Last June, after Arianna Huffington commented during an Uber board meeting that having one woman join a board could pave the way for others, fellow board member David Bonderman replied that having one woman join a board would simply lead to "more talking."

Outrage ensued and Bonderman resigned later that day.

Pervading cultural stereotypes establish women as "talkers." Yet a 2014 study at George Washington University showed that men interrupt 33 percent more often when talking to women versus other men.

In the world of business, the meeting is a critical advancement and decision-making unit. In my work coaching women leaders, I've observed that the most successful have mastered the art of overcoming interruptions and having their voices heard. Here are seven strategies to try. 

1. Interrupt back.

If someone interrupts you for any reason other than to ask for clarification around a point you're making, interrupt back to complete your thought.

You might say, "Can I ask you to hold off for a moment so I can table some important points? Thanks." You could also try, "Hold on, please. I'm not finished."

2. Sit in the power seat.

One of the most powerful seats around any boardroom table is the middle spot on the long side, facing the door. Choose this seat when you can; you position yourself in the center of conversation making it easier for your voice to be heard.

3. Speak in shorter sentences.

Shorter sentences are harder to interrupt than long, complex sentences where you must pause to take a breath. A great rule of thumb is to express a single simple thought per sentence.

4. Get feedback on your meeting style.

If you're consistently being talked over, or are failing to effectively communicate your ideas in meetings, getting feedback from someone you trust is an asset. Choose one or two people who have seen you in action in meetings, and ask them to give you their blunt comments.

5. Cultivate allies.

If you are going into a meeting and you know you'll be pitching a bold new idea, float that idea by a handful of attendees beforehand to solicit feedback AND support before you pitch it formally. 

6. Take credit.

You may have had the experience of sharing an idea in a meeting, only to have it shot down or glossed over in the moment, but celebrated when a male colleague shares it later. When this happens, resist the urge to let it slide. By doing so, you are training yourself and others that it's okay to not hear your ideas when you share them. Instead, take credit. You might say, "That's a great point. In fact, I tabled a very similar idea 20 minutes ago."

7. Make direct eye contact and lean in.

When you're making a point, lean into the table, establish direct eye contact - and hold it for one or two seconds with your colleagues. People are less likely to interrupt when you directly engage  them as you speak.

No one likes being interrupted, and being talked over can erode your confidence and your impact. Experimenting with these simple strategies to have your voice heard will ensure your ideas get the airtime they deserve.

Published on: Jun 6, 2018