Episode #7

Tales of the C-Suite

Have you ever experienced the abject frustration of being spoken over, interrupted and overlooked in meetings? You can be heard and make your opinions count. Here's how.

Just last week I was seated around a boardroom table with 11 others.  

And I was experiencing difficulties in being listened to and heard. 

It’s quite a few years – probably decades – since I have felt the sense of abject frustration associated with being spoken over, interrupted and overlooked.

What was going on?  

Context is important. Let me describe the scene:

  • 4 women and 8 men seated around a boardroom table,
  • Peers who have been meeting regularly in the one boardroom for more than two years,
  • A collegiate and respectful environment,
  • An aligned and competent chairman.

My attempts to make comment were drowned out on two occasions by louder male voices, and I was spoken over on one occasion. I observed that one of the other female participants was spoken over twice (the culprit did the gentlemanly thing and apologised to her…after he had finished making his point.)

This behaviour had not been evident in prior meetings.
So, what was going on in this meeting?
Here’s the thing: we were in a new boardroom in a different venue.
And the acoustics in the room were dreadful. Lots of sharp corners, flat surfaces and bare walls.
Perhaps the combination of a new venue and poor acoustics contributed to the male participants speaking louder and projecting their voices more and being more emphatic in their comments.
I instinctively reacted by withdrawing a tad, leaning out: I tilted away from the table, moved my chair back slightly and allowed my concentration to waiver. A natural human response.
It was only a moment before I caught myself and then deployed the range of techniques I have learnt over many years and innumerable meetings on how to be heard and make my opinion count and to project myself in a manner that shows confidence not arrogance.   
And once I had the attention of my colleagues, I made sure I added a couple of sentences to my comments…to fully occupying the speaker’s space for a little longer than strictly necessary.
How I reacted to the situation is what made the difference.

Taking charge of how we respond to situations of discomfort and learning how we can control our thoughts and actions, makes the difference to our capacity to reach our full potential in our career.

How do you occupy a speaker’s space rather than a listener’s space?  

Here are some techniques to deploy when you feel you are being spoken over and ignored in a meeting: 

  1. Ground yourself by planting both feet squarely on the floor and pressing each toe into the floor through your shoes.
  2. Sit taller in your chair, with your rear well back in the seat so that your lower back rests firmly on the seat back, lean slightly forward, rest your arms loosely on the table ready to gesticulate.
  3. Make eye contact with the chairperson or most senior person in attendance when you want to speak.
  4. Create a noise to catch attention just before you speak, such as clearing your throat or closing your notebook.
  5. Create movement to catch peripheral vision as you start to speak…a sweeping hand gesture might be just the thing.
  6. Consciously lower the tone of your voice, while maintaining the volume and projection.
  7. Slow the pace with which you speak, avoid speaking too quickly as you dash to interject.
  8. Breathe.

You can choose in the moment to focus on the things you can control – like your physical presence, your body language and breathing, your emotions and your thoughts.

Rather than going into the negative spiral of self-doubt and wondering if you really belong in your career.

Be the obvious choice to the C-Suite.

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