If you’re a network TV watcher, you’ve probably seen this commercial. Set in a conference room, we see the ad agency folks pitching a new idea to their client, Choice Hotels. Everyone is focused on the creative guy doing the presenting. He begins, “So in this commercial, we see two travelers at a Comfort Inn with a glow around them. And people watching will be like, ‘Wow! Maybe I’ll glow too — if I book direct at ChoiceHotels.com!’”

Clearly the commercial is a swipe at Trivago — and all the other online booking sites that take a cut for each room booked.

But back to the commercial…Next, the camera zooms in on the clients, who don’t appear to be buying into the idea of glowing, and so they just remain quiet. That is, until the spokesman, in his stylishly deep voice, asks, “Who glows? Just say, ‘Badda Book. Badda Boom.’” Finally, someone at the table summons the courage to speak up and announces, “Nobody glows.”

I know that Choice Hotels wants us to remember their “Badda Book. Badda Boom.” slogan, but it’s actually “Who glows?” that strikes the relatable chord.

Been there…
Most of us have been in that meeting, apprehensive about countering the new idea or action being proposed. Things are moving apace, yet we’re conflicted. “Should I chime in now?” Or “How do I propose the counter argument?” Worse yet, “What will they think of me if I go against the crowd?”

If you wait too long, you’ll miss your opportunity. The trick to sharing a different idea or expressing your concern is to respond sooner rather than later, in order to slow the momentum. Equally important is how you present your idea. Here are some simple tips to slow things down when you’re working with a tough room.

  • Be positive. If you begin too tentatively by saying, “I was thinking…,” the group might start to doubt the worthiness of your position. Instead, firmly state your point. If you are seeking agreement, add this: “Here’s what we should consider doing.”
  • Speak with authority. According to Susan Freeman, who specializes in helping women in business communicate effectively believes “Females in authority often conform to a toned-down style that erodes any respect they receive, because asserting themselves invites disapproval.” While speaking authoritatively might be outside your comfort zone, if you believe in your idea, you need to deliver it with the authority it deserves. Freeman says, “When most people think of an effective leader, what often springs to mind is someone assertive, competitive, and ambitious—stereotypically masculine qualities. But women are still expected to be nice, helpful, and modest— stereotypically feminine qualities. As a result, women often find themselves walking a tightrope between being seen as overly feminine, which makes them seem likable – but not competent, or overly masculine, which makes them seem competent – but not well liked.”
  • Do not attack the stated position – or the speaker. While seemingly obvious, suddenly blurting out “You’re wrong, Bill!” or the less threatening version, “Bill, I gotta disagree with you here,” isn’t the best approach to getting folks to see things your way. Ever. You’ll put Bill – and probably everyone else in the room – on the defensive.
  • Land the plane. Many people, women especially, often include an unnecessarily long preamble to stave off anticipated objections. When you hear yourself offering up, “I know what you’re thinking, but…” you might lose your audience. Besides, they might not have had any objections. None, that is, until you planted the seed!
  • Frame your idea so that it sounds like a question, but really isn’t. For example, “What if (pause) we were to look at this issue a bit differently?” Note how you’ve asked a question and then answered it promptly. This approach not only gets right to the point, but it isn’t tentative and doesn’t threaten the speaker or the group. It also opens up the dialogue for another point of view.

Need more help dealing with your tough room situations? Check out these resources:

Speak with Impact: How to Command the Room and Influence Others by Allison Shapira
I highly recommend the audiobook version!

The Power of Talk: Who Gets Heard and Why by Deborah Tannen (Harvard Business Review)
This HBR article comes highly recommended by Susan Freeman.

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone
The classic how-to book for managers, parents, teachers – actually, everyone. I have the paperback version, which is starting to show some serious wear and tear.

Freeman Means Business
Creating equity in the workplace by helping women in business communicate effectively with the world – and helping men communicate with women in business.

How about sharing your ideas? I’d love to hear from you!

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