I used to be that person. I was worried I would come across as argumentative if I saw an issue from another point of view or that my peers around the table would laugh at my idea. The problem? Very often someone else at the meeting would come up with a similar idea, comment or question, would verbalize it and get credit for the very thing I had thought of earlier. In almost all cases, the idea, comment or question I was worried would make me look foolish in front of my peers was worthy of sharing. It was my own lack of trust and respect for the skills and knowledge I possessed that was holding me back from achieving my goals.
How many of you recognize yourself in that scenario? The corporate boardroom table could be replaced with a dinner table or a volunteer committee meeting. No matter what table you are sitting at, each and every one of you is there for a reason. You bring life experience, skills and knowledge that hold weight, that are valid and that should be heard.
Take some time to reflect on your values, your experience and your knowledge. Recognize where you have some knowledge gaps and identify ways to fill those gaps. And last but definitely not least, learn to trust and respect the skills and knowledge that you possess.
My journey from silent observer to active participant was a journey of baby steps. I will never forget the deep breath I took before I offered my first unsolicited viewpoint at a meeting, and the feeling of pride and accomplishment after. There were set backs along the way, but with each new attempt, my confidence grew. And along the way, I’ve discovered that being wrong isn’t the end of the world. It’s an opportunity to learn and to grow.
(This is an updated version of a blog originally posted in 2011. After attending a Toastmaster’s convention this weekend, I was reminded that it’s not only the technical skill of speaking that’s important. It’s also believing we have something to say that is worth listening to.)