Have you had the experience where you felt like you had something to contribute to a conversation or a meeting and couldn’t find the opening or the space to present your idea?
Did you ever leave a meeting feeling frustrated that the group did not invite you to share your opinion?
And perhaps even more frustratingly, have you ever had the experience of speaking up, only to find that your words fell on deaf ears, even though you were certain that what you offered was a positive solution to the problems at hand?
If the answer is yes to any of these, then you are probably operating with a continuous “yield” sign in your mind. In a meeting with high-powered personalities and type-A people, it is easy to lose one’s voice and presence because the more dynamic people in the room are pushing hard to get their voices heard over everyone else. They are sometimes fueled by an ultra-competitive edge and won’t take the time or create the space for the introverts of the room to find their voice and make their points. (Gross generalization, I know, but I think that many know what that room feels like.)
While it would be nice if the group changed its behavior, unless you are the boss, you don’t have much control over how it behaves (and even then you have limited control).
What you do have control over is your own approach and behavior, and in that you have some power.
Check in with yourself and see if you are waiting for an invitation to speak. See if you are harboring a resentment that no one ever asks you to participate, or if they do, then they don’t listen to you. Be aware as well if you are falling into a passive-aggressive role of holding back your opinion as a punishment to the group.
If any of these things are true (and it takes some courage to admit it if they are), then you have a choice.
Stop asking for permission
As an adult and as a member of a leadership team, you are expected to give yourself permission to speak. No one in the room wants to take care of you, mainly because they are too busy taking care of themselves.
(On a side note: be wary of those who want to take care of you. They aren’t necessarily helping.)
Here are some basic facts that will help you to take away the yield sign and to speak up:
1. If you are invited to a leadership meeting, it is because someone values your opinion. You have a responsibility to speak up.
2. If you minimize what you say, the group will assume that it isn’t important.
3. The less of an introduction you give to your point, the more open the group will be to hear it. Get right to the point.
4. You are not responsible for the emotions in the room.
5. The more still and open your body is (no fidgeting or head ducking), the more confident you will appear.
6. Finally, you don’t have to earn your right to have an opinion. Anything that you have to offer (as long as it isn’t an attempt to manipulate), has some value. The group might not be ready to hear it, or it might not be the right value for now, but it has value.
As Martha Graham once said to Agnes DeMille (cited from Anne Bogart’s book A Director Prepares) about not getting in the way of your talent:
“It is not your business to determine how good it is; nor how valuable it is; nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you.”
In short, stop waiting for permission or for the perfect opportunity and get your voice heard.
Be clear, concise and calm and you will be surprised at how you will be received.
(Oh yeah, and be a little more brave.)