2021.03.01 Thinking Out Loud: Your Path to Free Speech
Every moment of every day we have the opportunity to express our ideas. And we do and we love doing it. We enjoy sharing our thoughts with our friends and colleagues. Some of our favorite conversational spots are around the water cooler, in the company cafeteria and at our desks. Then we are abruptly called into the conference room by the boss for an ad hoc team meeting. We step into the room, take our seats and continue chatting with our friendly team mates.
Suddenly the boss steps into the conference room and everyone goes silent. The boss asks for volunteers to provide a briefing about the project they are working on. Your colleague on your left raises her hand to go first. 60 seconds later she’s done with a clear and concise summary. Your friend across the table is next. He goes on for more than two minutes. The boss seems pleased with your friend’s enthusiastic and passionate delivery. A few more team members volunteer and abruptly you’re the only one left in the room who hasn’t offered to speak.
You want to speak, you really do, but something is holding you back. You want to share your thoughts with the room, you really do, except your mind is a jumbled mess. You don’t know what to say, how to say it or even where to start. All eyes are on you now. You’re wondering what’s wrong with you. You’re thinking about getting up from your chair and run towards the door to make your escape. But you don’t. You sit there dazed and unfocused. Will you open your excessively dry mouth to speak? Can you?
Unfortunately, our anxiety is an all too common response to a seemingly simple request to speak in front of our peers during a team meeting. We’re frustrated because this doesn’t happen to us when we’re one-on-one with a colleague during less formal occasions. What is it that holds us back from freely speaking our minds at team meetings? If we only knew the secret to speaking comfortably while in the hotseat.
Luckily for us there is a simple solution to feeling at ease in the spotlight and here it is…discharge yourself of the notion that you’ll ever feel comfortable while all eyes are on you. Let me put it another way, you must get comfortable with being uncomfortable. There, I bet you feel better already 😊
Don’t blame yourself because this uncomfortableness has been ingrained in our DNA since time began. Our cavepeople ancestors would not have survived if they had jumped out of their cave to present their latest inspirational message every time a saber tooth tiger or member of an unfamiliar tribe wandered by. Our street-smart ancestors knew to stay hidden within the comfortable confines of the group. Survival of the quietest was the name of the game back then.
Now it’s much different for us, by necessity. Our professional success depends on how visible and vocal we can make ourselves whether at a meeting, on social media or around the water cooler. Aspiring to be like everyone else in the office just doesn’t cut it. We need to stand out from the crowd in order to cut through the deafening ambient noise. Expressing our ideas with ease and confidence anywhere at any time is the name of the game.
Being quiet will get you nowhere except pushed to the margins. Are you comfortable watching your colleagues as they advance their careers while you sit on the sidelines? Since you’re still reading this article, I’m thinking you’re not satisfied playing a minor role on your team. You want to be heard by your peers. You want meaningful engagement with your team members. You want to influence the decisions being made by your boss. You have the right mindset but know that this type of interaction is not be natural for you. You’ll feel uneasy. This is ok because please understand this: all growth in life, especially career advancement, begins at the edge of your comfort zone. Are you ready to push the boundaries that confine you to your current position?
Every gain begins with a change of mindset. Speaking out during meetings is no different. The thing that’s holding you back from expressing yourself freely is your desire to craft a perfect message. However, the concepts of ‘crafting’ and ‘perfection’ are not conducive to the hectic pace of a meeting. The boss doesn’t want to wait for 10 minutes nor even 10 seconds for a response to his question. If he did, he’d have sent his request by email. He wants your input now. Can give him what he wants, effective immediately?
The answer is a resounding ‘yes you can’. It’ simply a matter of thinking out loud. For quality-driven perfectionists like us this can be a daunting challenge. Don’t worry, I’m Sherpa Seth, your friendly guide, and I’ve been in your shoes sitting at your conference table during your meeting with your impatient boss. It’s not as hard as you may think to change your habits. Here are three action items to make you a bit more comfortable about implementing a thinking out loud mentality at your next meeting.
- Be Quick
You simply need to get in the game by raising your hand before anyone else. Similar to buzzing in first on Jeopardy, it’s a matter of speed. Once the boss recognizes you, you’ll want to respond to his question by offering whatever idea hits your mind first. This is not the time to craft a perfect message. This is the time to let your thoughts escape quickly. However, you don’t need to be an ad hoc meandering blabbermouth. Just offer one concise idea and then stop talking. This is sufficient for your first effort at thinking out loud. Your boss will appreciate your conciseness and brevity.
2. Be Decisive
When bosses ask for input, they mean it. They honestly want to hear your perspective on their topic. They don’t want you to hem, haw or vacillate. Your boss needs you to state your opinion in a clear and succinct manner, stop talking, and then let another one of your colleagues take their turn. There are many people in the meeting and boss wants to give everyone a chance to offer their input. All you need to do is speak what’s on your mind. No need to play pros and cons of your top ten options. Just speak out on the first one that hits your brain. Your boss will appreciate your decisiveness and certainty.
3. Be Bold
We all want to be bold in our responses and this is your opportunity. Your boss doesn’t want to hear the same opinion 20 times over. Be brave and offer up something original. It’s ok to preface your response with a caveat like, “This idea is coming off the top of my head…” Everybody in the room is working in the same ad hoc mode as you are. This is what thinking out loud is all about. I encourage you to muster up the courage to speak up, off the cuff and on the spot. Your boss will appreciate your honesty and creativity.
I understand that being spontaneous isn’t easy for you. Extemporaneous speaking will not be a comfortable fit for life long analyzers. Believe me because I know how you feel. However, I promise that, with a little practice, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how quickly your skills will improve. There’s no time like the present to think out loud. (Don’t think too hard about it.) Now go forth and enjoy your exciting journey on your path to speaking with freedom!