Post by Jand K. Stimmler, contributing Women On Business writer
Recently I read an article entitled “On Court’s First Day, Sotomayor Jumps In” which referred to Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s first day on the Supreme Court. The article went on to say that the Justice “displayed no reticence on the first day of her first term on the court…(she) asked many questions and made as many comments as Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.” I say, good for her! As I have discussed in previous blogs, it is vital for women to jump in to important business conversations and meetings in order to establish themselves. A couple of my recent conversations with women friends have demonstrated, however, that it is important to make certain you have enough facts and information before you do the jumping. Otherwise you may find yourself jumping right off a cliff.
One of my friends did just that.
She was involved in a cause about which she was passionate – volunteering at a non-profit organization that helps advocate for children in potentially harmful family situations. “Lee” enjoyed her work and felt strongly about the cases she was involved in. When a Board member asked if she would be interested in joining a Board Committee, Lee immediately agreed to attend the next meeting and then she went to work. She had a lot of ideas about how to improve things, and was anxious to share, so she put an outline together and marched into the Committee meeting.
When she was introduced, Lee launched into her ideas – and was met with dead silence. As it turned out, many of her ideas had been considered in the past and had either not succeeded or had been discarded for other reasons. Lee was, at a minimum, perceived as wasting time and some of her ideas were met with outright hostility because they had the potential to stir up acrimonious debate. Lee had established herself at the meeting, but not in a positive way. In fact, Lee was so uncomfortable with the whole experience that, in the end, she did not continue serving on the Committee.
What went wrong?
Lee’s contributions at her first meeting would likely have been welcomed if she had done some homework first. For example, she could have met separately with the Board member and one or two others who invited her to be a part of the Committee to find out about its dynamics, history and current issues. This would have given her the background she needed to determine if, how and when to proceed with her ideas. Lee could have used the first Committee meeting to observe events first-hand, and perhaps to contribute in areas she knew to be hot topics. She might then have decided to ease in, rather than jumping, on some of her ideas. By establishing herself in a positive way, she would have had more power to influence future policies and decision-making.
Bottom line: make sure you know what you are talking about, and walking into, before you decide to jump in. A little up-front information-gathering can go a long way in ensuring that your first sound bites are something you’ll be proud of, and will pave the way for good future relationships.
Do you have an experience you’d like to share? Please join the conversation!