Recently, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas attracted attention – and got himself lampooned on “The Daily Show” — for a remark he made in response to a fellow justice’s joke about Yale Law School. It wasn’t what Thomas said, however, which consisted of “Well — he did not — ,” that was considered so noteworthy as the fact that these were the very first words he had uttered during oral arguments in all of seven years.
There’s a lesson here for anyone who’s part of any group discussion, even one far less consequential than a high court proceeding: If you sit there and “just listen,” as Thomas is said to have done while other justices put forth various arguments, you’d be better off not being there. Contributing nothing to such a gathering, even if you’re actually busy forming an opinion based on what others might be saying, is soon going to brand you as a mute – or someone who holds no point of view and has nothing whatsoever to say.
So may advice in such situations is, take an active part in any discussion in which you’re involved. Always find something to say related to whatever subject is being debated or considered. Don’t be afraid of being wrong or having someone disagree with you — just make sure you contribute a suggestion, or perhaps a point that isn’t being considered or even just a thought. Whether you agree with something being said or have another opinion, make yourself heard and go on record with your ideas and recommendations. You have, after all, been molded by a series of personal and professional experiences that give you a very unique perspective. But if you just sit there listening to others but staying mum, all that experience you acquired is going to waste, and you’re not going to leave any sort of impression – except that of an extremely passive and nonparticipating individual.
For many years, I myself suffered from a natural shyness that made me reluctant to say anything in such situations, and many times had to force myself to listen for something I could comment on or ask a question about. But I now realize that overcoming that hesitancy and making a point of airing my views to associates was one of the most important ways I could establish myself as a player, or a “presence,” in whatever business I was in at the time.
Now, I’m not advising you to just babble for the sake of babbling — but don’t listen just for the sake of listening either. Instead, listen for things that cause you to form a response, or ask a question. You might find that what you have to say has a profound impact on the collective point of view – or perhaps a more subtle effect that ends up changing the course of the discussion and ultimately altering some big decision.
And one other thing: when the performance reviews come around, even if they don’t remember exactly what it was you said, they will note the fact that “he/she always contributes.”