I see this challenge crop up a lot. And not just with women, it happens to men too however, I see it a lot more with women. It goes something like this….

A member of the senior leadership team or a director for example, is in a meeting you’ve been asked to attend on your boss’ behalf. They’re discussing a big decision they need to make. They’re just about to settle on a course of action but you have the insight that the decision they’re making isn’t going to get the the result they’re looking for. Your heart pounds in your chest as you contemplate speaking up, but, you don’t. You leave the meeting quietly, feeling a bit flustered, slightly kicking yourself that you didn’t say anything but also relieved that you got out of there unscathed.

Where does this come from? Why is there such a big fear of speaking up to an audience that is more senior than us? How come we’re impacted to such a big degree by hierarchy? Surely, in this day and age we’re working in flatter, more collaborative structures? Apparently not.

So, it might be common but that doesn’t mean its ok and that we should just continue the way we do. This week, I thought I’d give you some top tips on how to overcome this so that you feel comfortable to speak up in whatever company you’re keeping.

Firstly, there’s some wonky beliefs that are likely holding you back so it’s best to start there. There are many different beliefs that people hold in this situation. It may be linked to how you were brought up – to respect your elders or that certain people are really important people. Perhaps it’s a knowledge thing – you think these people know more than you or maybe are more intelligent than you and you find that intimidating? Or maybe you’re worried that you might sound stupid, that this person will think you’re a complete numpty and that will be mega career limiting for you? Whatever it is, it’s time to move past it. You’re likely catastrophising or twisting your thinking anyway. This is really simple, but not always easy. My recommendation is to break it all down to the basics – we’re both just two human beings – we eat the same, we sleep the same, we shit the same, we make the same kind of cock ups and we can both knock things out of the park. All that’s different really is a job title. It’s about being able to see yourself as equal and with the same human rights. I do it all the time – even with the queen! She’s no different to me in a basic human sense. When I can get over the role or the badge, and give myself permission to be on a level playing field, because we’re just two human s when all said and done, it immediately takes the pressure off.

Secondly, I’d like you to untwist some of your thinking. Sometimes we don’t open our mouth’s because we worry that we’ll sound stupid or say something wrong or something that we’ve no right to say. I’d challenge you to flip that and stop being so selfish and on your own agenda! Yeah that’s right you heard me. It’s a very self centred view. How about if you thought about it as you are doing that other person a massive dis-service if you don’t speak up. They could be about to make a huge mistake!!! Metaphorically set fire to a load of cash? And what? You’re just gonna sit by and let them. I’d fire you for that rather than not speaking up. If you consider that that’s what they hire you to do. You’re the expert. The one in the detail everyday. Successful, senior people need people like you around them – they don’t have all the answers and it’s not their job to. It’s their job to engage people like you to support them in achieving their vision and goals. That’s what they’re paying you for. If you don’t speak up, you’re not earning your salary.

Thirdly, once you mustered up the guts to be assertive with your opinion, do some polishing up on your delivery. Naturally, your biggest objective here is your credibility. And remember, rather than fearing it getting torn to shreds, focus your efforts and energy into boosting it and having it smash the roof! To do that use some really simple techniques – be succinct: don’t use 1000 words when 6 would do. Be specific: avoid waffling round the houses and get to the point. Say what you have to say, ask a question then shut up. I use a really simple technique when consulting to get stakeholders to recognise an issue. It’s called slow down for yellow lights.

  1. I highlight the yellow light using language like “I have a concern… can I share that with you”
  2. I share my concern 
  3. I ask them to turn it red or green – “What would you like to do based on that information?”

These are three small changes you could make to start being more assertive when you’re in senior company. Remember, they’re human just like you. If you’d like to learn more then my 8 week online assertiveness course is open for enrolment right now, ready to kick off at the beginning of November. Head over to bit.ly/8-week-assertive to find out more and book your place. I’d love rto hear your challenge and success stories, so drop me a line and let me know how and I help you.