You need to speak in public, but you have small hearth attack and even before you reach the podium.
You want to expand your network, but you rather watch movie than make small talk with strangers. Speaking up in official meetings would increase your reputation at work, but you’re afraid of saying something wrong. Situations like these, which are professionally important, but personally terrifying are unfortunately, ubiquitous. Easiest response to these situations is avoidance. Who wants to feel anxious when you don’t have to?
But these tasks aren’t just unpleasant, they’re also necessary. As we grow in our jobs and in our careers, we’re constantly faced with situations where we need to adapt our behavior. Its part of the reality of the world we work in today. And without the courage to go out of our comfort zone, we can miss out on important opportunities for advancement.
Be honest to yourself.
When you turned down that opportunity to speak at a big conference or official meeting, was it really because there was no time, or were you scared to step on a stage and speak? And when you didn’t confront that coworker who had been undermining you, was it really because you felt he would eventually stop, or was it because you were terrified of conflict? Take the excuses away and ask yourself if they are truly legitimate. If your friend offered you those same excuses about their behavior, would you see these as excuses or legitimate reasons to decline? The answer isn’t always clear, but you’ll never be able to go out of your comfort zone without being honest about your motives in the first place.
START WITH SMALL STEPS
You might have a hard time to make small talk generally, but you will find it easier if the topic is very familiar to you. Or you may have a hard time networking, except when it’s in a really small setting.
We can often find a way to tweak what we have to do to make it attractive enough to perform by sculpting situations in a way that minimizes discomfort. For example, if you get queasy talking with big groups during large, noisy settings, find a quiet corner of that setting to talk. You can also step outside into the hallway or just outside the building. If you hate public speaking and networking events and you feel more comfortable in small groups, look for opportunities to speak with smaller groups or set up intimate coffee meetings with those you want to network with.
TAKE THE PLUNGE
Even if it’s uncomfortable, in order to step outside your comfort zone, you have to do it. Put everything on place and force yourself to dive in. You might discover that what you initially feared isn’t as bad as you thought.
For example, probably as most of us, I have a history of being uncomfortable with public speaking. In graduate school I took a public speaking class and the professor had us deliver speeches every class, with using notes. Then, after the fourth class, we were told to hand over our notes and to speak extemporaneously. I was terrified, as most of my colleagues in the course, but you know what? It actually worked. I did just fine, and so did everyone else. In fact, speaking without notes ended up being much more effective, making my speaking more focused and natural. But without this mechanism of forcing me into action, I might never have taken the plunge.
Start with small steps. Instead of jumping right into speaking at an official event, sign up for a public speaking class. Instead of speaking in front of your most senior colleagues, start by speaking up in smaller meetings with peers to see how it feels.
It’s not going to be pleasant and you may stumble, but that’s OK. In fact, it’s the only way you’ll learn. Especially if you can appreciate that missteps are essential part of the learning process. Even though we might feel powerless in situations outside our comfort zone, we have more power than we think when we will actually start going it. So, give it a try. Be honest with yourself, make the behavior your own, and take the plunge. My guess is you will feel accomplished once you tried it and happy that you give the opportunity to grow, learn, and expand your professional repertoire.