How To Be Heard When No One Is Listening
A common complaint I’ve been hearing lately among mentees is the feeling that nobody is listening to them in a meeting. Okay. Then the kicker: somebody else in the room says the exact same thing and gets praised as a genius.
Apparently it’s enough of a phenomenon to merit a new word:
“My friends coined a word: hepeated. For when a woman suggests an idea and it’s ignored, but then a guy says same thing and everyone loves it”
-Nicole Gugliucci @noisyastronomer
For the record, I’ve witnessed a few men make suggestions and get ignored at meetings as well. And I also have a female friend who repeats the witty (and not so witty) things I say when we’re in a group – louder and without credit to yours truly. Is it annoying? Yes. Do I call her out? Not usually.
The truth is I think there is a price to be paid either way. If you don’t say anything, somebody else gets the credit and you could miss out on some positive repercussions: people remember so-and-so as a leader, smart, insightful, etc. If you do say something, it can potentially appear whiny and also open the floor up for others to challenge your claim as “slightly different”. I’ve seen it happen, and maybe you have too.
It’s enough to stay silent in that split second. But remember: there’s a price either way. The question is not whether to say something – you absolutely should. It’s how we approach it:
Know What’s At Stake
Context matters. Is it worth calling out my friend every time she co-opts one of my jokes? Probably not. Similarly, for the office, consider thinking through who was at the meeting. Do the attendees already know your good work? There may not be a need to stake a claim at all.
On the other hand, maybe the room is full of people who you’ve only met a handful of times. Don’t stress yourself out about making an impression. Just know that it may be helpful for these people to walk out of this room with positive vibes about you.
Hold onto that gently.
Make Space Then Get To The Point
In television and film scripts, screenwriters lean on writing “a long pause” for dramatic effect after a key piece of dialogue. It creates suspense. Audiences become intrigued and, you guessed it, listen.
The key piece of dialogue in this case is how you enter the conversation. Call it how you interrupt (even though I know you’re not interrupting). The best way, in my experience, is to ask: Can I make a….suggestion, comment, question? If they say no, you know to stop right there. If they say yes, take a poignant pause and say what you want to say.
Like, “Help me understand how that’s different from XYZ that I suggested a few minutes ago?” Maybe with a hand on your chin for extra flair.
Talk Slow With Simple Language
Take your time. I remember way early in my career when I saw a colleague present – she talked really fast and sounded so smart. I guess my young ears (and brain) could keep up with her. Fast forward a couple decades, my brain shuts down when I sit through a presentation like that.
Chances are the executives you’re dealing with are on the older side of life too. Pace yourself and use simple language. The larger the meeting, the less you should use acronyms or insider language.
People are impressed when they understand, not when they’re confused. You can always practice with one of our mentors here.
Standing up for others is not natural. We fear being targets ourselves if we step into a minefield. But when it’s our friend and we plan for it, then the playing field changes. Even women working in the Obama administration (Obama!) strategized to repeat each other’s ideas in meetings to make sure credit was given where credit was due. It’s important to amplify our voices together.
I would also suggest looking for trusted male colleagues to do the same. If you are a woman working in a male-dominated environment, it may be useful for your idea to be echoed by a guy who then gives you the credit you deserve.
Be Mindful Of Posture
You’ve already heard the science behind power posing. Test it out yourself by saying a sentence hunched over and, then again, sitting up tall. There is a genuine difference in how you feel and how it’s heard.
Take a deep breath, lift your heart, drop your shoulders…and express yourself.
“When I’m hungry, I eat. When I’m thirsty, I drink. When I feel like saying something, I say it.”