You have an idea. You’ve been working on it for months. You’ve submitted a written proposal to your manager, and she said it was great. The day of the weekly team meeting arrives, and you’re excited to hear how senior management plans to take the idea forward.
As you sit down in the conference room, you notice that your idea is at the top of the agenda. You carefully lay out your notes, sit back and listen as the senior manager starts off the meeting.
“Here’s Sophie’s proposal from earlier this week, and I have to say it looks pretty relevant to our goals for this quarter,” Mr. Senior Manager starts off. “Sophie, what are your thoughts on this?”
I look down quickly at my notes. I’m not good at speaking in front of groups, but I’d been carefully rehearsing my points all week, and I knew what I wanted to say. “Well, I was thinking of looking at the budget for the next quarter..”
Suddenly Mr. Busybody from Finance jumps in. Replying more to the senior manager than to me, he bleats: “Just one thing. How are we going to pay for this? Putting this in place would require additional funds.”
Then Ms. Woolsuit butts in: “Exactly. I’m not sure where the funds would come from.”
Followed by Mr. Briefcase: “What if we revisited Fred’s idea from last week about running a budget impact analysis?”
Each person speaks louder than the last, and the conference room starts to fill with chatter. They speak faster and faster too, and I can’t get a word in. Some of the points make sense, some of them are just noise. Some of the colleagues seem more interested in one-upping others, some just want to be noticed. None of them are interested in listening.
This is what it was often like for me at my old corporate job: an introvert drowned out by an army of extroverts. At times it seemed like I was the only one interested in thoughtful discussion, lost in an environment where interrupting others and shouting was seen as being “proactive”.
I had tried to compete with the loud speakers, and it had only left me exhausted and frazzled. Pretending to be an extrovert just didn’t work for me. But I didn’t know what else to do.
By the end of that meeting, Sophie’s Idea had morphed into Fred’s Warped Interpretation of Sophie’s Idea. Which over time, simply became known as Fred’s Idea.
What could I have done differently?
1. Stand up.
Literally. Because as most introverts and quieter types know, there isn’t much point competing against extroverts in a noisy debate. That’s like drawing whiskers on your face and hoping to be mistaken for a tiger. I know, I’ve tried (competing, not the whiskers). Instead, when it comes to noisy but crucial work situations, non-verbal actions speak for themselves.
When you stand up, people can’t fail to notice you. You don’t even need to say anything. Just look calm and in control. Unless the rest of the room (including the senior manager) are astronomically arrogant, they will quieten down to hear what you have to say. When they do, just finish your prepared points, smile and sit down again. It used to unnerve me at the beginning, but then I realised that the only thing worse than literally standing up for my ideas was having my ideas bulldozed – or worse, stolen – by other people.
2. Visual aids
Simple powerpoint presentations, individual handouts – these can greatly help focus colleagues’ attention on your ideas. Added benefit: people who are absorbing written information rarely carry on loud, obnoxious debates at the same time.
3. Digital visibility
I’ve always preferred written communication to in-person meetings. The growth of digital media has been such a lifesaver. I’ve grown very fond of emails and online forums for work communication, and before particularly important meetings, I make sure I’ve emailed everyone a copy of my proposal. I follow up with an emailed summary of the discussion after the meeting. This helps re-affirm ownership of my ideas while keeping face time to a minimum. At my old company, I used chatrooms extensively to discuss ideas, which had several advantages: everyone got to have their say, the transcript could be re-read later, and I could give a reason and sign out any time I wanted.
Sophie Taylor is the founder of Tongue Untied, and helps quieter types like herself speak with impact and get their ideas heard – without resorting to corporate BS. She is a former foreign correspondent for Reuters and a fan of authentic communication. Visit Tongue Untied at: www.tongue-untied.com.
Image © iStock.com / XiXinXing