How to Interject in a Meeting
This post was originally published in the Harvard Business Review.
How many times have you sat through a meeting with something brilliant to say but never knowing quite when to say it? Or realized half way through the meeting that your colleague who spoke up said something completely erroneous? Or worse yet, found yourself nodding and smiling in agreement while wondering what in the world the discussion at hand was actually about?
Speaking up in meetings — to interject, correct someone else, or ask for clarification — can be extremely intimidating. Having a few useful phrases at hand 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 going on the record as wrong, uninformed, or as the proponent of a dumb idea. A great way to sidestep this inherent fear is to depersonalize your idea, putting a question to the group. When you think you just might have a good idea but aren’t overly confident about it, go ahead and lob in an off-handed caveat such as:
- 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 may want 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 taking ownership of an idea or commandeering the conversation. By using a more informal question or caveat, 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’ve got something contrarian to say; the key, however, is knowing how to finesse your comments so you don’t come off sounding like a jerk. Here are a few strategies and helpful phrases to use in those awkward or tense moments:
- Be blunt: I respectfully disagree with that assessment, Jon. Or, My experience has actually been quite different…I found the team to be highly engaging.
- Be cagey: 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: I want to throw out a curve ball here and…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 at hand — and found yourself falling further and further in the dark as the meeting progressed. No matter the case, 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 behind the 8-ball here, but I’m a little confused about…which marketing program you’re suggesting we table.
- I’m not entirely sure I’m following 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 apologize if this is totally obvious to everyone here, but what does CAFE stand for?
- This may be a dumb question, however I’m still not up to speed on why…we’re not using rail instead of truck.
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.