Tim is an engineering leader at a hi-tech company in Seattle. He is very good at his trade, has a profound understanding of the technology stack, and has decent ideas about the current industry trends. He has been very successful, got promoted relatively quickly up to this level, and now his next move is stalled. The concern? He doesn’t talk in meetings.
Tim brought it up in a recent coaching session. His reason for not speaking in meetings? He doesn’t want to share a half-baked idea and look stupid. He thinks it is more respectful to stay quiet when he doesn’t know everything. Fair point. Flashback 15 years, I was in the same boat as Tim. Luckily, nowadays, there is so much research on how different people process information differently. There is a significant difference that comes from being introverted and extroverted. These differences can be addressed in a much more constructive way, on a systemic level. While that kind of change will take years, here are some immediate strategies Tim and I discussed.
Tim usually attends a meeting when someone in his management chain forwards him the invite or agrees to be there if his calendar is available. It didn’t sound like a very deliberate way of deciding. No wonder he was having a hard time contributing.
If you are having issues like this, consider doing this homework before hitting “accept” to any meeting request:
– What is the purpose of this meeting
– What is your purpose for attending this meeting
Once you ask yourself such questions, it will give you enough context to decide if you are the right person, and if so, what kind of preparation is needed.
There could be several good reasons you need to attend a meeting (when you are not the meeting organizer).
1. You are a subject matter expert. (Tim’s happy place)
2. You have some dependency on the decision to be made, so you need to raise your concerns if any. (Tim’s biggest challenge)
3. You want to stay informed on what else is going on beyond your immediate area.
For a highly analytical processor like Tim, he needs time to think through an issue before he “knows.” Anything less than that is “half-baked” and “doesn’t help,” in his opinion. Therefore, for the #2 and #3 points above, he finds it challenging to contribute in real-time.
As we delved deeper, Tim confessed that he dozes off when he gets bored, and even worse, he thinks it is all “useless,” and apparently, all of those attitudes show up very vividly in his body language. This is where Tim could use some new tools to be more productive and share his wisdom and experience during those meetings.
First, a few things surrounding the belief system:
1. Trust that you bring a ton of expertise and wisdom to the table (it is easy for us to be overly self-critical about tour value).
2. It’s ok, and often helpful, to share your insights and instincts sooner (be explicit by saying so).
3. Spending an hour in a meeting means you are spending your company’s money. Treat it as such.
Second, practice some of these techniques:
1. How to tackle dozing off
- Do a voice mirroring. Silently repeat every word being said. This practice will help you to stay present.
- Ask a follow-up question or bottom line their point –
Follow up question example: If you are curious about the quality of the content, say, “I am curious, what teams were consulted for this data” (Be genuinely interested, don’t just say for the sake of it).
Bottom lining example: “I hear your team came up with two recommendations, x, and y. You are asking our input on those. Is that correct?” (Many times, when the speaker is a storyteller, this kind of bottom lining helps to nail their points clearly).
2. How to challenge the speaker
- Forward the conversation. Make the other person look good – You intend to forward the conversation rather than creating a defensive environment. Example: If you doubt that the proposed solution may not work for your product. Say it like this, “I hear you are suggesting ‘a’ over ‘b.’ I would love to support this. Can you give us two days so that we can test ‘a’ on our product?
- Match their rhythm and energy – If the speaker(s) is talking at a louder volume and a higher speed, you need to match their energy. Remember the double Dutch jump rope some of us played when growing up? Without the right speed, you would get tangled in that rope. Bring up your voice energy, say, “Hey Jo, I have an idea.” (pause). “We can create a simpler test to help validate your concept.” Be very concise. That 10 second is all you need to get Jo’s attention. After that, you can say, “Who do I follow up with”? Boom! You can now work on this outside the meeting and do a more thorough investigation.
All these suggestions need a mindset shift and some deliberate practice. Practice these tips in low stake situations. Results happen in as little as a week. I have witnessed so many clients getting more confident in talking in meetings and beyond. Let this be the beginning of the new you!