomfortable, so I never volunteer information or express an opinion. However, I’m concerned that my reluctance to participate will eventually limit my career options. I’m planning to sign up for Toastmasters, but do you have any other advice?
A. Barriers to participation can be external or internal. External obstacles might include highly critical colleagues or excessive talkers who dominate every discussion. To tackle those problems, the reluctant speaker must become less sensitive or more assertive or both.
Unfamiliar or intimidating surroundings can also inhibit conversation. New hires, for example, may participate sparingly until their environment becomes more comfortable. Similarly, people invited to higher-level meetings may initially be unsure about how they are expected to contribute.
But for a “somewhat shy” person, the hurdles are more likely to be internal. One common mental block is the fear of saying something stupid. For reticent folks, the prospect of sharing untested thoughts increases anxiety and reduces the desire to speak. Once the moment has passed, however, they often regret the missed opportunity.
To break this cycle, remember that your highly cautious nature greatly reduces the odds of your blurting out an inappropriate remark. Also, remind yourself that you are in these meetings for a reason. If you withhold useful information, you are shirking your responsibility to help the group succeed.
While changing your self-talk will be helpful, the only way to reduce your anxiety is to do the thing you fear. Therefore, joining Toastmasters is a wise move. At work, look for low-risk opportunities to participate and then begin making a few comments. After awhile, you may find that you actually enjoy being an active contributor.
Q. After being laid off from my previous job, I was recruited by a temp agency for a long-term assignment with a very good company. Unfortunately, I had to leave that position after only three months when an unexpected medical problem required complex surgery.
My recovery is now complete, but the temp agency won’t return my calls. I assume they no longer want my services because they view me as a health risk. This makes me reluctant to include them on my resume. How should I explain all this during interviews?
A. First, remember that you have absolutely no obligation to discuss your medical history with interviewers. However, when they ask what you’ve been doing for the past few months, you must be prepared to give a brief, truthful response.
For example, you might say something like “After being laid off, I decided to delay my job search because I had some personal matters to attend to. I did take one temporary assignment, but now I’m looking forward to returning to work full-time.” Then explain why you are interested in the available position.
As for your resume, there’s no need to mention the agency. Since you only had one placement, simply list the company where you worked for three months. In reality, most employers will be much more interested in the rest of your work history.
Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.”