I’ve been getting a reputation as the person who goes along with an idea in a meeting, but then undermines it later. It’s because I’m uncomfortable speaking up in meetings.
Q: I’ve been getting a reputation as the person who goes along with an idea in a meeting, but then undermines it later. It’s because I’m uncomfortable speaking up in meetings, especially if I don’t have my response thought through. I want to be seen as a good team player. What can I do?
A: While your intentions are good, you need to learn new skills so that you can change your behavior.
The inner game
Start from a position of strength, envisioning yourself as confident, assured and respected by your peers. This is an achievable reality; in fact, it may be the case apart from any damage to your image from your tardy feedback on ideas. How well does your current self-concept match with that ideal?
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Now consider the feedback you’ve received. Are people coming to you directly or are you hearing it through the grapevine? Or perhaps your boss has mentioned it to you. The best thing you can do is get more clarity on the exact issue people are raising. If you’ve been brushing it off or have been too nervous to get more detail, it’s time to engage in a constructive way.
Reflect on your feelings about speaking up in meetings. If you’ve had bad experiences, maybe been embarrassed in front of a group, it’s understandable that you may be hesitant. However, you can’t let the past hold you back. Really, what’s the worst thing that can happen if you speak up? Our good ideas and insights can’t make it out if we’re waiting for perfection.
Finally, analyze your behavior to notice patterns. If you know your triggers (status of people in room, certain personality types, topics where you feel somewhat less informed) you can make better plans to get rid of your less successful behaviors.
The outer game
For many people in this situation, part of the root cause is that they’re introverts. This doesn’t mean they’re shy; rather, it implies that they may need time for reflection before they’re ready to weigh in on a topic. Because the world doesn’t always wait, preparation is part of the solution.
Say, for example, that you’re invited to a meeting on a new branding initiative. Make the time for pre-work. Reach out for more information on the agenda, come to a perspective on the issue/topic, anticipate the discussion as much as possible, and know where you stand.
If you’re really uncomfortable articulating your thoughts, take the next step to role playing. Imagine a conversation in a meeting and speak your response out loud. At a more general level, consider doing an improv class or joining Toastmasters. All of these steps will give you practice in speaking your mind.
Be willing to buy time. You can say things in meetings like, “I am not quite comfortable yet; let me ponder this and get back to you.” As long as you follow through (and don’t play this card too often), it’s an approach that’ll likely be appreciated. It’ll also help people understand that you’re not being an intentional naysayer.
The last word
You may have to push yourself, but the risks you take in speaking up will bring big rewards.
Submit questions to Liz Reyer at email@example.com.