Sounding off: How to speak up at meetings

Silence is not golden: keeping quiet may send out the wrong signals

A colleague’s introduction will legitimise your comments

Meetings can be daunting for any introvert, but there is no virtue in silence. Not only will your good ideas go unheard, you risk sending the wrong message to your superiors: either that you’re lazy and unprofessional; or that you don’t have anything valuable to contribute. Here are some tips for speaking up.

GET IN EARLY

There is no single school of thought as to when you should speak up in a meeting. Demand Media’s Sam Ashe-Edmunds advises caution. “Your questions and comments might be answered by someone else who goes after you and you might learn that you misinterpreted what was said,” Ashe-Edmunds told Chron. “Wait until you are confident that your input is needed and correct before you raise your hand.”

However, if you are confident in your opinion, but apprehensive about sharing it in a meeting with senior figures, it may be best to go bold early on. “When you delay speaking up, you may become more withdrawn and find it harder to break into the discussion,” warns executive coach Joel Garfinkle. “So lead the discussion instead of following it and reap the benefits of being fully engaged in every meeting.” By raising an important point early on, you are likely to shape discussion around your areas of interest.

ARRANGE AN INTRODUCTION

If you are feeling anxious, approach a more senior and confident colleague who shares your point of view. “You find an avenue where you are being pulled in,” notes organisational psychologist Michael Woodward, speaking to the Wall Street Journal. They can introduce you during discussion, legitimise and formalise your part in proceedings, so you are less likely to feel rushed or be interrupted before you have finished.

AVOID “YOU”

Speaking up can be difficult, particularly if you want to express disagreement with a co-worker. But you may be able to ease adversarialism and attendant tension by making your criticism feel less direct.

Try using “I” instead of “you”. A statement like “I feel this should be handled differently” keeps the focus on the practice you feel could be improved, without placing the blame for any sub-optimal practice directly on your colleague.

A FEW CHOICE WORDS

If you’re looking for a silver bullet or two, research has suggested that certain words may increase the chances of your ideas being accepted by colleagues. Data analysis of 95 meetings by MIT’s Cynthia Rudin and Been Kim indicates that, by saying “yeah”, “start”, “meeting” and “discuss”, you are more likely to get approval from bosses. “The word ‘meeting’ is used in suggestions about what not to discuss,” noted Rudin. “For instance, someone might say, ‘Maybe this is something for the next meeting,’ as a way of gently moving the topic onward without causing offence.”

Even if you don’t advance the conversation in any significant way, it may be useful to participate on a rudimentary level. President of Speak for Success Jezra Kaye says that “in test after test, it has been established that if you say nothing during a business conversation (or worse, a series of conversations), your value will go down in the eyes of your colleagues.”


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