Speak Up!

Yesterday I called my mom from work to tell her excitedly that my boss mentioned the book I emailed the team about at our stand up meeting. I then texted my boyfriend to tell him that I was super happy with work and to not let me tell him that I had a meh day again. Let’s flash back a few days to…

Last Thursday…

We have a fifteen minute stand-up meeting twice a week to ensure that everyone in the group is aligned on what they’re working on, due dates, and upcoming projects. We conduct these meetings around a team board where company-standard metrics are posted. My team is in the process of revamping our board. On Thursday, we started discussing ideas of working our weekly or bi-weekly or monthly workflow onto our board. I was immediately reminded of a book my dad recommended1 I read last year. Around the dinner table that evening, I asked my dad2 if it would be appropriate to recommend this book to my team. He said of course. So…

On Friday

I came in and wrote a quick e-mail about the book, including a link, and a prompt to a specific section where they talk about team boards. And then I stared at it. And then I saved it as a draft and didn’t send it.

You see, I have this kind of debilitating fear of speaking up, especially when not directly prompted to do so. This fear doesn’t stop me from getting out of bed or leaving the house every day, but it does seriously limit how much I get out of my life. It happens in both professional and social contexts. I feel it with co-workers, friends, and even family sometimes. It makes it very hard to assert myself when I am unhappy with something. Unfortunately it leads me to keep my emotions buried until I can’t stand it anymore, explode, and end up coming off as aggressive and a little irrational (read: crazy bitch). Now that I’m thinking about it, I think this fear is the reason I speak so quietly and mumble about 90% of the time (readers, my mind is actually blown right now).

The thing that’s weird though is that when I’m in an interview context, I’m the complete opposite of this person who is scared to talk. Knowing how much depends on it, I literally put on an act, play a different character (I also do this at work happy hours, first dates, or any social situations where I’m surrounded by people I don’t know).

On my third day at my new job…

my boss shared with me that the main reason I was hired was because it seemed like I could work with a wide variety of people and personalities. Ironically, he said he hoped that I help him fill the silent voids at our team meetings and get other members to speak up as well. My first immediate thought was “Hah! Fooled you!” But that quickly changed to “Shit! Fooled me!”

This conversation was at the forefront of my thoughts when I attended my first stand up meeting. I noticed my boss talked non-stop, just as he warned me he would do. I noticed that he would ask a question, pause momentarily to see if anyone would answer, and when no one would, dive right back into his soapbox, as he refers to it. At the end of that meeting, I felt that I had disappointed him. So the next time, I was determined to speak up. I answered questions when I could, gave opinions when asked, and spoke up whenever possible. Two remarkable things happened: firstly, I left that stand up  meeting feeling AWESOME, and secondly, other group members slowly started speaking up. I realized, they had all been scared to talk like me, but once they saw one person doing it and not getting her head chewed off, they were more comfortable joining in.

Back to Friday…

So an hour after I saved that sad unsent book recommendation e-mail (the one from the first paragraph in case you had a hard time following my train of thought), I thought back on these remarkable things. Mostly, because I am me, I thought about my feeling so great after making a contribution. And I opened the draft and sent the email without giving myself too much time to think. Then I quickly worried. “Was that appropriate?” I thought. “Is there some kind of corporate policy against such emails?” I think I actually tried to come up with a way to unsend the email. And the longer no one reacted to my email, the more I worried. That is until…

Tuesday3

When at our stand up meeting my boss revealed that we would be one of a few guinea pig teams to rework our team boards4 and specifically pointed to the book I recommended to the team. I was once again ecstatic! My email had not only not broken some corporate policy and gotten me fired a mere month after my first day, but also added some great value to our team conversation.

The point is, I’m sure I will still second-guess speaking up for a long time. It just isn’t in my nature. But I know that my “nature” can be rewired. I hope that if I continue to push myself to speak up consciously for a while, I will start doing it without thinking in the future. It seems true, based on my experience these last few weeks, that when I contribute, I feel infinitely more satisfied with my job. It also seems to be the case that, more often than not, my comments and questions are appreciated, and are not, as I always fear, pointless.

So speak up people! I’m sure people are interested in what you have to say. At least I know I am!

Footnotes:

  1. This was one of my 56 Books in 56 Weeks project, but I read it after I stopped my exhausting and silly weekly reviews. I will however write a review of this book because it’s awesome and everyone should read it!
  2. My dad’s been working in the corporate world forever. He was at the same company for almost 30 years. I assume he’s basically been a manager forever!
  3. Don’t worry guys, I wasn’t actually worrying that whole time. I actually kind of forgot about it as soon as I left the office. This is a skill I’m extremely proud of: leaving work at work.
  4. I am nerdily excited to have been hired onto one of these teams, it made me think that maybe my dream job is helping companies revamp themselves so they are a great/happy place to work!
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