Are there different communication patterns for men and women at your workplace? Are male and female voices given equal credit? Do men monopolize the conversations, using louder voices and talking over women?
If so, you need to find a way not just to enter the conversation, but to get your ideas heard. The following are some suggestions that may help you become more visible and assertive, especially during meetings:
•First, choose your timing. While you do want to speak in most discussions, trying to jump in early may work against you. Make sure you fully understand the big picture or the boss’ perspective before you take a firm position. You may not want to seem to change your opinion midstream. That can make you appear indecisive.
•When you do speak, slow down and try to speak calmly. Passionate speech has many purposes, but it often doesn’t work well in the workplace. Instead, it can sound tenuous, nervous, and strident.
•Don’t be attacking or disparaging. Don’t try to belittle an idea, suggestion, or person. You have an opinion and you should be able to support it without being negative about the ideas of others.
•Come prepared. If you know a topic you feel strongly about will be on the agenda, do some review before the meeting so your opinion is informed and current.
•Humor can be helpful, but use it sparingly. Much humor comes at the expense of others, and it can fall flat in a business meeting.
•Don’t whine. Whining turns everyone off. Instead, find a few phrases that help you claim the focus or recapture the floor as needed. Statements like, “I would like to push back on that idea just a bit, ” or, “I’d like to finish the thought I was offering a few minutes ago,” are assertive, but not whiny (such as, “Bob, you always cut me off,” or, “Don’t be insulting.”)
•Never say, “Let me play devil’s advocate,” or “I don’t know if this is right,” or “I’m sorry to disagree.” Others hate the devil advocate’s trick which is simply a ploy to slow things down. And every time you start with an apology, you show insecurity, and your message tends to be diminished.
•Be observant of others-particularly professional women you admire. What tactics do they use? Is their timing important? How do they language their opinions, questions, and concerns? Why is their input readily accepted? If your boss is a woman, how does she manage differences in communication between women and men?
Holding your own in a meeting (especially a meeting dominated by men) is a skill that can, and must, be learned by women just entering the workforce. Some women are natural communicators, but even these may need to tailor their approach a bit. With a little work, you will acquire the skills needed to not only participate fully in business meetings, but to direct them as appropriate.