Dave Conrad: How to assert yourself against 'meeting thugs'
Dear Dave: I am a new manager at my company. When managers get together to discuss ideas to solve problems, or increase productivity and profits, it is always the same group of people that seem to get their ideas heard. I and a few others try to voice our ideas, but they are quickly dismissed, or the "chosen" managers tend to act like we had nothing important to add. How can I be heard more at meetings? — R
Dear R: Few things anger me more in business than dominating, brash managers hogging the meeting conversations and shutting down what others have to say. I am sure we have all experienced the "meeting thugs" at work just talking loudly on and on about their fabulous ideas leaving everyone else feeling like they have no opportunity to be heard.
My business experience has shown me that the best ideas often come from people who may be quieter by nature. However, these poor souls get trampled by the boisterous herd. It's no wonder why they may finally feel like it is pointless to try and explain their ideas. They then shut down and the meeting is not only inefficiently run, but the same old ideas are all anyone hears.
I am not telling you anything new when I say that you need to be more assertive with your thoughts, responses, and ideas. Being assertive – without turning everyone off – is an art and is best performed by people who are thoroughly convinced that what they have to say is important and adds value to the dialogue. The trick is to be confident about the value of your idea without turning into some kind of aggressive meaning maniac.
Being heard at meetings
Usually, there is a meeting leader – the one who called the meeting and invited the appropriate individuals. Some, but not all, do a good job of planning the meeting and outlining the key outcomes of the meeting. Make sure you find out who this leader is in advance of the meeting and ask if there could be dedicated times for everyone to speak. I think this is a constructive request and I doubt that the meeting leader would find the request inappropriate.
Do your homework. If you think you have a great idea to share, conduct research that will support your idea. Essentially, you are building a persuasive case for your idea. It is hard to refute or down-play solid evidence that will bolster the credibility of your thinking. Even if the meeting thugs take shots at your idea, you can return to the data that supports your claims.
Another tactic is to ask great questions and show that you are interested in what the dominating managers are thinking about. Try to draw them out and make them feel like they are the experts of what they are talking about. I think if you show the dominating managers that you have a sincere interest in what they have to say, they will return the kindness and listen to you. It follows the "law of reciprocity" where people who have been given a gift feel like they should give one back.
Plant the seeds of your ideas with dominating managers before the meeting begins. Ask them for their thoughts in the attempt to have them feel a sense of understanding and ownership. Breaking the ice before the meeting starts is an ideal way to get people on your side – or at least hear you out. What you have to say will then be familiar to the other managers and they will not be surprised by your thinking.
Don't blurt out statements that have no merit, or do not fit what is being discussed. I think the surest way to lose an audience is to be inappropriate, irrelevant, and confusing. Try your best to stay on topic and make sure that whatever you have to say is worthy of the attention of the meeting attendees.
Finally, show respect to all attendees. Respect given is respect returned. Dominating personalities are everywhere, and you can get more mileage with your thoughts and ideas by making these people allies and not adversaries. This is not deception, it is smart communications.