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Introverts: Speak Up (From Inside Out)

Don’t let your inner dialogue hold you back.

Key points

  • It can help to anticipate the most likely questions and objections that could come up at a meeting.
  • Taking an improv class can build skills at speaking on the spot.
  • Introverts may take comfort in the iterative process of writing and editing to express their thoughts.
Source: Evangeline Shaw/Unsplash
Source: Evangeline Shaw/Unsplash

I’ve long struggled with feeling drowned out by others’ opinions. To the extent that I’ve learned from that and gotten my voice heard, I aim to inspire others to do the same, especially my fellow introverts.

If you’re anything like me, you default to assuming that those who sound more confident than you are more knowledgeable. As a wake-up call to your conscious mind, how about reminding yourself that those who speak authoritatively, as if they have all the answers, aren’t always right? Captains of industry, bigwig politicians, and even garden-variety bosses (or controllers!) come to mind. Since when do the quantity, veneer, and volume of their words correspond to the quality of their messages? Do you buy into their pretense that their opinions are facts—and yours aren’t worth expressing?

Maybe you can relate to sitting at group meetings feeling stymied, tempted to join the conversation, but overcome by the rumblings of your inner critic drowning you out. Here’s a sample mashup of the voices inside my head, especially when meeting with colleagues I perceive as more accomplished or assertive than I am:

Timid inner me: I disagree with what the head honcho said, but it’s too risky to pipe up.

Shaming inner me: Yup. You’ll ramble or bumble.

Timid: So, maybe no one will notice if I quietly mumble.

Shaming: You mean fumble! Why don’t you just cover your mouth, so nobody notices?

Now that I’ve given you a glimpse into my mental murmurs, you can see what it’s like when my inner dialogue goes unchecked. So, my inner referee sends the Timid and Shaming Me for a time-out. But first, Shaming Me blows a Bronx cheer between my ears (a.k.a. a big, farty “raspberry”) for being a party pooper.

My dynamic duo will be back. Trust that if your cast of characters is shadowboxing inside your head, you’re in good company. So, join me for a few simple activities, even if only as reminders: Inhale. Exhale. Feel your feet on the ground. Remember that you know your stuff; you excel at listening attentively, thinking critically, and solving problems, among your other introvert—or just human—superpowers. Trust your judgment. Also, try out these tips, which help get me grounded:

1. Manage anticipated challenges:

a. Rest up: Recharge your energy, possibly through solitary activities that replenish your mind and body. Those could include walking, reading, listening to music, or even speaking with a confidante.

b. Prepare: Anticipate the most likely questions and objections that could come up at an upcoming meeting, Q&A, or negotiation. Consider what the other parties are likely to say and how you would respond. You might be surprised that this could cover 80 percent of what comes up.

c. Practice: Rehearse your answers, ideally out loud and in a role-play with someone you trust—not just in your head—and, better yet, video record and review yourself rehearsing.

2. Manage unanticipated challenges:

a. Improvise: Take an improv class to build up your skills at speaking on the spot. That starts with listening attentively, trusting yourself, and building positively on what you hear. I find it exhilarating to get in a flow state with others; that can entail losing a sense of time and space while being pleasantly absorbed in your interaction. This is a stretch assignment for many introverts and a career booster. For more about that, check out my interview with Caitlin McClure, editor and co-author of Applied Improvisation: Leading, Collaborating, and Creating Beyond the Theatre. Also, don’t miss my interview with Carl Kissin, another masterful improviser.

b. Deflect: When you’re put on the spot, practice deflecting questions and comments to others to take the spotlight off you and buy yourself time. This isn’t in the spirit of catapulting a colleague into the hot seat you’re trying to escape. Instead, it’s offering an alternative to keep a conversation moving while buying you time.

c. Defer: Offer to follow up later, possibly by email. Use the power of your pen or keyboard to tap out your thoughts in your own time. As an introvert, you may take comfort in the iterative process of writing and editing to express your thoughts on your own watch. This approach also provides you time to do a little research to check your facts before you share them.

All these tips are in service of becoming conscious of your unconscious dialogue. As an introvert, I’m not always chatty—except between my ears. So, I’m offering you what works for me as a starting point for egging on your own voice at meetings and beyond. Why? Simply for the intrinsic value of joining the conversation, but also to raise your visibility in your career.

These tips are from my experience—as well as my decades as a career strategist and graduate business communication instructor at NYU. If you want to learn more, the dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, work of psychologist Marsha Linehan on what she calls the emotional mind, reasonable mind, and wise mind offers a strong foundation.

Nil Demircubuk, an integrative coach, recently introduced me to the teachings of Shirzad Chamine, whose bestselling book, Positive Intelligence (PQ), delves into what he calls the sage and saboteur minds. Demircubuk says, “I put my clients on the app based on the PQ program, which is fitness training for the mind. It teaches you how to move away from thoughts and patterns that do not serve you and into those that help you grow and be more fulfilled.” Now, I use the app every day as a clarion call to reconnect with my Grounded Me, a.k.a. my Earth-to-Nancy nudge!

Speaking of getting grounded, see this post about managing shame by Erin Dullea, MAPP, CPPC, a positive psychology practitioner and coach.

Before we part for now, this is what I wish for you: Find your way to get yourself grounded and speak up—so more and more people can benefit from the value that even a quiet voice can bring.


Ancowitz, N. (2018, August 6). Stretch opportunity for introverts: Applied improvisation. Psychology Today.

Dudeck, T. R., & McClure, C. (2018). Applied Improvisation: Leading, Collaborating, and Creating Beyond the Theatre. Routledge.

Ancowitz, N. (2017, March 20). Improv muscle. Psychology Today.

Dullea, E. (2024, March 13). Transform your relationship to shame. Psychology Today.

Chamine, S. (2012). Positive Intelligence: Why Only 20% of Teams and Individuals Achieve Their True Potential and How You Can Achieve Yours. Greenleaf Book Group Press.

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