How I overcame my struggles with speaking up
Why don't I speak up?
It is a bright, sunny Monday morning. We are having an offsite discussing the org level long-term vision and direction. The discussion kicks off and some ideas get thrown around.
My brain: “Hmm, what exactly are we talking about? I am so lost. Is this making sense to anyone?”
Someone says out loud in a few minutes: "Sorry to interrupt. I am totally lost and it seems we entered a niche conversation. I do not understand the problem we are discussing. Can one of you bring the room up to speed?"
The room nods.
My brain: "Ok, so I was not the only one. Good. Hopefully, the discussion sticks to problem X. I have some thoughts on that topic that I would like to share."
The discussion continues for a bit.
My brain: "Wait, what! What person A said has no relevance to problem X! Oh, now person B & person C are debating something irrelevant.”
My brain: "Did I miss something? Did we switch topics? I must have missed it. So is this discussion for a variation of problem X or something different?"
My brain: "No, this is not making sense. I think we are rat holing. We need to take a step back and go over every problem individually else we will not converge. But it could just be me."
A few minutes later...
Someone says out loud: "I think we need to take a step back and organize the problem list. Problem X has…"
Many more minutes later...
My brain: "Wow, that is a wishful design, and we will never build it. It will take ages to ship. Could we break it down somehow? Maybe I should ask now."
Just as I get a word out, someone else interrupts: "This seems a bit ambitious…"
Conversation takes another turn.
My brain: "Oh, we moved on from that topic, yikes. Not everything I wanted to say got covered. Hmm, no worries. I will give written feedback on this one like I always do. Not the end of the world."
Why don't I speak up? Because I am speaking in my head, overthinking and trying to frame it perfectly. I also do not want to get the facts wrong!
While this was me many years ago, I could fall into this trap even now, so I use some tricks.
I got some great advice from my managers that helped me break the pattern. Here they are for you -
Force yourself to say something / anything early on in the discussion.
Honestly, nobody cares if you happen to say something absolutely garbage. Very likely, it won't be garbage.
Speaking once helps stop the overthinking. It makes you more comfortable sharing your thoughts thereafter
If you are wondering about something or something isn't clear to you, it is likely not clear to others in the room.
Most people are nervous telling the world that they do not understand.
Go ahead and help set the context by asking some clarifying questions.
It is ok to sound stupid rather than be stupid by not knowing what is going on.
You can always go back to a previous conversation if it is important. Just acknowledge that you missed the opportunity to add this before, but you want to go back to the previous one as it is important.
If you get interrupted many times, do the same but politely. People won't mind. Everyone is just very excited about the topic.
Many junior and senior engineers overthink their responses, and as a result, deprive their peers of valuable inputs. If this applies to you, I hope you can take some actionable suggestions from this post.
Got other tips? Leave a comment.
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