- "Sensitive Strivers"—people who are both high-achieving and highly sensitive—often have trouble speaking up in work meetings.
- Preparing in advance for meetings and committing to speaking up within the first 15 minutes can help.
- It's also important to challenge any preexisting beliefs that may be holding you back from voicing your opinions and questions.
Another meeting is coming up at work, and you’re dreading it. But if you want to get ahead, it’s important to speak confidently in meetings.
This is a goal one of my clients, Allison, had when she first started coaching. She came to me asking, “Why do I get so nervous before speaking in a meeting?” The fear of speaking in meetings paralyzed her. Whenever it came time to contribute, Allison would freeze, overthink her response, and end up rambling. Afterward, she’d beat herself up and feel like an imposter—incapable of doing the very job she had been recruited for.
She was what I call a "Sensitive Striver."
Sensitive Strivers and Speaking Up in Meetings
Sensitive Strivers are high-achievers who are also highly sensitive—a term that describes 15 to 20 percent of the population who think and feel everything more deeply.
Common workplace situations that might be moderately stressful to the average person can cause a Sensitive Striver to shut down, especially when overwhelmed. You bring many assets and talents to the table, thanks to your ability to process information more thoroughly.
But it also means you are more susceptible to stress and emotional reactivity, particularly when it involves judgment or evaluation from others.
Are You a Sensitive Striver?
You may be a Sensitive Striver if you agree with most of the following:
- I experience emotions with depth and complexity.
- I have a strong desire to “exceed expectations.”
- My inner critic is always talking.
- I’m kind, compassionate, and empathetic.
- I often put others' needs before my own.
- I’m easily impacted by stress.
- I struggle to “turn off” my mind, which leads to overthinking.
- I have strong emotional reactions.
- I feel anxious when I’m caught off guard or being evaluated.
- I’m a perfectionist and judge myself harshly for mistakes.
- I often get stuck in indecision.
- I take feedback and criticism to heart.
Meetings are tough environments for Sensitive Strivers because:
- You genuinely enjoy listening to others’ ideas.
- You prefer to observe and absorb what’s happening before offering an opinion.
- You like to show respect by deferring to the leaders at the table.
- You tend to be more reserved.
- You are overwhelmed more easily and may freeze under pressure.
- You are able to see all sides of a situation, which leads to overthinking.
- You worry about what other people think of you.
Strategies to Speak Confidently in Meetings
Elevating your visibility at work is essential if you want your career to evolve and grow. You work hard and have great ideas to contribute—you should be making an impact and getting the recognition you deserve.
With a little practice from these tips, you’ll finally feel like the integral team member you’ve always been.
1. Banish pre-meeting jitters.
It’s normal to experience anticipatory stress when you feel as if your intelligence or contributions are being evaluated.
Instead of impugning your jitters as a sign that you’re inadequate or otherwise not up to the task at hand, Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal suggests befriending your stress response, reframing it as a sign you’re ready for action and prepared to bring your best to the (conference) table.
It’s also essential to bring down your baseline level of stimulation before a meeting. Allison, the client I told you about earlier, would use box breathing to shift her focus.
2. Ease into it.
It may be tempting to arrive right before a meeting starts to appear prompt or avoid awkward small talk. But if you feel rushed, this will only exacerbate the stress you feel.
Instead, plan to settle in before things get underway. Give yourself the opportunity to ease into the physical meeting space. If it’s a virtual teleconference, get comfortable with the webinar controls.
As colleagues arrive, focus on making conversation with one or two people at a time, which can give you an “in” of sorts as the meeting begins and the conversation turns towards agenda items.
3. Commit to speaking early.
It typically gets more difficult to enter the conversation as a meeting progresses. The longer you wait, the more your anxiety will build.
Growth often comes from discomfort, so push yourself to speak up early. Set a simple strategy to say something in the first 10 to 15 minutes of the session—whether it’s to welcome attendees, present your main argument, ask a question, or offer an opinion.
4. Use your strengths when speaking up.
Even soft-spoken Sensitive Strivers can still make an impact by backing up a coworker’s comment with a simple, “Great idea!”
You can also focus on asking powerful questions. As a Sensitive Striver, you’re very observant, which gives you an edge when it comes to posing the kind of thought-provoking questions that haven’t crossed your colleagues’ minds quite yet.
5. Be the one to take action on the "next" steps.
Did something come up in the meeting that could use more research? Commit to taking on something for the next meeting. It shows you have initiative and that you’re interested and invested in your organization.
6. Challenge your beliefs about contributing.
Growing up, what were you told about standing out? Were you given the message by your parents, teachers, and community that you could be whatever you wanted, or did you internalize concepts like, “People won’t like you if you try to stand out”?
If you find yourself easily devastated by real or imagined negative feedback should you express your ideas, consider that you may be reverting back to an immature identity when your self-esteem was more contingent on others’ opinions (especially those of authority figures).
Fear can signal you’re saying something of significance. Seize the moment. Stop playing small. Remember, you’re part of your organization because you’re qualified, you’re effective, and you matter.
As a Sensitive Striver, you’ve got a lot to offer. Now it’s time to let everyone know it.
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