Watching What You Say in the Boardroom

It’s up to you to tell your story. If you are a woman in a high-pressure workplace, especially a woman who aspires to a senior-level position, you have to make sure your ideas get heard. It’s important to understand that you have the power to create your professional persona with the words you use and how you use them. If you’re interested in looking assertive when facing an imposing man, you wouldn’t want to use a weak handshake to introduce yourself. In that same vein, you shouldn’t let others fill a boardroom with their voices while you sit silently by, waiting to be given your turn.

If you’re naturally shy or introverted, meetings may not be your favorite part of your job. Nonetheless, these forums are often the places where those eager to climb the ladder share their innovative ideas—the ones that draw positive attention. If you’re someone who has trouble speaking up during a meeting, or is afraid to interrupt others, then there are a few tricks you can use to get over those hurdles.

First of all, according to author and founder of Women Who, Otegha Uwagba, it’s essential not to wait too long to speak up after a meeting starts. If you do, you’ll find it ever more difficult to gain the confidence to get a word in edgewise. And you’ll likely put so much pressure on yourself to throw all of your eggs into one profound basket that you’ll psych yourself out. Don’t be unfair to yourself (and to the world that will benefit from hearing your ideas!) by holding back. Speak up early on and break the spell of silence.

Furthermore, Ms. Uwagba stresses how essential it is that you, as a woman, refrain from apologizing for speaking up or for having an opinion in the first place. Just as women are taught, as girls, to yield space, they are also taught to defer to men and wait to be given a chance to speak. Be aware of this and don’t fall into this trap! And when you talk, be mindful of the words you use to make sure that you aren’t drowning your speech in qualifiers that dilute the potency of your observations, plans, or recommendations. When you fail to say something outright, you undermine your credibility by making it seem as though even you don’t believe in what you’re saying. And if you can’t convince yourself that an idea is good, you’ll never get anyone else to listen to it.

If your speech, in or out of the workplace is too soft, cut out the words that are holding you back. Some examples of needless and harmful qualifiers include starting a sentence with, “I’m not really sure if this will work, but…” or ending a sentence with, “…does that make sense?” Don’t ask for permission to speak your mind, and don’t lay the groundwork for criticism or disappointment before anyone has even had the chance to hear you out. Don’t undermine yourself, don’t sell yourself short, and most importantly, don’t stay silent!