Dare To Speak Up In Meetings

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Do you have trouble speaking up in meetings? With your friends you are fine, but in a business setting you clam up?

I’ve worked with numerous people who experience this phenomenon. Some came from families who rebuffed their opinions so they learned not to offer them. Whatever the root cause, these clients feel scared of being judged by colleagues or bosses. But when they dig down, they often see that they judge themselves very harshly. As the aphorism states, “we are our own worst critics,” and we’re great at projecting our self-judgment onto others.

That fear of being judged, of being known and of making mistakes keeps us silent. It’s a Catch 22 that denies us of the chance to try a new behavior which might in turn make us feel good about ourselves.

Here are some ideas to consider if you want to remove the chatter from your head and the zipper from your lips.

Drop the perfectionism

So many of us are perfectionists. We have incredibly high expectations of ourselves and are terrified not to meet them or to show people we are not superhuman. As the saying “perfectionism, procrastination, paralysis” implies, those high expectations can keep us from taking action.

To start to combat perfectionism, first consider your expectations for yourself. Would you expect anyone else to live up to those standards? If not, perhaps you can consciously set more reasonable expectations for your behavior at meetings..ones that would permit you to share your thoughts.

Observe without judgment

Most of us have a running mental monologue that judges ourselves and others 24/7. Even if it’s just for minutes several times a day, become aware of what you are telling yourself. If you hear judgments, try to replace them with observations.

For example, if you are waiting in line for a coffee and the person ahead of you is slow, you might be thinking, “What’s wrong with him!? Can’t he just hurry up and make up his mind!?” (judgement of him) and “I feel like I’m going to explode waiting here. What’s wrong with me? I’m so impatient!” (judgment of you.) When you recognize your judgmental thoughts, rewrite them.

Observing without judgment might look like, “This guy is having a hard time making up his mind and it’s taking a long time. I am feeling very impatient.” Whenever possible, practice replacing judgmental thoughts with observations. And make sure not to put yourself down for having had those thoughts in the first place!

Dare to be known

If we stay quiet, we think no one will know us and we won’t risk being disliked or being thought of as less than spectacular.

It’s true that we avoid the risk of making a mistake if we are silent, but we also can be 100% sure that we won’t add anything positive into the mix. We deny ourselves the chance to contribute and get positive feedback. And if you think staying silent protects you by preventing anyone from knowing you, you are mistaken. People will know you as the silent one: the one who won’t participate with others. Plus, they will never know any of the positive qualities you possess.

Risk being known and you can become part of the team. Be known as someone who wants to participate and wants to contribute to the success of the group. At that point, if there are any judgments floating around, they are likely to be positive.

Watch and imitate others

Do certain colleagues speak up freely, don’t need always to be right, and contribute yet are not deterred if their ideas are not universally embraced? Those are the people with true confidence. Dare to take their lead. Offer your ideas, but drop the expectation that they have to be received as a cure for cancer. The goal is to chime in when you have a relevant thought or opinion. Learn that it’s okay not to be the star of the show, but to be one of the players nonetheless.

Feel the fear…

The late Susan Jeffers wrote a classic self-help book called Feel The Fear…And Do It Anyway. She wrote that most people feel fearful at times, but that they proceed in the face of the fear. You can too.

You can act as if you are one of those colleagues mentioned above, and just try speaking up. It may not feel very comfortable but you can still do it, and chances are, none of your worst nightmares will come true. You will have a positive experience to refer to and a new muscle to exercise. By repeating this new behavior, it will feel increasingly comfortable.

There are so many positive consequences to participating in meetings: increased sense of self-esteem, a sense of belonging to the team, feeling connected to people, and the positive feedback you receive for making a contribution and for letting your personality shine. Given the negative consequences of remaining silent, isn’t it worth it to speak up?

Until the next time…


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