There’s nothing more frustrating than leaving a meeting feeling that you may as well not have been there, that your ideas were brushed over, your suggestions fell on deaf ears and your opinions went unheard. Here Ally Yates, author of Utter Confidence: How what you say and do influences your effectiveness in business, shares some ways to ensure you use your voice so people listen
‘How do I raise my profile in meetings?’ This is a question I’m often asked and the answer isn’t simply, ‘Say more’. Too many moments of valuable meeting time are consumed by those who like the sound of their own voices, or repeat themselves, or who simply blether on.
Giving an opinion or sharing information and experience are just two of the ways in which you can make a contribution to a meeting; these are also two of the least effective ways to behave.
Here are my top ten strategies for making your voice heard in meetings:
- Be selective. Know when and how to contribute. Develop a sense of timing that ensures you contribute without being disruptive.
- Be concise. Teams that work well tend to share the distribution of airtime, with no one person dominating. A big contributor to this efficiency is the ability to ‘get in’ to the conversation, say what you need to say and then ‘get out’. Being mindful of your personal style and the levels of participation across the group are fundamental to improving your performance and the success of the group.
- Vary your contributions. The default inputs in meetings fall into the ‘giving information’ category. This includes making statements of fact and giving an opinion or reasons. Research into effective meeting behaviours has revealed a number of more effective alternatives:
- If you don’t have anything to add, you can help the entire meeting by summarising key points at regular intervals. Summarising is a helpful, yet still relatively uncommon, behaviour. This is because to summarise accurately you have to be a good listener and be attending to the contributions of others, rather than focusing on your own agenda.
- A behaviour label is a device which announces the behaviour that you’re going to use next. For example: ‘Can I just ask a question?’, followed by a question, or ‘I’d like to add some information here’, followed by giving information, or ‘Here’s another idea for the pot’, followed by a proposal. Labelling helps to command the attention of the other people in the meeting and it then creates the space for you to say your piece and be heard.
- Shutting out: Sometimes, to get into a conversation you have to steal the airtime from another person. This is known as shutting out (SO). A helpful formula is A + B + C = SO. A is a non-verbal indication that you want to get in to the discussion. You can lean forward, indicate with your hand, nod with your head and/or make eye contact with the speaker or the chairperson in a way that communicates ‘I have something to say’. B is a behaviour label. Use a label to prepare the audience that you want their attention. C is the category of behaviour you use next, e.g. asking a question, suggesting an idea.
- This is a behaviour used by the most skilful individuals. Building behaviour is defined as ‘adding to or modifying a proposal or suggestion made by another person’. In a meeting this might sound like:
Proposal: I’d like to spend some time looking at those figures
Build: Maybe we could get Sam to talk you through them
Building relies on your ability to listen. Done authentically, building also demonstrates that your interest lies with the people generating the ideas, rather than competing with your own ideas. This is why effective ‘builders’ are often described as helpful. A further use of building is as an alternative to disagreeing with someone’s idea. Rather than reject the suggestion outright, take an element of the idea that you like and work with that. It’s a powerful way to build relationships, improve climate and gain momentum.
- Reacting behaviours let other people know how we respond to what they have said. The two most common are supporting and disagreeing. ‘Low reactors’ can often have a negative or destabilising effect on a group because others find it hard to judge where they’re coming from. So rather than set the group on edge, use supporting and disagreeing as a way of being heard. When you like an idea or agree with something, say so. When you aren’t convinced, let people know. Skilled performers support and disagree in equal measure. With disagreeing, be sure to state your reasons first and then your disagreement. That way you can be sure people have heard the basis of your dispute.
- Give less, ask more, ask better. Being curious rather than judgmental is one of the most powerful ways to ensure you’re heard and to build the relationships that will help you towards success. Ask people for their ideas, their thoughts and their reactions. Questions also help to provide clarity in the meeting, ensuring people leave with the same level of understanding.
- Develop influencing styles. To influence without authority requires a skilful use of the ‘pull’ style of persuasion. Behaviourally this is characterised by: seeking proposals; building and seeking information. However, when time is short, or where you’re the expert, or where you’re happy to go with compliance rather than commitment then you will need to master a ‘push’ style of persuasion. Here the dominant behaviours are proposing ideas and giving information. Being heard in business is helped by choosing the style that best fits the situation and exercising it skilfully.
Building awareness of these tactics and taking opportunities to practice can help you to build new behavioural muscle. This will raise your skill level – and your profile.