It’s a great feeling when your ideas are heard, discussed, and acted upon. It brings you credit, raising both your professional reputation and self-worth. Meetings are therefore the perfect opportunity to show your creativity, as well as raise any concerns.
On the other hand, it’s a terrible feeling when you sit in a meeting or a small group conversation with an idea or comment forming in your head, yet you can’t bring yourself to speak it aloud.
Frustrating then, when someone else finally broaches the subject- or worse still: that it never gets spoken about at all. What a missed opportunity. How will you ever get recognition at work if you won’t allow yourself to be recognised?
Why don’t certain people speak in meetings? Sometimes it’s a matter of self-belief, sometimes it’s a matter of personality, and sometimes it’s poor leadership. Sometimes it’s even a bit of all three.
Let’s take personality first. Personality has a huge part to play in how we behave in group situations. We’re probably all familiar with the basic divisions of introverted and extroverted personalities, but perhaps we can break it down a bit further in order to learn why some people struggle to speak up.
One of my favourite personality profiling tools is called Insights Discovery proposes that people can be roughly split into four different categories or personality types: Cool Blue; Earth Green; Fiery Red and Sunshine Yellow. Of these four, the first two- Blue and Green- tend to be quieter in meetings, and both tend towards written communication over the spoken word.
Cool Blue types tend to be highly analytical, appreciate detail and want everything written down so they can fully absorb it. They tend not to participate heavily in meetings where there’s lots of waffle, and they can ‘switch off’ when the topic of the meeting doesn’t interest them. They will often appear aloof or uncaring in meetings.
Earth Green meanwhile, also prefers written communication so that they have time to go off and fully absorb the information on their own. You’ll often find a Green sitting silently in the meeting, saying nothing- they’ll prefer to ponder further over their thoughts in their own time rather than speaking up. They will often appear disengaged in meetings.
Both are highly functional employees, but the problem with this non-participation is that it robs the company of the vital meeting function of brainstorming.
If you have too many Greens and Blues in a department, everyone works on their own and the team fragments. From an individual perspective, non-participation in meetings can lead others to believe they’re simply not interested in participating, or have nothing of worth to say. This can be dangerous to a Blue or Green’s professional reputation, and lead to managers missing their potential.
Blues and Greens could be well-served in watching how Reds and Yellows conduct themselves in meetings, as they tend towards seeing meetings as opportunities to shine (Red) and discuss things with the team in a sociable way (Yellow). It’s not to say that these personality types don’t have their faults in meetings- Red will often dominate and fail to listen well, while Yellow can get bored easily- simply that these personalities tend to be more confident in making their voices heard.
When it comes to low self-belief stopping you from speaking up in meetings, it can help to have a list of your own successes on file to refer to. Write down times in the past where your ideas have proven excellent, and your concerns were shown to be well- founded.
By creating a ‘library’ of your own success, you have the proof you need to bolster your confidence when you falter. Also consider this: why would you have the job in the first place if you weren’t capable of it? Others believe in you.
So, what happens if your idea doesn’t work? Let’s face it, there are plenty of ‘bad’ ideas thrown around in meetings- you’ve sat there and heard them yourself! The world doesn’t end if you offer an unworkable idea- and this might even spark someone else’s thought process. Be brave, and just open your mouth and speak.
Of course, hesitation to speak up can also stem from a poor leader, who may mock ideas and react badly to people pointing out issues. It’s difficult to take the risk and offer ideas when you feel they may be publicly dismissed- but as long as you believe in your idea or comment, isn’t it more of a risk not to prove your worth?
Recognition, promotions and pay rises don’t just fall willy-nilly from the top floor after all- you need to be noticed. You can file excellent report after excellent report from your desk, but the people who get ahead in life are generally the ones that speak up with confidence, rather than the silent ones in the back row. Be brave. Know that your ideas are worth hearing.
Our hesitation to speak up in front of others often begins in school and can plague us through our lives. Yet just like any behavioural pattern, it is simply a matter of retraining your thought patterns and straying outside your comfort zone. So next time you feel an idea brewing, speak up and watch people start to take notice.
Until next time