finding your voice in meetings

Have you ever walked out of a meeting with a mouth full of thoughts you didn’t express? Experienced that annoying niggle of disappointment that a decision was made without consideration of your unexpressed opinion? Ever sat in a meeting and felt inadequate to contribute?

Yeah. Me too.

It was only when I started coaching new staff on my team about how to engage in our broader staff team meetings that I became more aware of these behaviour patterns for myself.

Get heard early. 

Nancy Beach in her book “Gifted to Lead” speaks of the importance of hearing your voice in the room and doing that as soon as possible. She suggests that the longer you don’t speak the harder it becomes to speak. She recommends making a contribution early – even if it’s just to greet people or respond to other’s early input – to break the ice and clear the way for your further participation. It’s a great strategy.

Don’t wait to be asked. 

I’ve heard others say (and I’ve been there myself) that they don’t feel their opinion is invited or even welcomed in meetings. Might I suggest that your inclusion in the meeting IS your invitation to contribute. You are rarely requested to attend a meeting so that you can observe it. You’re in the room because you have something to say about the content of the meeting or because you have something to learn from the content. Either way, your statements or questions are expected on the basis of your calendar request. Generally speaking, if you’re in the room it’s because you’re meant to contribute. Don’t wait for a further invitation.

Embrace conflict and humility. 

It’s a well-beaten drum of mine but conflict is an essential component of effective anything! Meetings are certainly no exception. Conflict of ideas will make your team or company stronger and better. But it requires humility to see that happen. Be ready to have your ideas contradicted without taking it personally. They can still like you and disagree with your perspective. An un-adopted idea doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t like you so much as they just don’t think it’s the best idea on the table. Don’t let the knock back of one idea prevent you from offering any further ideas.

What about you? What difficulties do you encounter in finding your voice in meetings? What strategies have you or your teams utilised to be more effective at hearing the room and maximising the collective wisdom, creativity and talent of your team?

3 ways to listen better

Did you know you can improve the quality of a speaker by improving the quality of your listening? You have the power to improve the communication capacity of others by engaging more intentionally when you listen. 

1. Look like you’re listening. 

When someone knows you are listening their language, tone and demeanour can be more relaxed. A person fighting for your attention will feel led to be more exaggerated, intense or dramatic in order to capture your interest and garner a response. 

Giving the speaker your full attention – looking at them, stopping what you are doing and facing your body towards them communicates value and engagement. They will be freed to more clearly communicate what they were wanting to say. 

2. Let your face know what you’re thinking. 

I have a very loud face. There has barely been an emotion I’ve felt that hasn’t demonstrated itself on my face – for better or worse!! 

For better, someone speaking to me rarely has to guess what I’m feeling. For the most part my face mirrors the feelings being communicated or the facial expressions they are displaying. In a psychological sense, this mirroring communicates empathy for the speaker – “I am feeling what you’re feeling.” 

Some people are naturally more blank. Their thinking face is expressionless. While you may well be following closely what the speaker is saying, they are not to know this from looking at you. You need to think about what your face conveys to the speaker. 

3. Affirm the speaker. 

Nodding your head, hmmm’ing, and saying “I see”, “oh really?” or, “uh-huh” let the speaker know you are listening even if there’s nothing much else for you to say in response. 

Note – you can’t use these when you’re not listening! It’s unfair to the speaker and ultimately damages their trust in your true attention. These sounds are verbal affirmations to keep going, I’m with you, tell me what happened next. In their absence, in your silence, the speaker is forced to concede they’ve lost their audience or elevate the tone, volume and intensity to try and win you back. 

‘Half-listening’ could very well double the speaking time. That’s bad maths. A speaker can lose focus on their main idea while trying to capture your undivided attention or elicit a response. 

Ultimately, your listening can make the speaker more concise and more interesting. 

What other traits have you noticed of good listeners? How have you found a good listener can improve your communication?