Dean had a tendency to dominate every meeting or briefing he attended. As a supervisor, he surrounded himself with other like-minded male FBI agents who frequently ignored, dismissed, or interrupted others whose opinion they did not respect.
As a woman I was tired of not getting my voice heard in meetings where louder voices drowned out what I had to say. How could I change the behavior of leadership?
When I looked around the room, I saw that Dean and others of his ilk were also ignoring some of the other male agents who did not stand out as exceptional performers or leaders. While being a female agent may have had some impact on their behavior toward me, it clearly was also a matter of who was perceived to have anything important to say. Here is how I used mental toughness to get my voice heard:
1. Find Something Positive—Even if You Have to Look Really, Really Hard
I had my list of complaints about Dean, but now was the time to focus on the positive aspects of the supervisor, not his faults. For every 1 negative trait, I looked for and found, 5 positive traits about him. As a former U.S. Marine, he was:
- Disciplined and conscientious
- Possessed clarity of purpose
- Used humor to defray tension
- Relied upon a high standard of integrity to guide his decisions.
- Loyal to his friends
2. Use Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence is being savvy about the what is important to not only ourselves, but others as well. Awareness is being alert and honest about my feelings of frustration and disappointment that I felt when ignored by Dean and others like him.
Mental toughness is letting go of our ego after we’ve acknowledged our feelings and focusing our attention on someone else instead of ourselves.
When I focused on Dean, I identified one characteristic that seemed to dominate every decision he ever made—integrity. If I wanted to get my voice heard, I needed to appeal to his sense of integrity, not his sense of equal opportunity.
3. Network Strategically
There is a saying: if you can’t beat them, join them. While collaboration is increasingly important, the silo mentality has arisen for a reason: people naturally tend to form safe tribes with colleagues and avoid those they don’t know well. This is because collaboration with people they don’t know is a threat to their brain.
The emotional limbic brain is survival-driven, and it tends to trust those with whom we’ve developed close ties or have shared experiences.
I intentionally sought out Dean, and his buddies, to ask for advice about my cases. I buried my pride and made them partners in the direction I took my investigations. Since Dean and his friends had developed deep relationships, I suspected they would talk about me in my absence, and I wanted those conversations to be complimentary and positive.
4. Watch Body Language
Our emotional limbic brain system leaks all sorts of information through body language. When I approached Dean, his eyebrows arched, indicating a genuine feeling of warmth at seeing me. Few people notice this, but an “eyebrow flash” is an automatic reaction when you see someone you like.
Smiling is a sign of submission, which is why many dominant individuals don’t smile. Dean always smiled when he saw me, however, and it was a genuine smile—there were crow’s feet and the cheeks were pushed up.
Perhaps more importantly, is how he didn’t react the same way to others. What was it about them that did not generate warm feelings? It was then that I realized none of them were the first to smile at Dean. They were so focused on being seen by leadership as serious professionals that they lost their ability to smile and have a good time, especially the women who wanted to come across as tough.
Smiling activates our mirror neurons; our brain sees a reaction in someone else and it wants to mirror those same emotions. I always approached Dean with a smile, and he naturally wanted to smile back.
5. Make Pithy, Strong Statements
Dean was a busy guy and very quick witted. I didn’t dawdle when chatting about a case—I came straight to the point with pithy, strong statements. I didn’t waste his time by trying to ingratiate myself in a way that he would not appreciate.
In our next meeting, the discussion circled around to a topic that Dean and I had previously discussed. He knew he could rely on me to be succinct and make an impact, so he asked for my opinion. I didn’t let him down—I made my statement and then shut up, not using this opportunity to make sure everyone else in the room knew how competent I was.
That day was a turning point. While I have never developed a loud voice, I have developed a strong one.
That is something you can do as well. Use it well.
What suggestions do you have to make your voice heard when in a room with louder ones?
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