Communication Strategies for Professional Women

I read a great NY Times article from Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant on why women don't speak up more. It says what most women in the professional sphere have all too often experienced:

"When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she's barely heard or she's judged as too aggressive. When a man says virtually the same thing, heads nod in appreciation for his fine idea. As a result, women often decide that saying less is more."

The article cites a study by Professor Brescoll who teaches at Yale School of Management, my alma mater. Her research shows male executives who spoke up more often than their peers received 10 percent higher ratings of competence, while female executives who spoke more than their peers were scored, by both men and women, 14 percent lower.

Is silence truly golden?

No, I don't think so. Not when promotions, pay raises and prestige at the workplace are on the line.

The authors of the article suggest that businesses need to find ways to make a change and correct gender bias. They contend we need more President Obama-type leaders who understand and create opportunities for women to speak and to be heard.

I wholeheartedly agree. Leaders need to be more aware of bias and follow through with action that addresses it. However, professional women need to take action, too.

If you are with a boss and leadership who doesn't get it, and are clueless and uninterested in learning how to alleviate bias in the workplace, then it's up to you.

What would happen if you chose to take a stand and make a difference?

Be warned: My suggestions are bold and will feel awkward at first. But, with practice, patience and a polite energy, they could quite possibly change the way your peers respond to you.

Below I've listed six suggestions to help you get your point across effectively:

1. Refuse to be interrupted.

When you speak, don't allow colleagues to break in. Rather, tactfully continue talking and finish your thought. It will be uncomfortable at first, especially if you are used to handing over the floor every time someone breaks in. If the interrupting persists, politely ask, "May I finish?"

2. Speak confidently and trust your ideas.

Do you have your own back? Do you really believe in yourself and your ideas? Do you listen to your own voice? It starts from you. Before you enter a meeting, give yourself a private pep talk. Set an intention that you will respectfully listen to each person's ideas, and that they will reciprocate, in kind.

3. When someone breaks in, speak a little louder than normal.

If you find you are being cut off in the middle of your thought, continue talking, but increase your volume slightly. Look the interrupter in the eye and politely say, "I wasn't finished making my point." Again, this may feel awkward at first; however, you will make your point and be heard.

4. Suggest a no-interruption policy at meetings.

Talk to your company's leadership and your peers about the problem. As the New York Times article suggests, this one change could transform the dynamic of every meeting you attend, and your workplace, as well.

5. Understand your own communication style. Be creative and be open to new ways and ideas.

Each of us has our own communication style, and we communicate and process information differently. When you want to communicate effectively, know your style and as well as your boss' and your teammates' styles. The goal is to understand one another, to listen, and to be heard.

If you feel you have a hard time getting your opinion across during meetings, find other ways to make it happen. For example, talk to the meeting organizer before the meeting and let him or her know that you have a topic you'd like to discuss.

Come to the meeting prepared. Create slides and documents that grab the other attendees' attention. You don't have to have the loudest voice in the room to be heard. And the truth is, there is no "right" way. Each of us must find our own way.

6. Embody the Leadership Lifestyle.

Too many women give up too soon. They immediately go into a limiting mindset and shut down whenever a colleague cuts them off or interrupts. Don't give up before you have your say. Stand your ground and honor your ideas. Realize you are a leader, regardless of your position or job title. Your ideas and opinions matter, too. It's your job to ensure they're heard.

As the leader, it is your job to get your point across and be heard, while also respecting the contributions of others. An essential part of this is to find the your own way--the one that works the best for you. Your way might look completely different from your colleagues' way of doing things, and that's OK.

Embodying the Leadership Lifestyle isn't easy. But be persistent, as you practice, you'll get better at it.

Ultimately, I want you to be effective and be yourself. You don't have to be the loudest, most aggressive person at the table to get your point across.

Yes, this way works for many people, but it's not the only way

Do you constantly get interrupted and cut off at work? What suggestions do you have to help alleviate this problem? What's worked for you? Share your comments below.


Nozomi Morgan, MBA, is a certified Executive Coach and the Founder and President of Michiki Morgan Worldwide LLC. Addition to coaching, she speaks and trains on leadership, career, professional development and cross-cultural business communication.

Visit to learn more about Nozomi . There, you can download the free Leadership Discovery Tool. Follow Nozomi on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.