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How to be assertive in business meetings

Dannie-Lu Carr explains how to negotiate powerful personalities and get your voice heard at business meetings, in an extract from her book ‘Brilliant Assertiveness’.

Dannie is founder of The Five Gateways, a leadership programme to empower dynamic women, and recently contributed one of the most popular articles on Company Bug, ‘You don’t need to be a ball-breaking battle axe to succeed in business’, which you can read here.

Business meetings

One of the trickiest environments to be your own priority, first and foremost, is the classic business meeting. Most of us are so busy trying not to upset the apple cart and managing the big personalities and hierarchical dynamics that we forget about our own needs altogether.

Getting your voice heard

Even the most confident and assertive of us can suffer on this front when there is a room of people discussing a very live issue with degrees of passion. And in my experience there is nothing more disheartening than leaving a meeting having not said anywhere near as much as you wanted to and feeling frustrated with everyone, including yourself, about the way it was all managed.

Dannie –Lu CarrSo what’s the main thing to consider? Give yourself the permission to interrupt. Not constantly, but when you really need to get your point heard then slightly raise your voice above the row, if you can. If this feels too scary then raise your hand and lean forward until someone invites you in. You may still have to up the volume on your voice a little when you finally do speak, but at least the hand in the air and the physical movement make it easier to get in. You will find that you leave the meeting far more settled than if you hardly said anything at all.

There are, of course, those meetings where you really don’t have a strong enough opinion on the subject matter or you don’t have anything to say. But say that, rather than nothing. Name what is going on for you with a sound level of assertiveness. You don’t have anything to say and you one hundred per cent believe it so you can say it with confidence. Or agree with someone else’s point, remembering to be specific and giving voice to it. ‘Absolutely, Dave, I totally agree with your point about the team budget’, gives a much clearer indication for people of what is going on in your head than saying nothing and them having to second-guess you. By giving your voice and what you have to say the same level of importance as everybody else’s you are well on the way to treating yourself with a sound degree of self-respect.

Raising visibility

If you are new to a company, or people aren’t that sure of who you are due to the company culture or suchlike, then it is probably time to realise that the responsibility to change things lies with you. It’s time to get out those trumpets and blow them, it’s time to shelve the modesty and it’s time to not shy away too much from some limelight.

Using email and message boards to talk about what is happening in your world can be a great resource to start to raise your own visibility. Social media is better still. The likes of Facebook and Twitter are excellent (and if you think of yourself as a product to market and gain objectivity in that way, then you will be clearer about how to move forward). Internal communications such as Yammer are also excellent for social networking, general schmoozing, letting people know what you’re working on, what hobbies you have and all sorts of other things, and again are fantastic for raising your visibility in the workplace.

That said, don’t forget the traditional phone call and the good old-fashioned value of talking face to face. Nothing works better alongside all the technical stuff than a bit of human contact. Offering to make cups of tea, making the effort to say hello and asking people how they are or what they have been up to are the essential ingredients in building internal relations and all of the benefits that come with them.

The common trap of hiding behind computer screens and piles of work is certainly not a way to prioritise you or your work or gain any practice in the grounds of effective assertiveness.

Keeping the shared issue in mind

It’s key in a meeting that the shared issue, i.e. the reason for being there, is kept as the focal point, whatever your point of view about it. Too many meetings go off on tangents never to return again and can, if not well managed, end up being a waste of other people’s time.

This can quickly breed blame, resentment and a whole load of other not-so-useful feelings that stew away internally. By using the issue at hand as a reason to bring the meeting back to point, it is a non-personal way of prioritising your own time and energy as well as that of others. It creates a far more effective win-win mid-ground from which to take charge of any meeting, and because it is an objective position it makes it easier for anyone, even the unconfident, to take the reins.

Reiterating the shared issue on the table can also help to keep negotiations, disagreements and potential conflicts objective and avoid the personal criticisms that can ensue in a heated situation. Thinking about the issue as separate from yourself (which, of course, it is) can help provide the confidence and authority to let yourself be heard and to express your thoughts and opinions more freely, thus ultimately taking care of yourself and your points of view. It’s a good image to use, and one I would strongly recommend becomes a common feature at home and at work.

Further Information

This extract is taken from Brilliant Assertiveness by Dannie-Lu Carr (published by Pearson). Dannie is co-founder of The Five Gateways, a leadership programme to empower dynamic women. See www.thefivegateways.co.uk

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