Speaking Up in Meetings – when and how to interrupt, correct someone or ask for clarification

Business MeetingHow many times have you sat through a meeting with something brilliant to say but never knowing quite when to say it? Or realised half-way through the meeting that your colleague who spoke up has said something you completely disagree with? Or worse yet, found yourself nodding and smiling in agreement while wondering what in the world the discussion was actually about?

Speaking up in meetings — to interrupt, correct someone else, or ask for clarification — can be extremely intimidating. Having a few useful phrases available can go a long way towards giving you the confidence and tools you need to be able to interject your thoughts and opinions effectively in group situations and meetings.

When You’ve Got an Idea

Often people don’t speak up because they’re afraid of being seen as wrong, uninformed, or putting forward a stupid idea. A great way to sidestep this fear is to depersonalise your idea by putting a question to the group. When you think you just might have a good suggestion but aren’t absolutely confident about it, go ahead and start by introducing it with a comment that suggests it’s something the group might want to consider:

  • Have we thought about… getting Steve involved in the PR campaign directly?
  • Did anyone mention… the Brealy report? I seem to recall it covered some of the same topics Andrew has raised here.
  • Another option we might want to consider… is pushing back the timeline until early October.
  • Is it worth revisiting…last week’s minutes from the meeting to review the product specifications agreed upon?

The subtext here is that you’re contributing to the conversation and adding value to the group — but not personally claiming ownership of the idea or taking over the conversation. By using a more informal question you’ll be able to make your voice and idea heard, without overstating your commitment to that idea.

When You Disagree

It’s hard to disagree without being disagreeable. When the conversation is heading in a direction that you don’t agree with, it’s often hard to keep your mouth shut. Of course, it’s your right (and perhaps even your responsibility) to speak up when you want to challenge what has been said or give a completely different opinion.  The key is knowing how to adjust your comments so you don’t come off sounding tiresome or offensive. Here are a few strategies and helpful phrases to use in those awkward or tense moments:

  • Be very direct: I’m afraid I disagree with that assessment, Jon. Or, My experience has actually been quite different…I found the team to be highly engaging.
  • Be cautious: I just want to play devil’s advocate here for a moment, but what if we were to… go with the opposite approach and use direct mail marketing instead of relying solely on social media efforts?
  • Be provocative: This may shock you, but I want to…challenge our assumption that we have to take the deal.

When You’re Confused

And finally, what’s worse than sitting in on a meeting and having no idea what’s going on? You may have stumbled in late, tuned out at exactly the wrong moment, or simply never known much about the topic being discussed — and found yourself becoming more and more confused as the meeting progressed. Whatever the situation, the longer you wait to ask for clarification, the harder it is to meaningfully reinsert yourself into the conversation. Here are some good phrases to use the next time you find yourself lost in a meeting:

  • Forgive me if I’m missing something here, but I’m a little confused about…which marketing program you’re suggesting we table.
  • I’m not entirely sure I follow you – could you please recap what you just mentioned regarding… the August delivery?
  • I’m sure I’m supposed to know this already, but… how many attendees are we expecting at the conference next week?
  • I apologise if this is totally obvious to everyone here, but what does CAFE stand for?
  • This may be a stupid question, but I’m still not up to speed on why…we’re not using rail instead of truck.

While it’s obviously preferable to withhold your interruption until the speaker pauses briefly, sometimes the value of what you want to say depends on interjecting it at the exact point when it will have the most relevance and impact.  Whatever you do, remember that any interjection can be made more acceptable if you preface it with some polite or apologetic words:

  • Sorry to interrupt…but I don’t quite see it like that
  • Sorry, can I come in here…there’s something I think you’ve missed
  • I do see your point, but…I really can’t support the proposal
  • Would it be fair to say…that we were a bit premature in signing the contract?
  • Could I add something here?…I believe that’s covered in their latest annual report
  • I’d like to say something if I may…there may be another way we can go with this
  • My apologies, but I think you might be mistaken on that point…there’s really no evidence to back it up

At the end of the day, you’ll do better for yourself if you speak up in meetings and make your case — whether to push a new idea, correct a misconception or simply keep yourself up to date and current on what’s really going on. You owe it to yourself and your team to contribute to your fullest potential — it’s far less intimidating then you may think.

Written by David Andrew

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