Competitive, rapidly changing and unstable are the norms of today’s workplaces. Achieving success requires speaking up, taking action and self-promotion. It’s an environment in which extroverts thrive but introverts often struggle. The work of most lawyers requires voicing opinions, advocating for and advising clients, and engaging in business development activities. You don’t have to be an extrovert to advocate for your clients or to bring in new business. But if you are an introvert, you face the reality that to build a successful legal career you must speak up and be heard. This is eminently achievable once you learn to rely on your natural abilities and tap into extroverted skills.
Three Golden Rules for Speaking Up
With careful reflection and strategic planning, you can break into a conversation or contribute your ideas at a meeting — even in a room full of social dynamos.
My three rules for speaking up are simple to follow and easy to apply. Working quietly behind the scenes, you can dig deep into your experience, unearth your achievements and dust off your industry knowledge. As a result, you will realize you have seminal contributions that impact your business and your colleagues and clients.
- Reflect. Time to think allows introverts to quietly open the door to novel inventions and methodically tinker with issues to find a solution. Before meeting with partners or colleagues or attending networking events, reflect on key points, questions or new strategies you want to convey. Consider some interesting trends in your particular area of practice or the legal industry at large that will stimulate an energetic discussion. Maybe you have ideas for how to approach certain types of cases. Or, mention some accomplishments that might intrigue the listener. It may be easier for you to share knowledge and ideas than turn a bright light on yourself. But in the extraverted work world, it’s the proven results that get the most nods.
- Prepare. Organize your thoughts in advance. Fire up the synapses by writing things down. Outline a few ideas and questions, or put together a bulleted list of the points you want to highlight. Bring along your iPad or notebook to help you stay focused and on point during a discussion. Planning ahead builds confidence and helps you avoid being distracted by the swirling extroverted energy.
- Rehearse. Practice what you plan to say. It may be as simple as reviewing your notes in a quiet and relaxed space. If you are nervous about an important event or meeting, recruit a trusted colleague or friend for support and feedback. Consider using your cellphone or computer to record your voice as you present key points. Then play it back to check for tone, flow and content.
Despite your efforts, you may still feel silenced by all the chattering egos diving into a discussion. Learn to use what I call “diplomatic interruption” so you won’t disappear. Without any hint of offense, interject: “Excuse me, but something you just said made me think of a different way to look at this case.” Or, you might jump in with: “That’s a great idea, we could even expand the marketing strategy by …” This “interruption” validates the speaker, while simultaneously presenting your creative spin.
One More Chance
Sometimes all the extroverted steam in the room makes it seem impossible to find the right time to break in. Don’t let that lost moment signal defeat. Cast in a relevant comment or suggestion regarding issues discussed by following up with the leader or group through email or text. An afterthought with a fresh idea can win you some kudos, too.
Your work might require you to develop and present a CLE program, webinar or even a TEDx event. There’s a myth that introverts aren’t good at public speaking. When you rely on your natural tendency for deep concentration, you are likely to produce unique content and an insightful, well-researched presentation. Everyone gets the jitters before performing in front of large groups. Fear can also supercharge your positive energy. Follow rule three and practice, practice, practice.
Making Small Talk
The three golden rules can easily be applied to building rapport with professional acquaintances or new colleagues. Consider what’s important to you and what sparks your curiosity. Think about which topics draw you out. Let yourself go with the flow and tell your professional story in a natural and engaging way that embraces your achievements and offers a small glimpse into what makes you tick.
The Introvert Edge
Introverts bring a quiet power to their work. They ask insightful questions that can influence important decisions. Comfortable behind the scenes, they demonstrate an ability to listen that draws people out and allows them to express themselves freely. Embrace your introversion but challenge yourself: Make periodic bold moves and speak up!