On being too quiet around strangers

Whenever I am sitting in front of a group of people, I am often too quiet to speak up around strangers. During company meetings, there is so many colleagues dial into the virtual call, with senior management and different stakeholders. Often by the end of the calls, the director would ask everyone if there are any questions. Most of the time everyone just gets into dead silent. The situation won’t get any better even in a physically social gathering situation, where the boss would dominate the gathering conversation, telling us all the stories about himself without anyone trying to challenge him. As a leader, some time I have to step up and say something instead of being too quiet, but as an introvert, words don’t easily come out of my mouth. In ancient China, if a government official said something and offended the Emporer, he would have been killed or even the whole family would be impacted. That’s why we need to be careful when we speak within a social hierarchy and try to pay our respect to the authorities. This culture is bad for a startup environment, where feedback is required to help seniors to make the right decisions. Being too quiet and agreeable won’t make me a better leader around strangers.

To done differently in that situation, first I need to use empathy, The strangers may be quiet too like myself as they are also worried about being judged by me. If I put myself in the shoes of the strangers, they may be embarrassed by the social awkwardness too from getting no feedback from the audience. I can give values to the strangers by giving praise or coming up with a good question to show that I’m actively listening to what they said. The strangers would be appreciated by my feedback of understanding, rather than dead silent and poker face. Secondly, I could look more approachable to the strangers by giving a friendly smile, engaging in small talks and showing them my genuine compliment. These could probably open up the strangers to me so that I could feel more comfortable to open up myself to strangers at the same time. The connection is mutual and a good vibe requires teamwork. Lastly, I would practice better communication skills, ask questions to engage with strangers, use labelling to comment on the strangers’ responses to keep the conversation going and try to use humour or storytelling to ease the tension that builds up around strangers.

As a confession to improve my fault for being too quiet around strangers, I would write more such that those words are better prepared for the next time that I need to speak. Writing helps me to organize my thoughts, remember things that I read and coming up with stories that I can share later on with strangers. This means I would also need to constantly push myself to get out of my conform zone and expose to new experience so that I have more resources to write and talk to strangers. Having a boring life means I would have nothing to talk to strangers about it. Having a low social status means I cannot provide values to the strangers in the conversations. Having an empty mind without reading and thinking means I would have no new ideas to express and no independently thoughts to comment on new topics. Therefore, I would like to keep learning, both the physical worlds and learning about strangers, show my genuine interest in people, instead of being sick of people. I would be surprised by what things we could learn about the other person. And I would become more confidence next time after having a great experience talking to strangers.

Originally published at https://victorleungtw.com.

By Victor Leung

Experience in software development, consulting services and technical product management. Understanding of business and technology with an MBA in Finance and a Master degree in Computer Science. AWS Certified Solution Architect with experience in building products from scratch and serving as a charismatic leader.

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