We’ve all been at the meetings when the participants take their stereotypical roles: the constant text-messager or gadget-meister; the one who invariably takes the topic off-course; the one who always tries to steer the meeting back on course; the long-winded one who states an opinion every time someone else takes a breath (!!) and… the woman or man who never speaks up.
In large organizations, large meetings or when the person in question is a front line worker – let’s be honest, no one’s missing that silent voice. It’s unfair, sad, but true.
In meetings of any size, when you are a person in any kind of position of authority, by actual title, functional title, or especially aspiring to be in a higher role of leadership, you cannot afford to play that hidden role. More is at stake than you think.
“I’m just quiet. I’m just listening. I’m an introvert and don’t like to talk in crowds. I’ll just let the same old blabbermouths have their say. They don’t care about what I have to say, anyway. I don’t want to speak and say anything stupid.”
“What’s wrong with him? Why won’t she speak up? Doesn’t he ever have an opinion? What’s she even doing here? He must be out of his league! Maybe she’s just not too bright.”
Why else to speak up
It’s just wrong to allow misinformation to go unchallenged and allow your time and everyone else’s to be wasted while you may be sitting on the solution people are searching for. You may also not be aware of it but “watchers” in high places are often waiting to see just what it will take for you to open your mouth and prove that their confidence in your abilities is not misplaced. Think of meetings as the in-house audition for your next move up.
How to Get into the Fray
Pick a low stakes statement and a low stakes meeting. When you know you need to make a better impression with your director or deputy; you received a poor evaluation; big boss is there, your department is being represented, wrong information is being given, your issue is being ignored. Get out of the habit of avoidance. Adopt a body posture of “presence”.
Have a note pad, mac book or iPad. take some notes – bullet points but don’t sit there and spend the whole meeting writing and then saying nothing. (That just looks ridiculous, like you’re a spy or a recording secretary.) Look towards whoever has the floor. If there are a bunch of blabbermouths who cut you off because they are not expecting you to weigh in wave your pen high and, if necessary, interrupt them back. Some people really don’t get social cues and keep on talking even if you say, excuse me. What to do then? You just begin to talk as well, a little louder than the current talker. When everyone stops in stunned silence you can cheekily say, “Pardon me, but…” make your point. You matter.
Some Prompts to get you started
Write these on your note pad or tablet – for your eyes only – and use them as a means to start your contribution:
- I agree with ________and I woud also add________
- I see this a different way. My thought is ___________
- Has anyone considered____________
- Another way to put it is____________
- May I suggest__________
It’s like jumping into double dutch. If you’ve ever played – or tried to play – that jump rope game, you know it’s very tricky to know just when to jump in without getting slapped in the face and feet entangled by the doubled ropes. SO you just go for it. Same as in these types of meetings. There is a point when you may realize there will be no opening for you so you have to make one for yourself.
Will you feel unsure and awkward starting out? Will people accustomed to you being part of the decor react in surprise at first? For sure. But it will likely be a very welcome surprise for your team mates. You are in this job because you have a major contribution to make and not just behind closed doors. We’re all tired of hearing from our over-sharers, but you have been appointed for such a time as this!