Written by: Becky Papp, MBA
In my first industry position, I was assigned the task of representing other team members at department meetings.
I took the notes from our smaller meetings during the week and brought important issues to the larger department meetings twice a month.
This method was meant to minimize our overall meeting time.
I remember going to the big meeting room with at least 10 other people, most of whom ignored me.
As they talked amongst themselves, an agenda was passed out and I saw that my department report was fifth down.
I was intimidated by how much of the ensuing discussion was beyond my job scope and wondered how I was going to contribute.
Nevertheless, I had my notes and waited my turn.
I watched the time tick by until there were just 15 minutes left.
We were still on the third item!
I began to panic — my job was to represent my team in this meeting and I was failing.
The meeting ended with the moderator saying that anything we didn’t get to we will address next time or handle “offline.”
I went back to my team feeling like an utter failure.
My boss said he wasn’t surprised I didn’t get the chance to speak.
He explained that the agenda is useless because no one tracks time.
“You have to jump in where you can. Don’t wait for your turn.”
It took another four meetings before I finally got the nerve to speak up.
The learning curve was steep, but I eventually became effective in those meetings by learning how to be more assertive.
Why Meetings Are An Essential Element Of Industry
According to a survey from AtTask, employees spend about 40% of their working hours in meetings.
This makes meetings vital to success, even while many people malign their effectiveness.
Most of us in academia, industry, or otherwise, have sat through meetings while mentally tallying up the things we could be accomplishing at that moment.
With all their efficiency shortcomings, no email exchange, instant message, or app replaces the meeting as a mainstay of collaboration.
It’s pretty simple — when more than two people are working on a common project, their disparate talents have to be organized.
This is how we maximize the strengths and mitigate the weaknesses of our teams.
According to Inc., meetings are essential for doing work, creating plans, and fueling collaboration.
Our participation in meetings is where a lot of our team value manifests.
The meeting is the place to demonstrate what you can contribute to the project and get the information you need to do your job.
If you are not assertive in that one hour every week, your actual or perceived production the rest of the week may suffer.
Being more assertive and comfortable in that setting is important to your overall success.
But it’s also important to remember that the meeting is not a measure of your ability, it is simply a cultural mechanism, a tool, you can learn to use.
5 Ways PhDs Can Be More Assertive In Business Meetings
Many PhDs may groan at the prospect of a meeting with their supervisor or thesis committee.
It is precious time away from the bench.
It does not feel productive and often times you leave feeling like your ideas were never heard or that you are more confused than ever.
If you want to be successful in industry, you must learn to deal with meetings.
A typical day for a research scientist will involve attending team and/or company meetings.
It is where topics are discussed, debated, and decided.
If you sit idly by, simply watching the clock run down, you will never become a part of the team, let alone move up the corporate ladder.
While every business has its own organizational culture, there are steps you can take to become more comfortable and assertive in meetings, no matter how they are run.
Here are the top five…
1. Speak up.
If you often find yourself waiting to find the right time to chime in and that time never seems to arrive, try to be the first to speak.
Speaking right away is especially useful if the meeting doesn’t have a formal agenda, or if the agenda is being ignored.
Introduce your topic while the air is clear to avoid the perpetual wait for the right moment.
The worst that can happen is that you may be asked to wait, but you’ll have already staked a claim in the meeting.
When you’re not assertive, you settle for things.
You have a high tolerance for doing things even though it makes you unhappy.
But you’re a PhD and your opinions matter.
You have value to add in any position at any company.
Mustering up the courage to speak up during a meeting can be the difference between heading a project and being on the sidelines.
2. Use the buddy system.
Sometimes people hold back in meetings because they are uncomfortable with the situation, either because they don’t know anyone who is present or they are afraid of what everyone might think.
Does that sound familiar?
PhDs are not the only ones that can suffer from imposter syndrome.
It happens in all ranks of business.
It can help to get to know people on your team so you feel more comfortable with them.
Especially during your first months in an industry position, you have the opportunity to network with as many people as possible in the company.
Introduce yourself to everyone you meet, and start to learn and observe.
Then when a meeting is scheduled where you have an important topic to discuss, work with a colleague in the meeting who can bring you into the conversation.
If you know someone who is more assertive, they can get the ball rolling for you… “I think we need to push out our deadline and Joe has more insight on this.”
If you have a problem speaking in groups, direct your comments or questions directly to your colleague to improve focus.
3. Do your homework.
Before a meeting, set goals for yourself and stick to them.
Come to the meeting with notes.
Even if you don’t use them, the physical act of writing them down and having your priorities in front of you can improve your comfort level.
Rehearse what you are going to say and how you will say it beforehand.
Think about what the reaction to your topic may be — both positive and negative — and plan how you will respond to the feedback.
It is similar to (but not as intensive as) preparing for your thesis defense.
Yes, you practiced your presentation, but then you spent even more time preparing for the questions from your examining committee.
Being prepared can free up your energy to assert yourself in the meeting.
Being unsure of the content of your contribution is self-sabotage.
Remember, you are important to the team and this is the place to demonstrate that.
4. Plan for persistence.
You might have to step on the end of someone’s comment to get yours heard.
You might be ignored, or get asked to wait.
Politeness and assertivenes can co-exist but if your company culture places more value on assertiveness, you need to be strategic about your response to being shut down.
Depending on the situation, it is important to choose which battles to fight and which to find an amicable compromise.
Be prepared for dealing with colleagues who are more aggressive than assertive.
If someone else’s behavior puts you on the defensive, you won’t be at your best.
It is important to separate emotions from business.
Do not take feedback, that you perceive as negative, personally.
Likewise, do not try and stoop to their level by trying to imitate someone else’s behavior.
You can become more assertive while still being true to who you are and your own values.
5. Know your body language.
Do you fidget? Slouch? Avoid eye contact?
Ask colleagues and friends for feedback.
There is immense value in watching a recording of yourself in group meetings or presentations.
If you don’t have access to that, simply being aware of the tendencies you want to change can help to create those changes.
According to Amy Cuddy, assistant professor at Harvard Business School, body language not only influences the people around us but also our own body chemistry.
Practicing these physical exercises can boost the hormones that encourage confidence.
If you click pens, tap your foot, or fiddle with jewelry, address these things before the meeting.
Don’t wear jewelry, leave that pen behind, or consciously decide to keep your foot in one place during the meeting.
Meetings, with all their faults, are essential to getting work done in industry.
Passing trends and tricks try to replace meetings as we know them, but they are here to stay!
Nothing replaces face-to-face interaction. Meetings are your opportunity to find your voice and make your unique contribution. In academia, any time away from doing research was perceived as a waste of time. In industry, effective meetings are the lifeblood of moving projects forward. If you want to make a good impression with your team and your managers, you have to be both professional and assertive. The common trap of hiding behind computer screens and piles of work is not going to help you be successful in industry. Raise your visibility in the company by being assertive.
To learn more about the 5 ways to be professional and assertive in business meetings, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the wait list for the Cheeky Scientist Association.