Afraid to Speak Up in Meetings? You’re Not Alone

Have you ever walked into a meeting knowing that you have a unique take on the problem at hand, but when a colleague rattles off an idea that you presume to be better than yours – you no longer have the guts to voice your, self-described, “dumb” opinion?

According to a recent study led by scientists at the Viriginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, these insecurities are probably all in your head, especially if you are a woman.

The study found that the social dynamics of a group atmosphere can actually lower the IQ scores of some people. The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, to analyze the brains of people working in small groups.

The researchers tested the volunteers’ IQ to get a baseline figure and then shared those scores with the rest of the group. Knowing their intelligence rank compared to others in the group was enough to shake the confidence of some participants, specifically the women. The participants were given a second IQ test, and even though initially everyone scored above average, the second test showed a much more diverse set of scores.

Researchers then divided the study subjects into two groups based on the second round of IQ scores and asked them to perform a series of tasks. Group one consisted of those with higher scores and group two, the lower scores. Out of the 13 women who participated, just three of them ended up in the higher scoring group. In essence, when women perceive that others in the group are smarter, we become dumber.

Today women have the smarts, the schooling, the experience – but often not the courage – to voice their views. From classrooms to boardrooms, when we have to speak up, sometimes we shut down. This is unfortunate as key business decisions are often made in small group settings and a lot of ideas are likely not being heard.

When Reka Aczel, Inventory Control Manager at Jabil Tiszaujvaros, advanced to the finals in the company’s Deliver Best Practices Competition, she was required to deliver her project to a panel of Jabil executives – all of whom were men. The task at hand required much confidence and boldness.

“At first it seemed a little scary to present my work in front of senior management,” said Aczel. “Then I thought of the project and how much energy was invested into it. It was worthy of being made visible to others.” Aczel thought about all of the work that she and her teammates had devoted to the project and balanced this against what she feared might happen during her presentation in order to build her confidence.

Using Social Cues

While most women who participated in the study had a loss in IQ, researchers think this may have something to do with women being more sensitive to social cues, reading the body language and perceptions of others, which may cause them to clam up.

Yet, this sensitivity could also be viewed as a strength. If we are able to pick up on these social cues we can be stronger, communicate better and be that much more impactful.

We want to hear from you: What strategies or mantras do you rely on in order to find the courage to pipe up in an intimidating setting?

One Response to Afraid to Speak Up in Meetings? You’re Not Alone

  1. Toni says:

    Jabil’s success relies on our employees speaking up! Congratulations to Reka for realizing that her project was important, it made a difference and her desire to showcase and share the work her team had accomplished gave her a “voice” and the confidence to deliver a great presentation.

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