Celebrate Women’s History Month
Increase Your Leadership Presence and Impact in Meetings
Too many women are familiar with the experience of convening a meeting only to have it co-opted by male peers or even male subordinates. Even when you’re the expert on the topic at hand, women sometimes see their ideas discounted until stated by a man. With effective strategies for using body language, tone of voice and word selection to your advantage, and techniques for dealing with interruptions, you can run and participate in meetings in ways that increase your presence, effectiveness and confidence, rather than frustration.
Your experience is real
If you’ve sometimes felt that men talk more in meetings, that’s not all in your head. Research in a variety of fields shows men are far more likely to speak in meetings and far more likely to interrupt women. Research on the Supreme Court found that male justices were three times more likely to interrupt female justices than to interrupt one another. In an analysis of 43 studies reported in The Washington Post, men were more likely than women to talk over others in ways that silenced them and showed dominance.
You can increase your impact in meetings and other workplace conversations by building your leadership presence, and with specific techniques that help manage the gaps between prevalent styles of male and female communication. Tap into these tips.
- Portray confidence. Notice I didn’t say “be” or “feel” confident. I hope you experience that sense in your work life often and research suggests those feelings tend to arise from experiences of driving your own accomplishments. However, confidence can be a tricky concept and we know from other studies that, even when women feel confident, others may not interpret their behaviors that way. So, you need to learn to portray the confidence you feel.
Confident body language is one way to signal to others (and to your own brain) that you believe in what you’re saying. That might include physically taking up more space by opening your body, moving your arms away from your torso a bit, standing or sitting taller and moving with intention. In workplace encounters that feel intimidating, it can also help to visualize and recall other times when you’ve felt particularly confident, even if that’s at the gym or debating ideas among friends.
- Speak with authority. Speech patterns help build or erode your authority. It takes practice, but slowing down your rate of speech can help you find the right words and avoid filler like um and uh. Preparing your thoughts ahead of time, and even practicing key points out loud can also help. Be mindful of speaking clearly and loudly enough that others do not strain to hear you. This can be especially important to decrease the likelihood of being interrupted, and to recapture the floor if someone does interrupt you. You can even have a few stock phrases in your arsenal so that you’re ready to deal with interruptions. Simply saying, “I had not finished speaking, let me take a minute to return to what I was saying,” can respectfully but firmly give you back the floor. Then be ready to make your point without apology for returning to the spotlight.
- Manage your emotions. There are frankly many double standards that impact women unfairly at work, and often women of color even more so. Women often walk a tightrope in terms of workplace conversation with behaviors that are seen as appropriately authoritative by men tagged as aggressive or pushy in women. Displays of emotion by men, especially anger and frustration, are often seen as appropriate to the situation or “blowing off steam,” where women might be accused of losing control. It is important to remain composed, continue to speak in an even tone and not allow yourself to get rushed or flustered in the face of criticism or diverging viewpoints.
Managing emotions starts in the body. Tune into your breathing and slow it down to calm your nervous system, keep your brain online and anchor yourself in the present moment. Keep your posture strong and open. Make eye contact with others and then use your voice in a firm, unrattled way.
- Clear up your vocabulary
If you have made a serious error or inadvertently hurt someone, by all means apologize. Otherwise, remove “sorry” from your vocabulary. There is no need to start sentences with phrases such as, “I’m sorry, but I think there might be another approach here.” Or by saying, “I just think . . .” or “Maybe it could work if we . . .” Stating your thoughts directly and succinctly is not arrogant; it’s confident and professional.
- Find an amplifier and amplify others.
Senior women in the Obama administration are credited with formalizing a technique of women working together to raise one another’s voices. If a female colleague’s idea was glossed over in a meeting, other women would repeat it, credit its author and return attention to that concept. You can say something like, “Brianna made a great point on this topic and we need to explore that more fully.” Talk with other women you work with to make amplification a regular practice that is available to you when needed.
Meetings rule so much of the work day. Investing in techniques that boost your credibility and impact in meetings is likely to pay significant dividends in the next one your attend, and over the arc of your career.