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A client told me recently that his manager was concerned about a behavior he’d observed in customer meetings:

You’re not jumping in fast enough.

My client agreed with the feedback. He even offered to me that he’s noticed the awkward silence in some meetings when people look to him, expecting his input.

As we started discussing what he might do, I couldn’t help but emphasize with the situation. Early in my career, I noticed that same awkward silence in some meetings when people would turn to me.

Like my client, it was an annoyance early in my career, but become a more apparent issue after a few promotions. At the management level, it’s important to be able to jump in. At the executive level, it’s essential.

Sadly, the unstated assumption that’s sometimes made in western business culture when someone doesn’t speak up is either that they aren’t sharp — or they aren’t engaged.

Ironically, sometimes those of us who are naturally quieter in meetings are the ones thinking most deeply about the issue at hand. Then, when we’re suddenly turned to for a recommendation or decision, we’re caught off guard. I’ve come away from a handful of meetings in my professional life feeling like I just got punished for thinking too much.

Years ago, I stumbled on this tactic:

Always have a question ready.

Whenever I didn’t know what to say next, I’d immediately ask a clarifying question. This resulted in three benefits:

First, the perception that I wasn’t engaged or thinking quickly enough started to change. In fact, after doing this awhile, some stakeholders actually started asking me for my questions, since they often helped us achieve better outcomes.

Second, it gave me time to think. I realized that one of the reasons I previously hesitated to give input was because I didn’t have all the information. Being curious yield more information, making recommendations and decisions easier.

And finally, it got me used to jumping in. Now as a learned skill, I ironically have the opposite challenge of sometimes jumping in too quickly.

If this is a struggle for you too, I invite you to always have a question ready. If you do, it’s lot easier to jump in when it matters most.

Dave’s Journal is available by audio on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Stitcher, and Spotify.

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