Some of you may be thinking “I know quiet leaders or quiet people who are not effective. They don’t talk to people, they go off and do their own thing and we don’t know what they’re thinking most of the time.”
It is true. Being quiet does not always equal Quietly Powerful. It depends on why someone is quiet. If you feel disempowered in some way because of your quiet nature, you may wish to consider the following.
Seek feedback that can lead to small but important personal changes
When I used to co-facilitate workshops with colleagues, a line from a participant on the feedback form threw me “Megumi was disengaged when she was not facilitating.”
I was horrified, as I was very passionate about these workshops and thought I was giving my all to each and every workshop. I came to realise my focused Japanese listening face was misinterpreted as disengaged. Since getting this piece of feedback and others in other situations, I learned to change my facial expressions more when listening. You will now see me nodding, smiling and vocalising “hmmm” or “yes” more.
As a naturally quiet person, you may be misunderstood like this. If you are not aware of how you are perceived, it can interfere with your communication and relationship building. This doesn’t change who you are; some of these adjustments are very small, so they’re worth discovering and making these small adjustments.
If you don’t seek feedback and act on misperceptions, you will be quietly misunderstood.
Don’t hold yourself back with excuses, blaming others and giving up too quickly
When I received the feedback about not appearing engaged, I went through a process of being upset, thinking that the writers were harsh, then feeling annoyed that they were making incorrect assumptions. My well-meaning colleagues assured me that they didn’t see me as disengaged, and suggested the participants had simply misunderstood. At this point I could have just said, “well, it’s my style, my Japanese face, I can’t do much about that!” – and do nothing.
If you notice you’re saying to yourself or to others “I can’t do xx, it’s just not me” or “I am like this because I am xx”, you limit yourself with excuses. If you say things like “I don’t speak up because others won’t listen” or “people just don’t understand me” then you limit yourself by blaming others or “the system”.
There are many reasons you may come up with for remaining quiet and hidden, including because we all are naturally inclined to stay inside our comfort zones. Yet you will remain quietly disempowered if you do nothing.
If you don’t take responsibility to do something yourself, you will remain quietly limited.
Face into your fear, anxiety and inner critics
At the very first culture workshop I co-facilitated after leaving my career as a strategy and finance professional 18+ years ago, my experienced co-facilitator had me practice before participants arrived and gave me so much feedback that I became even more nervous. While I am sure the experienced facilitator was well-intentioned, that workshop is to this day my worst experience of public speaking.
I was quietly disempowered. I was in survival mode, just trying to get through the session. I don’t remember the group nor whether they were engaged. I wasn’t listening to what they were saying. The fear and anxiety took over and there was no room for me to be present with the group and use the valuable side of my quiet nature. It has taken me a lot of practice, feedback and meditation to feel comfortable presenting to and facilitating groups and use my quiet strengths.
So many people I coach share their anxiety about speaking up, especially in groups, being seen and being the centre of attention. The fear of being judged, being seen as incompetent, forgetting what to say and freezing are very common. From my experience, what makes it worse is the unrelenting inner critic that tells you off for every small thing you do wrong, not being clear, not speaking up early enough, not remembering all the points you planned to share. All the attention is on the inner critic and not on the people you are speaking to.
If you don’t have strategies to deal with your inner critics, you will remain quietly absent.
Underestimating the impact you can make
Many people I have met at public events or programs have said that they feel like there is no point speaking up because they won’t be listened to. Or that others have said what they have been thinking about, they have nothing to add and so they don’t need to say anything.
If this sounds familiar to you, it may be because you also have given up in such a situation, not cared enough to speak up or asked for support to get some space to be heard.
Only if you value your own contributions can you take active steps to get support or to find other ways to contribute.
If you don’t believe you can make an impact or do little to enable yourself to make an impact, you will remain quietly disempowered.
Quietly Powerful leaders have developed greater self-awareness and skills to be more comfortable with themselves, be present and make an impact with purpose. More on the attributes of Quietly Powerful leaders are shared in Quietly Powerful Leaders – who are they and why we don’t have enough of them.
This is an extract from my upcoming book, Quietly Powerful: How your quiet nature is your hidden leadership strength, to be published later this year. To stay informed, join the Quietly Powerful newsletter at www.megumimiki.com.