When others conclude that you rarely speak up, your career stalls. The ability to command attention and build a case are attributes closely associated with leadership. And it’s not just shy people who struggle to “get a word in edgewise.”
But being overly aggressive is not necessarily the answer. Instead, you can learn specific techniques both to enter a conversation and make your point without interruptions.
1. Set up your argument from the beginning
As you take the floor to add an idea in a meeting, signal how much time you need to make your point–literally. As you begin to speak, for example, start with: “As I’ve been listening to the discussion, the idea of delaying the project keeps popping up. But I’d like to mention three reasons I don’t think that’s an option. First, …” Or: “I want to take about three minutes here to give you a little background on what happened the last time we tried that approach….”
With such statements, you’ve told the group that you have three points to make before you relinquish the floor. If someone interrupts before you finish, it’s perfectly legitimate and natural for you to stop them this way: “I’d like to finish, please.” Or: “Wait, let me give you my other two reasons before responding.” Then do not pause. Simply continue. They will let you.
2. Make a controversial or mysterious statement
In the midst of an intense discussion, make an attention-grabbing comment. Examples: “In my opinion, we’re way off track.” Or: “That equipment alone will cost us more than our entire budget!” Or for a mysterious comment: “I think we’d be slammed on social media!”
Or, try a straightforward comment that invites requests for you to explain yourself: “To me, all the plans we’ve mentioned so far ignore one MAJOR obstacle.” What group would NOT stop to ask what you’re referring to with that lead-in!
3. Raise a reflective question
Even a reflective question can be a catalyst for the group to ask you to explain yourself: “What if we actually reverse the process?” Such questions will very likely halt a conversation and generate a chorus of “What do you mean by that?”
4. Address someone by name
This technique may be necessary when the discussion has devolved into a free-for-all. Think of this tactic as a crowbar, yanking open a hole for your comment. Example: “Julie, I want to piggyback the point you made earlier.” (Then, you don’t necessarily need to continue to address Julie. You’re only using her name as a bridging technique.)
Or: “Michael, my experience with that approach has been totally different.” When people hear their name called, they generally stop, listen, and pay attention to what you’re saying to them personally.
Or sometimes, a direct question to an individual provides an on-ramp for you to get into an intense discussion: “Jaime, what specifically was the cost on that campaign last year?” When Jaime answers, then it’s natural for him to pause and wait for your response.
Ask for attention
If all these other tactics fail, you always have the option to simply ask for permission to enter the fray: “Can I break in here for a moment to tell you how our department handled that last year?” (Typically, you would ask for permission to “interrupt” only in a situation when you’ve been noticeable quiet.)
The drawback of using this technique too often is that others may consider you timid—or at least less assertive than appropriate for your functional role. In other words, it calls attention to the fact that you’ve not been active in the discussion thus far.
To make these techniques work smoothly for you, observe others who use them successfully. What’s their phrasing, voice volume, and vocal intensity? Then note the group’s positive reaction. Once you make up your mind to jump into the fray, you’ll likely find the water warmer than you think.