Aug. 14, 2006 -- If you're like me, you might get quiet and shy when you walk in to a roomful of strangers. The same can be true in formal meetings among people you're not familiar with -- you're somewhat reserved until you muster the confidence to speak up.
Aside from occasionally feeling socially awkward, this shyness can actually have a negative impact on your professional life.
Inevitably in these meetings of strangers, someone chimes in first and they're afforded an authority and a sense of respect that others -- the quiet ones -- don't usually get.
When I addressed a recent conference, I offered one lucky audience member the chance to receive a $50 bill simply by asking, "Who wants this?" One woman jumped up and grabbed it. As she did, I could see the looks on several faces and the chatter among them. The looks were as if to say, "Darn, that could have been me. Why didn't I just get up?"
In the workplace, a colleague speaks up, offers a great idea and others commend it. The rest of us sit there thinking, "Gosh, I had a similar thought and I should have shared it."
But a lot of us are too afraid to take that chance -- the chance to show that we're just as smart. It's not a matter of the brain power to generate great ideas -- it's a matter of having the guts to stand up and share them in front of our peers.
We're often reserved because we worry about being embarrassed or saying the wrong thing. But if you're prepared and you believe in your ideas, don't hold back.
I first learned this back in fourth grade. Our math teacher put an impossible equation on the board. He quickly took us through all of the steps, but stopped short of the last step necessary to solve it. He turned and asked the class, "Now, how do you get rid of the eight?"
We all froze. Nobody had any idea. The teacher tapped his chalk on the board and told us that we wouldn't proceed nor would we leave the room until somebody figured it out. The silence continued, and I'm sure everyone was sweating. Finally, Amy Heller raised her hand. Whew, I thought, someone has figured it out.
"Yes, Amy," the teacher asked, "How do you get rid of the eight?" And very confidently, she said, "Just erase it."
Laughter broke out and her comment defused all the tension. Everyone was suddenly at ease, and together the class solved the equation. The joke also earned young Amy significant admiration and respect for having the guts to speak up against the silence.
Amy taught the class a more valuable and lasting lesson than the one on the blackboard, and it's one that can still be applied in adult professional lives. Even if your thoughts aren't right on the money, contributing to the dialogue can often help solve a problem and earn the respect of your peers. So be gutsy and confident -- always be willing to speak up and share your thoughts and ideas.
Tory Johnson is the workplace contributor on "Good Morning America" and the CEO of Women for Hire. To connect directly with Johnson, visit www.womenforhire.com.