First – what’s up with us not having the courage to speak up and tell people our point of view? We don’t imagine the challenges we experience, they exist, but rather than give into to the challenges we have control over how we put our best-self forward and use our personal power and presence to move the dial in being heard more often.
Imagine if at the end of the day you knew you had always contributed what you thought valuable to the business and it was heard? I wonder what percent we hold back on non-communication each day – 10%? perhaps more. It’s too much whatever it is.
Do these fears resonate with you when you're in a mostly male group at work?
- Fear of being wrong or making a mistake
- Fear of not quite having all the facts for an opinion
- Fear of idea being rejected
- Fear of being ignored when speaking
- Fear of thinking you’re only one who doesn’t understand something
- Fear of not following polite rules of conversational engagement and waiting for opportunity to contribute
- Fear of being identified as a woman and not ‘one of the guys’
We so want to be certain before we speak that we can be preparing our statements in our heads before saying them – but look at the check list of fears that we have to conquer before our input is received by the group.
So what can we do? There is not a single answer to get us heard but there are lots of strategies we can use, especially once we start to identify what is holding us back. Here are some of my thoughts on strategies to overcome some of the fears.
First we need to get use to the idea that our idea may be rejected, hijacked by someone else, or we may be ignored, this obviously isn’t the outcome we want but simply starting to voice our perspective is a starting point. Those things can’t happened to us until we voiced something in the meeting.
Action: Don’t leave any meetings this week with your inside voice wishing it had been heard. Blurt it out and be proud of saying it out loud even if you’re ignored, idea rejected or hijacked – we’ve all got to start somewhere.
If the idea is rejected for some reason, we mustn't take it personally, its business. Lots of ideas are put forth and shot down until something resonates in the meeting. I’m not going to say that the ideas accepted are the right ones from a diversity inclusion perspective but the notion of ideas generated and lots shot-down is a skill we need to learn to experience and is not is not a response to us personally but a business response.
Action: Experience idea rejection as part of the business process and not personal rejection. In fact
raise the number of ideas you get rejected – it’s got to go up to get more ideas to land successfully.
Sometimes we get hung up on having all the facts before offering an opinion so we need to develop some phrases ahead of time that can help us couch our opinion so we're comfortable. Seriously, people in meetings are always full of making ‘factual’ statements on little information, one hopes when the rubber hits the road on the idea that due diligence is done but in many meetings getting ideas out for the debate is the critical thing to do.
Action: Consider offering statements like, “I have a hunch x and y will lead to outcome x”or “My gut says x and y will lead to outcome x” or “From what I know at this point, I think x and y will lead to x”
It happens all the time, a woman speaks in a meeting, there is a moment of silence, and then the conversation moves on like she never existed. We need to be prepared for it– I’ve it happens more commonly when I’m offering an idea that is from a different perspective (not necessarily a gender based view) or alternative solution that the room hasn’t yet considered. What I’ve found works is in that split second when I think, ‘Ah crap, I’m getting the silent ignore’ is to quickly add “What do you think of the idea – Josh?” that then put’s at least one person on the spot to answer and acknowledge the contribution.
Action: Be prepared for the silence after you speak, and put someone on the spot to respond to what you’ve said.
Now the challenge is how to find the opening to speak in a rapid debate? This can be a nightmare – like being a foreigner from a rural area trying to figure out how to hail a cab in New York City. It can seem like there is an opportunity coming as you listen to the conversation but just as it slows to when it’s appropriate to interject someone swoops in and takes the conversation over and marches it forward not realizing it was your turn. To use another analogy, I have found even in fast two people conversations at work that it feels like I’m running a relay where the first person runs alongside the second runner so they have speed before the baton is handed over. Exhausting yes, but the other first speaker will hand over the conversation if they see that you’re up to speed and are ready to contribute. Now once you have the baton you have some control of the pace.
People don’t like to be seen as being rude, so while offering up an idea in a cacophony of noise hoping someone will respond, I have found attaching someone’s name to my request my offering is harder to ignore.
Action: Use names to get a direct response and make someone accountable for responding to you.“John, I have an idea… John?”
I have been many meetings where something is being discussed I don’t understand and waited until the meeting is over before finding out what it was. However later in my career I learned it was okay to ask for clarity on terms, definitions, etc. I like to tell myself I'm in the room because of the expertise I have, not because I know the same as everyone else. And I can't tell you how many meetings I've been in when I've asked for someone to clarify what they mean by a particular term, to find out that either others didn't understand or others had been using a different definition of the word.
Action: “Can you clarify what you mean by X?” or “I’m not familiar with X, are there others here who
aren’t familiar? Or I can follow up later on it”
Okay – so now you have some action items for the week. Please speak up and share your ideas, thoughts and insights - without speaking out in meetings you are not going to be heard – it’s vital for you and your career and it’s vital for the business you work for.
What I haven’t covered today is the Fear of being seen as a woman, as something that holds us back in speaking up with a female perspective. Businesses need to increase their awareness of realizing this is happening because leveraging diversity of opinion is how products and services will develop their competitive advantage in the future. Watch for a future post specifically on how to encourage businesses to listen to valuable diverse opinions of women, and how we need to increase our confidence of the value this perspective offers to the business and to fulfilling what we know we can contribute.