According to researchers like Susan Cain, the U.S. is a culture that values extroversion and the gift of gab over solitude, reflection, and quiet. This preference influences assumptions about what leadership looks like, and in turn tells us what kinds of skills people need to demonstrate in order to get ahead in politics, society, and careers.
As Cain argues, this bias has significant downsides, not least of which are valuing style over substance and missing out on all that quiet people have to offer. Still, it’s safe to say that American workplaces are unlikely to become less verbal anytime soon. So, those who want to succeed must find some way to mesh with mainstream cultural expectations. In today’s American workplace, this means engaging in public speaking – and to do so with confidence, charisma, and charm.
This is a tall order for employees who are introverted, shy, or come from cultures where this kind of display is discouraged. For some people, it may present a big enough obstacle that a career change or a search for an expat assignment in a less loquacious country is in order. However, for those who do want to stretch themselves in the name of their broader goals, the good news is that it’s not something that has to be accomplished in one heroic leap. Rather, it’s a capacity that can be built day by day.
In a new article for Harvard Business Review, Andy Molinsky and I identify meetings as a prime place for employees to “catch the attention of your senior colleagues who have the power to bring your career to the next level.” While this may provoke anxiety because it means being under a spotlight, meetings have lower stakes than presentations. And, because they happen regularly at most companies, there is ample opportunity for practice. Moreover, because they are usually centered on some project, they can provide a built-in excuse for engagement beforehand or afterwards, which can feel much more accessible. The key is to get just enough of the right attention so that when future opportunities emerge, decision-makers think of you as a contender.
America is one of the most extroverted countries in the world, so anyone who wants to succeed here – from junior associates to expats – must find some way to speak up at meetings. It’s not always comfortable, but with practice, it is possible.
Are you interested in developing your American business communication skills? Coaching is available, so please let me know how I can help!