You’re on a call with your supervisor and a few of your coworkers. The topic? A project in which you play a critical role. You have valuable points, and you’d like to voice your ideas…but the dialogue just keeps flowing without you.
The meeting is over before you manage to say a word. Despite your best efforts, the moment to make your contributions never seemed to arrive. Instead of feeling good about how the meeting went, you feel inadequate when you leave the call since you never managed to politely assert yourself and express your thoughts.
If you’ve found yourself in a situation like this before, rest assured that it’s normal and common, particularly with the growth in distributed work.
Remote work can be a double-edged sword, offering many benefits along with challenges. Research has shown that remote communication has led to a reduction in idea generation and collaboration. Studies show some workers are impacted more than others. In a study of over 1,100 people, 45% of women surveyed stated that they find it difficult to interject in online meetings. Twenty percent of the women in the study said they felt overlooked or even ignored in the virtual world.
When her team resumed working in the office while Beatrice kept telecommuting, she found herself facing this exact dilemma. Beatrice’s 15 years of experience as a UX designer gave her deep knowledge to draw from. Despite this, she found herself overthinking in meetings and holding back until she could make a contribution she considered “high value.”
But often, this meant that she never spoke up at all. Beatrice was extremely considerate of others and mindful of how she came across, always avoiding any behavior that could be read as impolite. But as a result of these habits and, along with working from home, Beatrice was passed over for a promotion she deserved because she simply wasn’t as visible as many of her coworkers.
During virtual meetings, you may find yourself wanting to speak up for any number of reasons, including offering updates, requesting clarification, voicing a solution, setting a misconception straight, or restoring the meeting’s focus on its agenda. Here are some strategies I shared with Beatrice that you may find helpful, too.
5 Ways to Assertively Voice Your Ideas (While Remaining Polite)
Show your interest.
It can be challenging to attract attention when you have something to share during an online meeting, but it’s a critical skill to master. This is particularly true given that over the course of an average professional’s career, over half of the hours they work will be spent in meetings. In Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust and Connection No Matter the Distance, author Erica Dhawan says that “communication, specifically via digital mediums, is no longer a ‘soft skill’ — it is the new power skill that will define your success.”
That said, it’s not always easy to be “seen” and acknowledged when you have something to share on a call, especially in the absence of many non-verbal cues that would be clear in person. If you want to speak up without seeming disruptive, you can signal that you wish to contribute in any of the following ways:
- Use the “hand raise” button within your meeting’s software platform
- Turn your camera on if it’s off
- Unmute yourself
- Use the chat feature to say you’d like to share something
- Raise your hand on camera
“Pass the baton.”
There’s a tactic I call the “pass the baton” strategy, and it’s quite easy to use. Prior to the start of the meeting, check out the agenda and tell the moderator when you’d like to contribute. When the time comes, the moderator can call on you to speak up (a. k. a. “pass the baton” your way.)
This approach offers two extra benefits in addition to clearing the way for you to offer your ideas. The first benefit is accountability. You’ve made it known that you’d like to add to the dialogue, and that means you’ll have to actually do it. The second benefit is that you’ll pick up an “air of authority” when the moderator defers to you so you can share your take.
Find natural transition points.
While it’s common for people to talk over one another during virtual meetings…that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. Instead, find organic ways to insert yourself between agenda topics. Try using phrases like:
- You make an excellent point. I have something to add…
- This seems like a good time to bring up…
- Before we move on to the next topic, I’d like to point out that…
If you’re speaking up more than once in a short period, or if the circumstances call for you to be more deferential (for instance, if you’re interjecting while a more senior colleague is talking), you may want to chime in with a question rather than a statement. You might say something like, “Is this a good time to mention X? What you just said gave me an idea,” or “Can I make a comment that builds on what you just said?” You will not seem weak by requesting permission like this. Instead, you’ll demonstrate good “soft skills” by being considerate and thoughtful.
Keep it short.
After you have everyone’s attention, make sure your contribution is brief and focused. Articulate why you’ve spoken up (for instance, “For this initiative, it’s essential that we prioritize…”)
Once you’ve made your point, be gracious as you turn the conversation over to the next person to speak or to the facilitator. You could say, “I appreciate the opportunity to jump in. Jose – please go ahead and continue.”
Assert yourself as needed.
If a chatty colleague commandeers the meeting, it may be necessary to reclaim the conversation. One way to do this is with the “broken record technique,” which involves saying the same phrase or the same word over and over in an even-handed way. It might be effective to call the person’s name repeatedly (“Steve, Steve, Steve – can I make an observation?” or use a phrase like “Let’s move on” or “just a moment.”
Another option is to interject with a question or an observation, such as “It’s unclear to me how this relates to what we were just discussing. Can you connect the dots for us?” or “So if you were to sum up the point you’re making in a single sentence, what would that be?”
Interjecting your ideas during online meetings might feel awkward initially, but if you stick with it, it will pay off. In 2022, a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology noted that, “employees who learn to speak with confidence and clarity will be more likely to be seen as leaders when working in teams. In turn, they’ll have more opportunities to make a positive difference on their team and organization — and to advance their own career.”
These tactics will help you start speaking up from a place of strength with less shame.