4 Skills Women Can Learn To Be Heard in the Meeting room

By Dr Robert Schwarz

Many women complain about the difficulties they have in being heard by men in meetings. This article will apply the principles from the Mars and Venus in the Workplace Seminar that are based on the ideas of Dr John Gray.

The main principle that drives this work is the recognition that there are significant differences in the way men and women think, feel and problem solve. It is as if they are from different planets. When we learn to understand these 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.

We also need to recognize that men and women each have Martian and Venusian sides. Men are usually more on their Martian sides and women usually are more on their Venusian side. We also need to understand that the work world at the current time is essentially a Martian world.

As one goes up the management ladder the world becomes more and more Martian. These realities are slowly evolving. These changes are stressful for both men and women who must cope with new developments. This particular article is geared to helping women become more skilled at navigating a different culture without trying to become Martians themselves. There are four specific skills that will assist a woman in being heard during meetings as well as being more successful in having her ideas accepted and utilized.

1) The art of interrupting. The first specific skill that Venusians need to learn is the art of interrupting. This is hard for Venusians, because Venusians are interested in sharing and listening. Interrupting is rude and offensive behavior on Venus. The custom on Venus is to listen with the understanding that after someone else is done talking it will be your turn.

The expectation on Venus is that people will actually ask you questions to draw you out. That is part of the sharing. It would be rude to just blurt everything out all at once and deprive other Venusians the fun of asking questions. On Mars it is very different. Everybody interrupts. It is just the way things are done. No one takes offense. It is a culture of may the best idea win.

One of the favorite games of Martian boys when I was growing up was scatter dodge ball. This is a game where it is every man for him self. 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 Martian model of ideas.

Venusians need to understand that Martian etiquette requires that you state your opinion vigorously. Martians never expect to draw other Martians out with questions. To think that someone would need this would be an insult to that person.

There are several different situations for which the Venusian must be ready. The first one is your initial foray into the conversation. The bottom line is that you must just dive in without an invitation.

The most straight forward move is to use a phrase like: “Here is my opinion (and then break into it immediately) or “....We need to spend more money in marketing the xyz product. ” You can even skip the “here is my opinion ” and go straight to “It is important that we do xyz. ” Or, “the problem that we are having in the beta plant is ABC ”.

When you speak use a steady pace of speech without a raise of inflection at the end (which makes it seem like you are asking a question or are doubting yourself). Forget about waiting for a long pause in the discussion where you can gracefully enter. You need to butt right in, as soon as someone has finished making a point. Don 't worry about him not being able to continue. Trust me, if he has more to say, he will interrupt you.

2) The art of repeating from a different angle. Okay, so now you have made your first move. The problem is that either no one paid much attention to you or your point was quickly discounted. Lets 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. Martians are very comfortable not liking or valuing a person 's idea while liking or valuing the person. Besides, if your idea has any merit a Martian expects you to fight for it. So it is time for rounds two, three and four.

So what do you do if you are ignored (or even discounted)? First, lets talk about what you should not do. You should not become angry or defensive. You should not complain that you are not being listened to. You should not say that you are not being understood.

All of these moves will generate a lot of negativity. Even if the Martians do listen, they will feel criticized and resentful. You will inadvertently increase the negatively charged awareness of your gender differences.

Instead, you need to feel comfortable repeating yourself. Dr. Gray suggests that the best strategy is to say, “ Here is another angle on the problem.... ” followed by a restatement of your point. Another excellent variation is saying, “ Lets look at it another way.... or “Here is another important point (That has not been considered....). ”

In any case the goal is to use the opening clause that states that there is another reason to continue to fight for your point of view immediately followed by your point of view. Do not say. “ There is another angle on this problem. ” Followed by a pause, expecting that someone is going to ask you to expound on that point.

That strategy is not going to work unless there is a significant amount of Venusian energy in the boardroom. If that were the case you would not be reading this article. The Venusian energy does not necessarily mean that there are more women in the room. Much of the listening skills that are taught to manager are all Venusian skills. The management style of Captain Jean Luc Picard also had a strong Venusian component to it.

3) The art of describing “My ” analysis. Ok, you have engaged in the dialogue. Your point was not accepted. You stated your point from a different point of view, several times in an assured Manner (See skill #4).

So far your point has not been accepted. Actually, you are doing well. You are making lots of headway, even if your point is not accepted. It is time for skill #3. The key words here are “Describing ” “my ” and “analysis ”. Lets start with the word “My ”.

Focusing on “I ” or “me ” is not a value on Venus. On Venus teams are big. In the last few years Corporate America has talked a lot about teams and team building. But the fact is that Martians tend to focus on individuality. Team sports have “stars ”. Everyone knows Tiger Woods or the Gold medal winner. But no one knows the #20 ranked golfer in the world or who won the bronze medal in anything.

Martians tend to do individual tasks in teams. It is the exceptional team where people truly think in terms of we rather than I. Martian 's sense of self esteem comes from doing. They think, “I am valuable based on what I do. ” That is how they tend to think about others in the work world.

So If you want your ideas to be valued, you need to say, ” I crunched the numbers and.... or My analysis revealed the following. ” Own your own work. Even if your ideas are not accepted this time, you have laid the groundwork for next time.

The next word is analysis. Martians love to analyze. They respect facts and figures. This pre-supposes that you have done the analysis. Depending on the situation it maybe a full blown computer model or it may be enough to take what you know and spend some time to organize it so that you can argue that facts 1,2 and 3 lead to “A ” that leads to the potential negative outcome “B ” and you have solution “C ” with 3 reasons why it will lead to positive outcome “D ”.

It is almost always more effective to have a positive solution, if you are going to bring up a problem. One CEO stated that he never wanted anyone to come to him with a problem unless they either had several possible solutions or unless the person could explain how they worked on the problem and failed to come up with a solution.

In that case the CEO wanted a synopsis of what had been thought of that did not work. Women will tend to think that it would be inconsiderate or not OK to keep a potential problem from the boss. Her Venusian side will want to share the problem so the boss will have his input up front. In many cases this makes the Martian boss (even if it is a woman) lower his or her evaluation of the competence of the employee.

The last word is “describe ”. The description of an analytical sequence described in the previous paragraph is music to a Martian 's ears. Even if he disagrees, he cannot help but be impressed with the description. This goes all the way back to childhood, when boys are into sports statistics and get into great interactions about which team will win and which athlete is better.

There are additional fine points to how to describe your analysis particularly when a Martian has made a point with which you disagree. A Venusian may be concerned about getting into a personal conflict if she says that Sam 's idea is incorrect. She may even be afraid that Sam will be particularly offended if a woman bests him. She may even be correct about this concern. While this may not be fair, it is the way it is.

So the only issue is how to best handle the situation. Here is a good strategy. Mary should say something like, “The issue that Sam is raising is important. I have done a detailed analysis of the factors involved. The analysis reveals.... (Followed by her points). ” Lets look at these three sentences.

The first gives Sam a compliment and shifts the coming disagreement away from Sam himself to “the issue ”. The second sentence gives Mary credit for doing the analysis. Then the third sentence takes Mary out of the conflict, because “The analysis revealed ”. One cannot easily get offended by numbers. She lets the analysis speak for itself.

4) The art of the Assured Attitude. In real estate the three most important assets are location, location, location. In the final analysis the three most important assets to transform a woman 's relationship in the workplace are attitude, attitude, attitude. An assured attitude is not the same as an assertive attitude.

Assertiveness is a Martian trait. Assertiveness communicates that I will successfully act or do. Assuredness communicates the trust that someone else will successfully act. In a recent conversation with a very successful woman, she epitomized this assured attitude in the following statement. She said, “ It never occurred to me that a man would not listen to me. ”

Assuredness is the secret of Venusian power. Now before you pass judgment on these comments continue reading. If you are already having a negative reaction it is a sign that this is a very important lesson for you.

The application of the assured attitude in being heard in the boardroom or meeting room is the trust that sooner or later the men in the room will hear you, even be happy to hear you. To help clarify this expectation, lets consider the opposite attitude, the resentful expectation that men are chauvinists who will never want to listen to or respect a woman 's ideas.

Out of this belief several behaviors will tend to flow. The first is a one-down timid or halting style. This is exhibited in the following opener, “Could we discuss an idea? ” The use of a question and the word “could ” will tend to bring out the worst in many Martians. The opposite pattern is one of resentment expressed in the following manners: “ For once will you listen to one of my ideas ” or the complaint, “You never take me seriously. ”

It is the assured attitude that a woman feels inwardly that lets her assertively state her opinion externally. It is the trust that the Martians are just doing their Martian thing rather than being rejecting that helps a woman continue to repeat her point.

It is the lack of hostility coupled with the trust that men will accept her ideas once the ideas have passed muster in the crucible of intellectual contest that subtly works on the psyche of the Martians. They see a woman who is confident about her ideas continuing to engage in the process without hostility or defensiveness. This is truly an impressive feat to a Martian.

Remember a Martian has had many interactions with women before he dealt with you. Many of these interactions were difficult at best for him. An assured woman is a breath of fresh air. Even a die-hard sexist will not fail to be swayed.

Keep these four arts in mind. They do require practice. However, just keeping them in the back of your mind will begin to make the entire process more manageable and even more enjoyable. As you work on them pay attention to the small or even large shifts that begin to happen. The more you notice the positive changes, no mater how small, the more you will feel reinforced in your journey in being more effective.
copyright 2000 Dr Robert Schwarz / 349 West Lancaster Ave / Haverford, PA 19041 / 610-642-0884. Dr Schwarz is available for speaking engagements, workshops and personal coaching.