Well, ask that question at any gathering and you’ll probably get a resounding yes in response. And possibly more surprising, both men and women will give you that answer.
Culturally we hold it as self evident that women talk more than men. It’s a given. But it’s not necessarily true. However, because we think it’s true we hear what women say differently. And as women that almost inevitably affects how we speak up in meetings. And how we speak up in meetings affects our career prospects and advancement
Research into classroom behaviour shows boys take up ‘more verbal space’ than girls; being more noisy means they get more attention from the teachers. Interestingly one of the researchers thought the girls and teachers colluded in allowing the boys to dominate – they didn’t challenge it. Teachers were surprised to be told that they behaved differently with boys and girls but the researchers confirmed it. It even affected topics they taught. Because boys objected very loudly to doing topics they thought effeminate etc and girls stayed quiet when presented with ‘boys’ topics, boys topics predominated.
That’s an interesting finding. Yes, of course there are issues for women speaking up at work (check out ‘Great Idea Ms Jones, Now Would a Man Care to Make It?’) but maybe we have to take some ownership here. How often have you allowed a man to hold the floor, even been glad that someone has broken the silence and spoken? There will be a myriad of reasons for this: cultural, sociological, psychological, and personal, but if we want to progress our careers and challenge the status quo we have to recognise this pattern and literally speak up.
Here are some questions from my Speak Up course that you might find useful:
Before each meeting you attend ask yourself:
- What do I want the outcome of this meeting to be?
- What am I looking for from this meeting/interview etc? It might not be related to the actual topic at all.
- What is the message I need to get across?
- How can I succinctly give that message in a headline? This is really helpful when talking to mainly men if you want to get their attention first; save the supporting arguments for later.
- Who normally dominates?
- How can I make sure my contribution is heard?
Any tips of your own, please do feel free to share!
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Posted on June 19th, 2012 by Jane