The pervading cultural stereotypes have it that women are “talkers”. Last June, after Huffington Post publisher and Uber board member Arianna Huffington commented during a board meeting that having one woman join the board would often leads to others, fellow board member David Bonderman responded that having one woman join a board simply led to “more talking.” Bonderman’s failure to restrain his own verbal diarrhea couldn’t have come at a more awkward moment; at the time the ridesharing giant was embroiled in a number of scandals, including a number of sexual harassment claims. He resigned later that day.
A plethora of research establishes that in fact, women are interrupted more often than men during meetings, and that men’s voices feature much more prevalently in decisionmaking, critical meetings and in the political arena.
In the world of business, the meeting is a critical advancement and decision-making unit. If you want to advance and have your ideas heard and acted upon, you must become adept at making your voice heard around those decision-making tables. So how to best do that? Here are some tips.
Get feedback on your meeting style: given that gatherings are so critical in business, it’s odd that few people seek or are given direct feedback on how they perform in meetings. If you’re consistently being talked over, or are failing to effectively communicate your ideas in meetings, getting feedback from someone you trust is an asset. Choose one or two people who have seen you in action in meetings, and ask them to give you their blunt comments.
Interrupt back: the next time someone interrupts you in a meeting…interrupt back. While interrupting others can feel distasteful or rude, it’s critical that you build the jockeying skills you need to ensure your ideas and perspectives come through. There are a number of ways to interrupt. You might allow the interrupter to finish and then say, “As I was saying before Mike jumped in…”. A more direct tack would be to not allow the person to finish but to jump in and say, “Excuse me Mike, but allow me to finish…” The key here is to not take getting interrupted personally. Don’t sit and stew; interrupt back.
Take the credit: another classic meeting experience is for a woman to have an idea she voices shot down or looked over…only to be claimed by a male colleague later in the very same meeting—or at a subsequent meeting— as his own. Out of a fear of seeming petty, many women will simply let the oversight slide. This decision can erode your patience, goodwill, and your voice. Resist the urge to take your colleagues’ oversight personally. Respond with some variation of this: “That’s a great idea. In fact, I said the exact same thing (earlier) or (last week).”
Cultivate allies: ideas need support if they want a hope of taking root. If you are going into a meeting and you know you’ll be pitching a bold new idea, float that idea by a handful of attendees beforehand to solicit feedback AND support before you pitch it formally. Make it a habit to show up to meetings early to engage with fellow attendees; these few minutes of relationship-building often creates the bond of support your best ideas need.
Position your ideas—don’t just explain them: most great ideas need to not only be shared but, often times, sold. The greatest communicators have always understood this. Rather than simply explain WHAT your idea is, make sure you are showing WHY it’s so important and what’s in it for each person around the table. Your ideas matter: do what you can to ensure they are heard and acted upon.