No One Listens to Me in Meetings -- and I'm the Boss

Last Updated Dec 3, 2009 2:44 PM EST

Dear Stanley,

I am the head of a small department within a larger department and am having a real problem being taken seriously. People seem to always expect me to say the wrong thing -- they react to the opposite of what I've actually said. For instance, at a meeting today, I made a point that was dismissed. A few moments later, someone else made the same point in a slightly different way and the group changed an entire strategy based on that point. I find myself clamming up at meetings for fear of saying something wrong (which is no way to operate). Or maybe I'm actually saying the wrong things. Help!


Cringing in the Corner

Dear Cringer,

I feel sorry for you. You've lost your confidence. It's also possible that people don't like you. I say that in the most positive way, so that you can triangulate your position. See, if people like you, they'll accept even the most stupid things you say and pursue them. You can suggest that the world is flat, and all they'll say is, "Wow, Enid! That's incredible! Let's see what that means for our global shipping business!" On the other hand, if nobody really feels the need to approve of you, or suck up to you, you could say that the sun rises in the east and they will reply, "So what? Let's move on." Until, of course, Enid pipes up again and everybody falls all over themselves to nibble on her earlobes.

You need to repackage and remarket yourself as a new product. Start with your personal appearance. You have no idea how shallow people are. I wish I could tell you otherwise, but an upgrade in your hair and clothes will immediately help people to see you differently. You might also either gain or lose a few pounds, depending. But even if you don't, an improvement in how you present whatever it is you've got will help you more in the short-term than an MBA in most business environments.

You have noticed that people don't always respond well to what you say, and that you're very often more comfortable saying nothing. That's good. Work with that. Many, many people in business do very well while saying very little. When I was younger, I used to go to many meetings with people who were my superiors and said not a word. I perfected a wide range of nods, however, that were quite useful, and also developed some murmurs that stood the test of time. Take notes. Appear to listen carefully. After some time, you will gain the reputation for being rather taciturn in most cases but a good listener. At that point, you may speak a bit more, but choose your words carefully. "I agree with Don here," you might say. "I think we need to get a better handle on the situation before we make any sudden moves." Stuff like that. Who could disagree with that? People hurt themselves when they try to play outside their sphere of comfort. Right now, you're not comfortable, so other people aren't comfortable around you, either.

You also might consider attending fewer bullshit meetings where people do not respect you, and spending more time with people who make you happy and seem to get your act. Just a suggestion.