Many women complain about the difficulties they have in being heard by men in meetings. When we learn to understand the gender differences in a positive and constructive light, we can learn new ways to increase the effectiveness of our communication that will increase our productivity and success. This three part series of articles is geared to helping professional women communicate more effectively during meetings so that they will be more successful in having their ideas accepted and utilized. Three skills will be discussed, starting with the art of interrupting for professional women.
How to View It
The first specific skill that professional women need to learn is the art of interrupting.
This is hard for women, because as a group they are interested in sharing and listening. The custom for women is to listen with the understanding that after someone is done talking it will be your turn. This behavior pattern begins in very early childhood. When women talk with each other the custom is that people will actually ask you questions to draw you out.
Ketaki Malhotra of w2wlinkkohpal.com adds that traditionally, in the Indian culture, men have a greater say in matters than women and women are not expected to interrupt when men are talking. Although times are changing, this conditioning is still ingrained in the psyche of Indian women. Here’s a common scenario in an Indian corporate setting.
Rohit, the CEO of a foods company asked his COO, Vinit, for an update on the strategy meeting that took place while he was away. He specifically wanted to know what Gayatri, VP Marketing, had to say in the meeting.
“She didn’t say anything. She seemed to be in agreement with everyone’s ideas.” Vinit told Rohit.
Meanwhile, Gayatri confided in her friend over coffee. “These men have no consideration for anyone else’s views. They didn’t give me an opportunity to speak in today’s meeting. I think the strategy they approved has a couple of flaws in it but I didn’t get a chance to voice my opinions. This is so frustrating.”
For the male it is very different. Everybody interrupts. No one takes offense. It is a culture of may the best idea win. One of the favorite games of boys when I was growing up was scatter dodge ball. In this game it is every man for himself. The idea was to throw the ball as hard as you can at the other guy to hit him without him catching it. If you hit him he was out. If he caught it you were out. The last man standing was the winner. This is the male model of exchanging ideas at meetings. May the best idea win.
Why is it so hard for women to get a word in edgewise? When you drive, you wait for the green light before you proceed. Women and men have different rules for what constitutes the green light to interject the next comment. For women, the other person needs to stop talking for at least one or two seconds after completing a full sentence, as well as giving certain facial cues that he or she is done speaking. For men, the only rule is that the person has stopped talking for 0.35 seconds before he sees the green light to go ahead and start talking.
How to Do It
For your initial foray into the conversation, do not expect or require someone to ask you for your opinion. The bottom line is that you must just dive in without an invitation. You only need the briefest pause. Start with a phrase like: "My opinion is (and then break into it immediately) "....We need to spend more money in marketing the xyz product. You can even skip the "My opinion" and go straight to "the problem that we are having in the beta plant is ABC". Expect that you will be interrupted. Plan on it.
Do not try and say everything all at once. Plan the points you want to make and rank order them. Be very succinct and make your main point first, then your second, and so on.
So you have made your first move. The problem is that either no one paid much attention to you or your point was quickly discounted. Let’s deal with the latter first. If your point was discounted, congratulations you are in the game. This is preferable to being ignored. Remember, this "discussion" is a contest of ideas. It is not a comment on everyone's feelings about you. Most men are very comfortable not liking or valuing a person's idea while liking or valuing the person. Besides, if your idea has any merit most men expect you to fight for it.
Ketaki Malhotra of w2wlinkkohpal.com comments, “Before you interrupt, be very clear about what you want to say. Always have a good reason for interrupting. It is alright to interrupt if you are going to contribute a pertinent point to the discussion and not just for the sake of interrupting. This will help build your credibility and will ensure that people listen to you in the future.”
Originally written for w2wlink.com. For more on Dr. Robert Schwartz, www.doctor-bob.net.
Edited by w2wlinkkohpal.com.
(AKA Dr. Bob) is the National Director of Mars Venus Workplace Seminars and Consulting. He maintains a consulting & coaching practice in Haverford, Pa. He presents trainings internationally on topics, including communication, gender differences, leadership, creativity and advanced approaches to stress management and work life balance. His clients include government agencies and businesses, such as GE women’s Network, KPMG Women’s Network, Wachovia Bank, Daichii-Sankyo, Avenits and NASA. www.marsvenusatwork.com firstname.lastname@example.org