The other day, my management professor pulled me aside before class. This was unusual and I was a bit nervous – I was doing well in the class (or so I thought?) and wasn’t sure what to expect.
“I was really impressed with your presentation and you’ve done so well on the first exam.” She began. Okay, we’re good! It doesn’t have to do with my grade! “I wanted to talk to you about your level of participation in class.”
Oh boy, here we go.
As a preface: this professor is rather strict, but I overall really enjoy her class. It consists mostly of case studies and class discussion, and participation is a big part of the final grade. I feel like I participate a fair amount – not every class, but I do try to say at least one thing per class. I’m just not an active talker. In fact, it makes me really uncomfortable to talk in class, but I try occasionally for the sake of my grade.
My professor continues. “Someone with your intellectual capacity should be able to contribute more to class discussion. There are some students that just aren’t there yet, but I know with how well you’ve been doing in the class and you’re a smart girl, that you have so much that you could add to the conversation. So I want to ask you if there’s a reason why you don’t actively participate.”
I try to compose a reasonable answer besides, I just don’t want to. “Well,” I start, “I take several moments to compose my thoughts before I speak, and many time students have already said what I’m thinking. And, I’m just a natural listener. I just listen to other people without even thinking about inserting into the conversation, especially in a classroom environment,” I explained. “I have to consciously think that I need to add something, which is just not natural for me.”
She nods her head. “I totally understand that.” She says. “I was the same way – I was a very quiet person and I made a lot of mistakes in my first career job, and really in several after that because of that fact. The truth is, in the real world, in any career, you’re going to have to be more vocal. We need more assertive young women. I think that you could really benefit with experimenting being more vocal in this class.”
She went on to tell me things that I could bring up in class, like being the devil’s advocate or summarizing what other students had said, etc. I nod and promise her that I will try to be more active in class. She also asked what my plans were for after graduation. She knew that I was a finance student, and she lamented that she didn’t have that many contacts in the financial industry but that if she heard of anything, she’d let me know.
I was, and still am, flattered and slightly touched. It really was a compliment – especially that she wanted to help me find a job after graduation, even though I’m moving back to St. Louis. She really does have the best interest for her students at heart. I’m sure that she plays the mentor role well for many students.
And I do understand that being vocal and contributing is essential in any career, so I understand why she emphasizes it so much in the classroom. However, the classroom is not the work environment. So it is hard for me to practice something that doesn’t necessarily apply in the current situation.
My shyness has actually been something that I’ve been thinking about lately, before my professor even approached me on the subject. Sometimes, even in social gatherings, I can kind of suck into myself and just listen. I’ve always wondered if I would have more people in my life if I just talked more. Don’t get me wrong – I have wonderful amazing friends in my life, but really just a handful. I’m not wanting for more, just thinking. It’s more of a “what if” scenario that I play in my head. What would happen if I wasn’t so quiet.
Is it bad to just be a quiet person? No, I don’t think inherently it is. So why do I always feel like I have to apologize for being quiet?