Low Risk Ways to Speak Up in a Meeting

Last Updated Nov 15, 2010 2:39 PM EST

When I found myself working for a large organization, I had little experience making my voice heard in meetings. Previously, I had freelanced from my basement and was more comfortable talking 1:1 on the phone. But in meetings, I would want to ask questions (without sounding stupid), disagree (without sounding stupid or like a jerk), and offer opinions (without sounding stupid or seeming like I was trying to take over). See a theme?

Recently, Jodi Glickman covered this very subject -- how to interject in a meeting -- in the Harvard Business Review. Her advice lines up nicely with the tactics I've employed in my own meeting experiences.

Want to offer an opinion without necessarily getting your name attached to a bad idea? Glickman suggests these lead-in phrases:

  • Have we thought about... (I do this one so often I might as well try to patent it.)
  • Did anyone mention...
  • Another option we might want to consider...
These are powerful phrases because you're seen as contributing to the conversation without taking ownership of the idea you're discussing.

Another common scenario: You are lost. It only takes a moment in a technical conversation to find you no longer know what the heck is going on. The good news is that it's not as bad as you might think to admit you're lost, as long as you're up front about it. You can sit there in utter bafflement, or try one of these:

  • Forgive me if I'm a bit behind the 8-call, but I'm confused about...
  • This might be a dumb question, but... (I use this one perhaps a little too often.)
  • I'm sure I'm supposed to know this, but...
Finally, suppose you disagree but you don't want to sound like a jerk. Her suggestions:
  • Be blunt: I respectfully disagree.
  • Be cagey: Playing devil's advocate... (I do this one all the time.)
  • Be provocative: I'd like to throw a curve ball here and suggest something very different...
Photo courtesy Flickr user Simon Blackley