Meetings! Just mention the word and most people cringe, but it’s especially so for women. Many of my female clients tell me they struggle to make themselves heard in meetings, and it’s common across all leadership levels.
Some time ago there was a study done in the US to find out whether women were being heard at meetings, and the results clearly showed “meetings were a big stumbling block.”
What men think.
The study showed that male managers understood women have difficulty being heard and lack confidence. However, they also believed when women did speak out, they:
- didn’t make a clear point,
- couldn’t show evidence to support their opinions
- allowed themselves to be interrupted
- apologised unnecessarily
What women think.
It’s true. Many women do feel a lack of confidence at meetings, particularly if the meeting is heated. Clients have told me they are uncomfortable when meetings become angry, and don’t believe they have enough support from others when they try to get things back on track.
We can’t expect to be treated differently from the men during meetings just because we’re nervous or have quiet voices. We must learn to cut through the noise and be heard.
Here are five of the best ways you can make your voice count.
Follow the pre-meeting chat.
The authors of the study point out that a lot of the work happens before the meeting even begins. Men will arrive early to discuss their ideas, clarify their thoughts, and look for supporters. It’s like politics. The meeting is a formality; all the decisions have been made beforehand. Be part of that process. Get a feel for how the land lies and find your own supporters if you need to.
It’s hard not to be unnerved when you’re interrupted or asked to prove your point. The more preparation you can do, the more comfortable you’ll be with your material. Have the facts at your fingertips. Not only will it add credibility to your words, but it will also make you feel more confident.
Choose your words wisely.
Don’t start with an apology or a phrase which automatically downplays your contribution. “Sorry, but…” or “If you don’t mind…” will immediately suggest you doubt what you’re about to say. Be firm in what you say. Avoid words like “just” or “only” because they can belittle your words. Instead, use words like ‘I recommend”, “the evidence shows’’, or “the fact is…”. You can see how these words are strong and unemotional. At your next meeting, pay attention to the words the men use, and how they use them. You can incorporate their techniques into your own language and presentation.
Find your supporters.
In most cases, meetings at senior levels will be male-dominated, which can be uncomfortable for women. When you’re outnumbered, you can feel quite exposed when you’re arguing your case. Meet with the other female leaders before the meeting to seek their support. Of course, they might not agree with what you have to say, but they can still support your right to speak and be heard. And don’t overlook the male leaders. There’s bound to be some who will agree with your point of view. Find out who they are and how they can support your case during the meeting.
Don’t wait for an invitation.
We do tend to wait our turn, don’t we? In a meeting situation, who says we’ll ever get our turn? The conversation isn’t going to stop simply to consider your opinion. It’s up to you to seize the opportunity when you need to. Use your body language to help you be heard by standing up or leaning into the group. Make it clear that you intend to be heard.
Being heard will bring some difficulties with it; primarily the one that brands you as aggressive because you stand up for yourself. That’s part of the territory at the moment, unfortunately. You can mitigate that a little by being your warm, friendly self before and after the meeting, no matter how fiery it might have been.
What you have to say is important, so give it a go. Make your voice heard.
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