Post by Jane K. Stimmler, contributing Women On Business writer
A wonderful woman who worked for my firm came to every client meeting armed with pen and paper. Though her title was Vice President, and she was experienced and educated, during meetings she sat and took notes. She didn’t contribute to the conversation until and unless she was asked a direct question. As I saw it, she was missing opportunities to establish deeper relationships with clients, to add her ideas and knowledge, and to demonstrate expertise.
After puzzling over her behavior, I decided it was time to have a talk about the subject. As it turned out, she thought she was being helpful by taking meeting minutes and following up on the action steps. She did not realize the importance of being an active participant in meetings. She was surprised that others might perceive her as being less knowledgeable and, frankly, more administrative, when she didn’t speak up. As we talked, my colleague saw the bigger picture, understood that her role went beyond tactics, and saw that her active participation in meetings would enhance her position within the firm – as well as with clients.
Sometimes, even when you are aware of the importance of contributing to a meeting, it’s difficult to get your voice heard.
Tip: Jump In
When in a meeting or conversation, jump into the discussion early to ensure you are a part of the dialogue or you may feel awkward later on. Take advantage of your good listening skills and seize on something you’ve just heard, formulate your thoughts quickly – and respond. You’ll be seen as an involved and thoughtful member of the group.
Women are perceived as better listeners than are men, and while this can be an asset, it is often viewed as a weakness by men in a meeting situation. It makes the woman appear tentative, passive and without a strong opinion on what is being discussed. And, if she waits until the meeting has ended to share a great idea with a co-worker – she has, in essence, wasted her good idea by not revealing it to the group. She may even produce a negative reaction – “why didn’t she speak up when we were all together in the meeting?” That’s way it is vital to stay focused on the discussion and, instead of keeping your thoughts to yourself, speak up.
Use your ingenuity to find the best way to get into the discussion. If you’re in a crowded room, you may have to stand up to project your words. If you have a soft voice, you might find you have to speak more loudly than usual. Remember to be assertive, not aggressive! And, if the conversation is coming fast and furious, you’ll need to seize on a break in the action to speak up. All of this requires paying attention – and hanging on to your self-confidence in order to get your message across. However, it will pay off now – and give you experience for future endeavors.
Do you find it hard to get your ideas heard? What issues have you encountered?
Great advice. I tried this today at work…We had a meeting and I’m usually the quiet type, and I just jumped into the conversation…I really raised some eyebrows today.
I recently finished a book called, Cornfield Heiress by Errollynne Peters. It made me realize how far women in business have come.
We really have come along way haven’t we!
Cecilia Edwards says
Your point on note taking is worth highlighting. In an old book (from the ’70’s I believe “Game Mother Never Taught You: Corporate Gamesmanship for Women,” the author mentions men thinking that women are better note takers and rely on them to document everything.
Developing a good memory so you are not obviously the most copious note taker can help prevent a women from being relegated to the administrative role as well.
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