Feelings of anxiety manifest themselves in many different ways and in a variety of situations, one of which is in the workplace. Anxiety in business meetings can be extremely debilitating if it stops you from sharing your thoughts and ideas, and being a contributing member of the team. This pattern can leave you feeling frozen before and during business meetings, and even end up keeping you from attaining possible promotions because you aren’t able to interface effectively with your teammates at work.
So how do you turn things around and conquer social anxiety in business meetings?
1. Prepare. Before entering a meeting, write down 1-3 bullet points you’d like to contribute during the meeting. This way, you go into an anxiety-provoking situation with some sort of structure, something to guide you and fall back on in case the pressure begins to take over.
2. Prepare more: Consider having an ally. An ally is someone you know will be at the meeting and who is generally supportive of you. It may help to give the person a preview of a few points you want to make and get their “buy in” so that your ally is more likely to back you up if others challenge your ideas.
3. Take notes. During the meeting, make it a habit to write down short phrases (5-10 words max) that express responses you’d like to contribute to the discussion. When it’s time for you to speak, you can refer to the notes instead of feeling unprepared and “on the spot”. Caution: Make sure to keep these phrases short. You should not be writing an essay during the meeting. The notes should serve as reminders for important points you’d like to make and to help you find the words to explain what you’d like to say.
4. Piggy back. The material you want to contribute is very likely relevant to what others are discussing, so try to find a way to “tie in” your remark with what has been said already– this shows you have been listening and that you are a team player. You can join the conversation more smoothly by starting with agreement, even if you want to present a slightly different idea: “Yes, Rachel, I agree that on-time delivery is absolutely essential. I do have one other way to improve delivery times that I’d like to offer….”
5. Follow Up. If you’ve been given feedback by your boss that you need to “contribute more” in meetings, this point goes double for you. Depending on your corporate culture, you may even want to CC or BCC your boss if you have been given performance feedback requiring you to contribute more during meetings. After the meeting, send a follow up email to a few people with a follow up comment that spotlights the fact that you contributed- something like, “Linda, I’m glad that shortening delivery times was a focus at the meeting today. As I discussed during the meeting, I completely agree that XYZ would help. Just let me know how to move the ball forward on that one!” Even follow up on disagreement is okay too- contributing isn’t always about agreeing: “Mark, I’m glad delivery times were a focus at the meeting today. You favored ABC, and as you know from the meeting I’m more of a fan of XYZ. I thought the discussion we had at the meeting was really helpful, I’d like to follow up to hear more about your thoughts before making a final choice.”
6. Practice! The article says ‘5 Ways to Cope’, but practice is an essential part of using the tools. Stepping out of your comfort zone is not an easy process. However, it will become easier with practice. The more you become accustomed to interacting in social situations, the more comfortable you will feel. If you feel awkward during the meeting, remind yourself that it’s totally normal to feel awkward when you’re trying something new– we build comfort through habit and practice.
Some people don’t realize they are stressed out, or that social situations tend to make them anxious, and it’s impossible to deal with if we don’t recognize it.
The key is to take that first step. Take a deep breath, speak at least once in a meeting, share a point you think is important, and know that you are making progress. You are completely capable of contributing valuable ideas and opinions, and participating to your fullest potential in the workplace!
Chloe Carmichael, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, dating coach, and the founder of Carmichael Psychology in New York City. She specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety reduction, and her new e-course lets her clients master CBT techniques for anxiety on their own schedule. She has appeared live on FOX and ABC and has been quoted by New York Magazine and Everyday Health, among others.
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