An Excerpt from Smart, Not Loud

Jessica Chen

July 08, 2024


Business communication expert Jessica Chen provides a complete guide to help individuals effectively advocate for themselves while maintaining authenticity in the workplace.

Many professionals who tend to be more reserved, whether due to their natural temperament, their cultural upbringing, or a combination of factors, often struggle to stand out in corporate cultures that value speaking up and taking initiative. Author Jessica Chen experienced this during her career as a broadcast journalist, where opportunities would often go to her more outgoing colleagues, which clashed with her ingrained values of keeping a low profile and letting her work speak for itself.

Her new book, Smart, Not Loud: How to Get Noticed at Work for All the Right Reasons, offers a guide for professionals who have felt similar frustrations throughout their careers and want to get noticed at work in a way that still honors their quieter nature. In this excerpt from the book’s opening pages, Chen introduces the concepts of Quiet Culture and Loud Culture, using a story to highlight the consequences of what happens when one style of communication is favored over the other.


Kevin, a junior associate at a large consumer brand, entered his boss’s office, burdened by an overwhelming feeling of disappointment. He was unable to comprehend why he had been passed over for a promotion he had been eagerly anticipating. Determined to get to the root of the matter, he approached his boss, Ben, and asked the question that had been weighing on his mind: “You liked my work; how come I didn’t get the promotion?”

Ben, who had been busy juggling several pressing matters, turned to Kevin and responded, “Let me show you something.”

He strode over to the whiteboard in his office, took hold of a dry-erase marker, and drew several circles. “Within each circle are the things going on in my life right now,” Ben explained. “I’m thinking about my own promotion. I’m thinking about my client who is upset at me. I’m thinking about my wife who wants me to go to a dinner event with her. I’m thinking about my dog that just injured his leg. I’m thinking about my kids and their upcoming baseball game. I have thirty employees, three of whom are always coming into my office, making small talk.” He paused, then continued, “You don’t come into my office, so how often do you think I’m going to think about you when I have all these things occupying my brain?”

Kevin stood there, stunned. He had never thought about it that way. He figured his work should—and would—speak for itself.

“I like you a lot,” Ben added. “I know you have a lot of potential, but you need to proactively come into my office and make your presence part of my daily brain.”

This story was shared by my friend Michael Chen, as we were chatting on Zoom one afternoon about what it takes to find workplace success today. Chen is the former president and CEO of General Electric’s Media, Communications, and Entertainment division. As Chen shared this story, I couldn’t help but reflect that I could relate to Kevin’s plight.

Growing up, I was never taught the importance of making myself visible, of continually following up as a way of staying top of mind. I was never taught the importance of being proactive or how to speak up with tact. Instead, I was taught to work hard, hit my key performance indicators, and not cause trouble. The expectation was that as long I did these things, promotions and raises would follow, like clockwork. However, as with Kevin, it didn’t take long for me to see that this formula wasn’t actually what was needed to be successful in the workplace. What actually mattered was the ability to showcase myself. Not only that, communication and being visible were required— and rewarded. Thus, a paradox started to form. How was I supposed to be “loud” when I was only ever taught to embody more “quiet” traits?

I’ve discovered there’s a group of us today who were raised in what I call a Quiet Culture. People like us are told from an early age to follow instructions, listen to others, talk less, and let our work speak for itself. But those raised in a Loud Culture are taught to do virtually the opposite: share their opinions frequently, make a lot of noise, and carve out opportunities for themselves. One is not better than the other, but when one cultural context is placed in another, the ability to get noticed in the way we want becomes difficult.

Early on, when I started to feel stuck at work, I immersed myself in learning, listening, and reading all the communication and leadership content out there to glean insight into how to become more loud and visible. While insightful, many of the teachings didn’t address my most pressing question: Could I still hold on to my Quiet Culture values, or did I need to mold myself and become a loud person to fit in? And if I didn’t, would I just become utterly forgotten?

As I began to look around, one of the most surprising things I found was that I wasn’t alone in feeling this way. Many people, like me, who were raised with Quiet Culture values, felt unsure about how to chime in or show up in a Loud Culture working world. They also felt like they didn’t know how to do it without acting a certain way. It’s why I have dedicated this book to talking about Quiet Culture and Loud Culture. Specifically, this book is for those who were raised with Quiet Culture traits and are now working in a Loud Culture world. Because the truth is, this friction is beyond just being an introvert or extrovert; it’s something deeper. It’s the values and beliefs we have been taught in our most formative years that have shaped who we’ve become, what we know, and what behaviors we find comfort in.

So this book is a guide, a dedication, and a personal reflection of sorts that aims to explore the question I hoped to answer years ago. Over time, I have discovered that it is possible to be noticed exactly the way we want to be without complete acculturation. We can still honor that Quiet Culture part of our nature while expanding what we know, how we act, and how we communicate, so we can better express ourselves in the workplace today.


Excerpted from Smart, Not Loud: How to Get Noticed at Work for All the Right Reasons by Jessica Chen, in agreement with Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Jessica Chen, 2024.


About the Author

Jessica Chen is an Emmy-Award winner, top virtual keynote speaker, and CEO of Soulcast Media, a global business communication training agency.

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