“I’m one of the younger people in my office, and people never let me speak in meetings. It’s a constant competition to be heard and whenever I try to join the conversation, someone else usually talks over me. I’m getting really frustrated – how can I get them to listen to me?” – Abby from Oklahoma City, OK
Meetings can be great for collaboration – sometimes, there’s no better way to tackle a problem or task than getting everyone together in the same room to talk about it. Unfortunately, when there’s a lot of people eager to contribute, the voice of some colleagues – often younger or female colleagues – can get lost in the conversation.
Remember that you’ve worked hard to get where you are and that your perspective is valuable. Consider the following strategies to make yourself heard in meetings:
Sit near the center of the table. It’s easier to be left out of the conversations if you’re sitting at the end of the table. Positioning yourself near the center not only puts you in the middle of the conversation flow, but also subliminally reinforces that you’re central to the discussion at hand.
Jump into the conversation – tactfully. Usually, when we talk one-on-one or with a small group of our peers, we wait for a pause in conversation that indicates it’s our turn to talk. In a business meeting with a lot of opinionated colleagues, these pauses can be hard to come by. Interrupting is an art. You’ll seem less rude if you first restate (“If I hear you correctly, you’re saying X”) or react (“I like Tom’s suggestion and would also recommend we do X”) to what others have said first.
Speak confidently. The more you sound like you believe in your ideas, the more others are likely to listen. Practice talking about your ideas without saying phrases like “I think,” “in my opinion,” “this could just be me” and “this might not be a good idea, but….” These phrases sound like you doubt your opinions and leave the door open for others in the meeting to do the same.
Watch your body language. Observe the body language of your other colleagues in the room – particularly the ones who speak up frequently and hold others’ attention. Are they sitting up straight in their chairs, leaning forward into the conversation, using hand gestures to indicate when they have a point to add, etc.? Mimic them when it’s your turn to speak, and avoid slouching, shifting in your seat or fidgeting.
Don’t let yourself be interrupted. When you finally have everybody’s hard-won attention, hold the floor until you’re done articulating your comments. If others try to interrupt you, it’s fine to politely say something like “please allow me to finish my thought,” “I’d just like to add before we move forward that X” or “I’d love to hear your feedback, but wanted to finish saying one thing first.”
Lastly, I recommend checking out Cheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In for more suggestions on how women can overcome workplace challenges and advance their professional careers.
Readers: What other strategies have you found effective for being heard in meetings? Share your tips and ideas in the comment section below!