Pipe up and chip in: How to be heard in meetings

By Ally Yates

Over a quarter of the UK’s thriving SME sector employs staff. And the sector is growing. Finding your way in a newly formed business, joining a skeleton staff or making an effective contribution to a well-established enterprise can be challenging. The entrepreneurial essence of many SMEs mean they don’t always benefit from the structures and processes that guide the larger corporations, leaving employees to draw on their own resourcefulness.

On average, we spend 6.5 hours of the business day in meetings. Sadly, the number of hours invested is not matched by the level of return. Wasted time in meetings is hurting our businesses. Taking positive action to reduce the number of meetings and to improve the process and results of those you do need to attend is a no-brainer. Since meetings can either be unfamiliar territory or led by poor exemplars, here are six strategies to help you improve the behavioural effectiveness of your interactions:

  1. Economise – Work hard to manage both the frequency and the length of your contributions. Your colleagues won’t appreciate you dominating the air time. Neither is there a complementary relationship between being persuasive and repeating yourself. Meetings that work well tend to share the airtime, involving all the attendees.
  2. Pipe up – Getting your voice heard can be helped by using a device called a ‘behaviour label’. This is where you announce the verbal behaviour you’re going to use next. For example: “Can I make a suggestion?” announces to other people that you want to contribute an idea to the discussion and typically results in them listening.
  3. Chip in – It can be hard to ‘get in’ to some discussions. You can improve your chances by using a three-step process: 1) A non-verbal indication that you want to get in to the discussion: lean forward, make eye contact with the chair, gesture with your hand; 2) Label your behaviour; 3) Make your contribution.
  4. Lead with questions – Ask more and varied questions to help everyone to understand and explore the topics under discussion. All too often people react or judge based on insufficient information about both the topic and the views of the different stakeholders. Flexing your questioning muscle can help you to avoid that trap.
  5. Test understanding and summarising – Testing understanding is a specific type of question, used by skilful performers. The purpose is to check an assumption or to identify if a previous contribution has been understood. Summarising is an accurate precis of part or all of the preceding discussion. Together, where these two behaviours account for 10% of contributions in meetings you are more likely to have a clear and shared understanding between the attendees and avoid costly mistakes.
  6. Support – People like to be appreciated. This means recognising them when they make an effective or useful contribution. Be sure to give credit where credit is due. You will likely be perceived as encouraging, optimistic and helpful. Don’t overdo the positive strokes though – no-one likes a faker, and too much “good job” ends up as white noise.

Reflect on which of these six behavioural strategies might best help you. Use your upcoming meetings as opportunities to experiment and build some new muscle. Then increase your flexibility by strengthening a second, and so on, so that you can be heard and be more effective.

Ally Yates, pictured above, is author of ‘Utter Confidence: How what you say and do influences your effectiveness in business’ and an expert on behaviour analysis.