Common biases towards women in the workplace

I’ve been reading yet another book on bias – Bias Interrupted by Joan Williams.  It presents a new way of looking at bias in the workplace based on feedback from almost 18,000 people in different companies and sectors over a period of almost 10 years.

The author introduces five groupings of commonly-observed biases in the workplace.  Let us explore 3 of them today:

1. Prove-it-again Bias
This one is a bias we see a lot.  White, university-educated men tend to be judged on potential while everyone else (more or less) has to prove themselves on experience and demonstrated results.

2. Tightrope Bias
This is a bias that presents a double-edged sword for people of less privileged backgrounds.  Women, for instance, are often criticised for being either meek or  aggressive.  If they are quiet and less outspoken, women are told to be more confident. But when they assert themselves, they are often described as abrasive or even angry.  The tightrope is a reference to having to carefully balance stereotypes, for instance being seen as the ‘angry Black woman’ or an insecure, inexperienced girl.

3.  Maternal Wall Bias
The most common form of gender bias applies to women when they become mothers.  Odd as it may seem today, this bias continues to persist.  Assumptions are made about expectant mothers – that they are less competent (‘pregnancy brain’) and less committed.  In fact, there is often even an expectation that mothers should be more committed to their families than to work or be less ambitious about their careers.

The harm to organisations
There are many problems associated with biases in the workplace, particularly when a company is working hard towards greater Diversity and Inclusion.  Ignoring these biases – or simply not seeing them –  has a compounding effect on people’s careers.  In one study, for instance, it was shown that only a 5% gender bias in performance rating can cause a company that starts out with nearly 60% of women to end up with only half of them after 8 promotion rounds.  Similarly, in another study, a small amount of gender bias has been shown to improve the promotion to partnership potential for men threefold over women.

Bias has  a great impact on an organisation’s Diversity and Inclusion efforts – so addressing it in as many different ways as possible with persistence is vital.

Here are a few ideas, also from the book, of the kinds of things that help interrupt bias:

  1. Keeping track of how high-profile assignments are distributed.  This is one way to ensure a fairer, more equal approach to opportunities.  Simply by identifying the high-profile opportunities and then keeping track of who is getting them within a period of a few weeks can be an insightful way to identifying an important bias.
  2. Interrupt the interrupters.  One way to ensure meetings are more inclusive is to notice if certain people tend to interrupt.  Data shows that men tend to interrupt women 3 times more than they interrupt other men.  If you notice this dynamic in your meeting, intercept by calmly asking the interrupter to let the speaker finish.
  3. Discuss common biases.  This is particularly effective ahead of a feedback or evaluation session.  Asking the managers to discuss out loud some of the common biases found in giving feedback or during performance evaluations (provided in a handout or made known by their HR or D&I lead) drastically reduces the manifestation of these biases in the ensuing sessions.

The book has many other recommendations and interesting data and I wholeheartedly recommend that you read it.

We too can help with identifying and mitigating specific biases.  Let us know if this is something with which you would like our help.

How to Mitigate Bias as a Leader

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

One of the fundamental characteristics of inclusive leadership is being cognisant of one’s own biases, understanding when we are most susceptible to them, and working hard to mitigate them.

According to one of the best writings on Inclusive Leadership, a Deloitte paper entitled The six signature traits of inclusive leadership by Bernadette Dillon and Juliet Bourke, in order for leaders to succeed, they must be able to leverage the intellect and insights of their diverse team.  To do so, they must follow three guidelines:

1.  Treat people fairly by appreciating their individual characteristics and identities
2.  Look at each person as an individual while valuing their input as part of the team
3.  Leverage the diversity of thought of your team

In other words, an inclusive leader is one who is able to bring together a team of diverse thinkers, draw out all their different ideas and perspectives, and use that contribution to enhance the performance of the team.
The key to achieving this is the leader’s ability to confront their own biases.

How to mitigate our biases as leaders

There are over 180 recognised cognitive biases – from Implicit Bias to Confirmation Bias to Groupthink.  It isn’t possible to mitigate them all, but a leader who is self-aware will be able to mitigate many of the common biases that get in the way of enhanced performance.  This is true of both personal biases as well as systemic ones.

How to catch one’s personal biases

The first step towards discovering one’s own biases is to acknowledge they exist.  An inclusive leader will know that they are inherently subjective.  They will make it their mission to uncover to what extent this is the case with the help of bias recognition tools (such as the Harvard Implicit Bias test) and regular 360º feedback.  They will research and read about common biases and how they manifest themselves in the workplace.

Once recognised, the inclusive leader will introduce procedures to help them minimise their potential prejudices, particularly ahead of important decisions.  They may, for instance, refresh their memory about implicit bias before conducting an interview.  They may have routine open and honest exchanges with peers about each other’s blind spots, sharing how they may have got in the way of good decisions and how to improve.

An inclusive leader will also know the circumstances in which they might be more susceptible to bias, for instance when they are tired or stressed.  Having identified these moments of vulnerability, an inclusive leader will endeavour to reduce the number of important decisions they make – or even remove themselves from the decision-making process, if need be – during these instants.

Finally, a self-aware leader will also be looking for built-in procedural flaws that may lead to unfair outcomes for people of certain groups.

How to catch systemic biases

Systemic biases are easier to spot than one might think.  A simple glance at data can reveal lingering biases in processes like recruitment, hiring and promotion.  An organisation, for instance, that routinely fails to hire a certain ethnic minority or struggles to promote women to its senior layers of leadership will almost certainly have a built-in bias in its selection processes.

According to the Deloitte paper, an inclusive leader who is aware of their own biases will also endeavour to embed fairness in the system by looking at the following three features of fair play:

  1. Outcome: Are outcomes such as pay and performance ratings, as well as development and promotion opportunities, allocated on the basis of capability and effort, or does their distribution reflect bias?
  2. Process: Are the processes applied in deciding these outcomes (a) transparent, (b) applied consistently, (c) based on accurate information, (d) free from bias, and (e) inclusive of the views of individuals affected by the decisions, or are they tinged with bias, thus leading to undeserved success for some and failure for others?
  3. Communication: Are the reasons for decisions made, and processes applied, explained to those affected, and are people treated respectfully in the process?

An analysis of the data in response to these questions will expose any inherent biases which can then be addressed with various countermeasures.  See, for instance, our recent article for a few suggested measures to make progression more inclusive.

In summary, “the first step to becom[ing] an inclusive leader is to acknowledge your inner Darth Vader, so that you can challenge your own biases constantly.”

If you need help in doing this for yourself or your leaders, ask us about our inclusive leadership development programmes.

design an unconscious bias training

5 Ways to Design an Unconscious Bias Training with Impact

By Inge Woudstra

This month, we’re talking about Mitigating Bias – the third of our 8 Inclusive Behaviours(SM).

The most well-known way of mitigating bias is to train people in Unconscious Bias. However, when we look into Unconscious Bias training we find that the impact of it is limited. Behaviour doesn’t change and diversity numbers stay the same.

Why? Because Unconscious Bias training doesn’t change behaviour. For concrete change Unconscious Bias training needs to be part of an integrated process.

So how do you design an Unconscious Bias training that is effective?

1: Make Unconscious Bias training part of an integrated process

If the aim of Unconscious Bias training is to kick-start awareness raising, then it can be effective. Research shows that the most common outcome of Unconscious Bias training is indeed awareness raising .

Let me give you an example of what this looke like. One organisation that we work with raises awareness by encouraging all staff to attend Unconscious Bias training. They also offer regular events and initiatives from a range of employee resource groups to raise awareness. Building on this awareness the leadership has had a workshop to set their D&I ambition and is now working on becoming more inclusive leaders. The HR team has implemented a range of measures to take bias out of recruitment and development, and is now working on performance assessment and promotion. They have set D&I objectives and measure against those, and a D&I committee – which includes senior people – is responsible for achieving the objectives.

2: Design an Unconscious Bias training for the needs of your audience

One of our clients has found that Unconscious Bias training is more effective when they focus it specifically on the role of the trainee. So, hiring managers learn about Unconscious Bias in job interviews, and team managers learn about Unconscious Bias in assessing performance. This has proven much more effective than a generic training.

3: Design an Unconscious Bias training that helps with perspective taking

At a programme we ran with a media company we asked participants to reflect on a range of scenarios and identify the challenges faced by the person in the scenario. This helps participants put themselves in the shoes of others. It’s very effective as it starts self-reflection or “perspective-taking”, which has a proven effect on awareness and behaviour.

4: Design an Unconscious Bias training that reflects upon past behaviour

In the same programme with the media company, we asked participants to reflect on behaviour in the past. We gave them examples of situations where bias may occur in their own work situation, then asked them to reflect on what they might have done in the past in that situation. This is another exercise that has proved impactful.

5: Design an Unconscious Bias training that focuses on action

Of course it’s also important to look beyond reflection and awareness and consider future action. So we gave participants a range of possible actions to consider to help them to mitigate bias and be more inclusive. Someone will be much more likely to act in an inclusive way if they decide, in advance, to challenge any inappropriate comments about a minority group, for example.

In other words, training colleagues and leadership in mitigating bias arising is an important aspect of attitude and behaviour change. In itself it will not change behaviour though, and is not a one-shot miracle drug that will be the answer to all your challenges.  For unconscious bias training to lead to real change it needs to be part of a carefully thought out strategy, implemented and supported by policies, communication and role modelling on a daily basis.

Active Voice: Five common microaggressions and how to address them

To #BreakTheBias we need to raise awareness of existing biased behaviours against women and find ways to address them constructively.  Confronting microaggressions is difficult.  The best way to do it is to be prepared.  So we have gathered five examples of common microaggressions and suggested ways in which to tackle these constructively. We hope you’ll find them useful.

  1. “Can you do this for me, Lovely?”

The use of endearing names for women at work might catch us off guard these days, but it is something that women continue to experience and to dislike.   If you are having to deal with someone at work who prefers to refer to you in this manner, you may wish to express your preference to be called by your actual name, particularly at work.

  1. “She’s so aggressive.”

Women are sometimes labelled negatively for the same behaviour that, coming from a man, would seem perfectly reasonable or even expected.  Similarly, when it comes to describing potential,  a young man might be perceived as someone to watch whereas a woman with the same experience might be characterised as young and inexperienced.  In fact, when it comes to promotion, many women are told they’re ‘not ready’ whilst men will be given the opportunity to advance and prove themselves.

If you find that a double standard is being applied to you, consider highlighting the situation by enquiring whether you would have experienced the same behaviour or obstacle if you were a man.

  1. “ You don’t have to stay late.  I know you’re needed at home.”

Well-intentioned colleagues and bosses sometimes feel that they need to protect their female peers.  For instance, many women report assumptions being made about their desire to travel or take on demanding work opportunities on account of having young children or other caring responsibilities.

If you sense that your personal circumstances might give rise to such assumptions, pre-empt the situation by spelling out your work-related intentions and ambitions. For  instance, when you return from maternity leave,  make it clear that the promotion you were working towards before you went on maternity leave must be within reach now that you’re back.

  1. “Would you mind taking the notes today, Jenny?”

Women’s ability is frequently underestimated at work.  Be it the ability to take charge of a team or to deal with a difficult client, women are sometimes overlooked in favour of male peers who are assumed to be more capable.

If you believe you’re being underestimated or treated in a manner inconsistent with your role or capacity, take a stance to counter it by highlighting your role, experience and ability to deal with the situation at hand.  And when it comes to taking notes, you may suggest that there might be someone better equipped for that role, as you yourself are grateful for the support that your administrative assistant provides to you in that way.

  1. “He just barged through, expecting me to get out of his way!”

Women also experience an astounding amount of uninvited physical contact from their male peers.  They are also often expected to make space for men around them – a fact that gave rise to the term ‘manspreading’ (a reference to men covering adjacent space when they spread themselves out on their seat).

Think ahead of what you might say to someone in this situation that will effectively address the issue and preserve the working relationship.   A polite mention of the physical transgression, highlighting the unwanted occurrence, is usually enough to make the other person aware of his blunder.

To read more from Active Voice, click here

Guest Post: Breaking Bias is a Generation Game

By Suzanne Bird and Jane Ashley

In honour of IWD2022, we asked a number of our team to reflect on bias they encountered as young women and how, or whether, life is different for their daughters today.


My impression is that my daughter (aged 21), and other young women she knows simply aren’t willing to put up with the incidents of bias that we might have endured in silence. This generation are far more aware of their rights and more likely to call out sexism, bias and prejudice.

I’m not saying they don’t experience similar things, but I know my daughter is certainly better briefed and less prepared to put up with things than I was! I cannot imagine her keeping silent if she encountered the type of gender bias and sexual harassment I suffered as a naïve graduate trainee. My daughter went to a co-ed school and experienced both institutionalised gender bias and the assumed superiority of some of the boys, but never failed to protest and push against it.


My two teenage daughters attend a single sex school, so bias isn’t something in the realms of their experience yet. When I asked my 16 year old daughter what she thought was different for her today, it was that sexual assault is openly talked about much more because of #Metoo, Everyone’s Invited, and the Sarah Everard tragedy; and that shining a light on violence against women was long overdue.

As her mother, however, I still worry that she underestimates the potential dangers of being female. She protests each time I verbalise any worry over her safety and reluctantly accepted the rape alarm I ask her to carry if she is coming home after dark. I don’t want her, like me, to only take it seriously after she experiences something awful (as I did in my early 20’s in London, when I was violently mugged in broad daylight). She once said to me “I refuse to live my life in fear” and whilst I applaud the sentiment one thing that hasn’t improved for the young woman of today is violence against our gender.

That said, at my daughters’ school “girl power” really is the mantra. They are taught that there are no limits to what they can learn, what they can achieve educationally and what careers they might aspire to follow. They are taught subjects like product design and graphics, and STEM subjects have a big take-up in the exam years. Contrast this to my experience of an all-girls school way back when – we were taught how to cook, sew and knit, no woodwork for us; and if you wanted to take Economics at A Level, this was only taught at the boys’ school next door.’


We know that attracting young women into STEM careers is still a big problem, so I asked my daughter’s perspective on bias, as she is studying engineering at university. She reflected that “going to an all-girls school for most of my secondary education, I didn’t really notice anything stopping me from going into a STEM degree. I did however notice how my physics teachers were always male. At university, studying engineering, there is a lot of conversation about increasing diversity in engineering as it is known for being so male-dominated, and it is extremely obvious to me how outnumbered girls are in the big lecture halls/group work. I think that as long as I don’t let anything stop what I want to do, nothing will.”

She remarked that it isn’t always easy to make herself heard in her male-dominated university environment, even when she is the team leader on a project. So she has developed a tactic of calling out their names and asking whether she has been understood or even heard. This is a great tactic, but it’s sad that even this dynamic nineteen-year-old has to worry about “coming across as bossy” when she asserts herself in this way. Perhaps experiences like these play a part in the lack of gender diversity in male dominated STEM jobs.

Judging by Appearances

A further member of our team recounted a time her 6 year old daughter decided she would like to cut her hair short. The hairdresser questioned her choice, saying ‘What does your daddy think about you cutting your hair off?’!  After her haircut, she was subjected to comments from her classmates such as: ‘Are you a boy? Well, you look like one.’ She bravely responded to these comments, saying that having short hair does not make her a boy, just as having long hair doesn’t make someone a girl. How disappointing it is that these judgements are still entrenched in children at such a young age.

A More Inclusive Generation

A more positive development we picked up on is the lack of bias that young people at many schools apply to each other. Today’s younger generation are often accused of being too “woke”, but are they not in fact just both demanding of, and accepting of, a more inclusive culture? At today’s schools, teenagers are openly gay, bi-sexual, non-binary… without any fear of reprisal or judgement.  Being different is not only accepted but welcomed and celebrated in a way it was not 30 years ago.

That young women are now more aware of bias and feel more able to speak out about it is progress indeed, but we still have some way to go. If you have daughters why not have a conversation with them about their experiences? Do share what you learn with us.

Breaking the Bias and Investing in Diversity




Guest Blog By Helen Winch*

As Premier Miton’s Head of Responsible Investing, my experience is in sustainable and responsible investing. However, as we celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD), I see the two themes as very much interlinked. In both areas we can celebrate the achievements to date, yet there is still much more we can all do.

This year’s theme for IWD is #BreaktheBias; including creating a world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive. At Premier Miton, we are celebrating the small role we have played in improving diversity in three key areas: investment decisions, engagement and our governance.

Investment Decisions

In a recent report published by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), a Business Minister noted that “evidence shows that more diverse businesses are more successful businesses and the case is too strong to ignore”. Research has found that having diversity at the top can improve companies’ profitability, a point that the financial industry is keen to embrace, and companies are already looking to improve diversity in their boardrooms.

As an investor, one of the metrics we look for in companies is female representation in the boardroom and there is some progress. For example, recently we have seen the number of companies that we hold in the Premier Miton Responsible UK Equity Fund that have female leaders increase. We applaud companies with more diversity as:

  • Diverse boards can provide better oversight of the business.
  • Diverse executive committees are less prone to group think and, given that on average 50% of customers are female, they are better able to ensure that any business can equally appeal to all customers.
  • More diversity can promote a better work culture and improve performance.

We particularly like investing in companies with female chairs, chief executive officers or chief financial officers, due to the diversity of thought in decision making that this can bring.


Engagement is one of the important tools at our disposal to encourage a shift in the way companies think and behave, in particular when encouraging better diversity at C-suite level. Premier Miton wrote to nineteen companies held in the  our European Sustainable Leaders Fund on the subject of diversity in the executive committee and on the need to do more than simply placing one female non-executive on the board.

In discussions with portfolio companies, management are receptive and understand the need for change, however companies find the complexity of doing this a challenge as they do not see it as an easy or quick fix. Feedback from companies is that credible change involves work on diversity across the entire firm, from graduate recruitment to maternity leave, to returning to work from maternity through to executive representation.

We want to invest in companies that have balanced boards and strong diversity and inclusion values throughout their businesses. However, we are also aware that these changes will take time. As long term investors, our intention is to work with our companies along their diversity and inclusion journey.

Breaking the Bias

International Women’s Day is an opportunity to put the #BreakTheBias agenda firmly to the forefront, to create a gender equal world that is diverse, equitable and inclusive.

An example of the power of diversity comes from a report from BoardReady that looked at companies from the high carbon sectors and found that more diverse boards act with greater speed and substance to combat climate change.

The report found that companies with more gender diverse boards are:

  • Performing significantly better in 8 out of 9 climate action indicators.
  • Twice as likely to develop a decarbonisation strategy.
  • 25% more likely to have medium and long-term greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.
  • Significantly more likely to allocate future capital aligned to these targets.

The discussions we have had on gender diversity with our investee companies have been infinitely more insightful than the evaluation of ESG data points, such as the percentage of women on boards.

Larger companies are fully aware of the diversity issue, and their legal obligations, and will improve their gender diversity as they refresh their boards. In addition, those that are acting and engaging on the topic can expect to see long term support from us as investors. Where we see companies resisting changes to their all male boards, they should expect votes against proposals including chair reappointments at annual meetings.

Our Board

My final point is a more reflective point; the Premier Miton Group plc eight person board includes three female, non-executive directors who introduce diversity of thought and all the benefits that this brings. Additionally, one of our female directors has experience from outside the fund management industry which we believe will bring even greater diversity of skills, views and experience.

In Summary

The facts and reports are in agreement and cannot be ignored; diversity within the boardroom and across all parts of business are vital for the future success and strength of a business and its workforce. By tackling the challenges and barriers to diversity and inclusion in our work environment, we inevitably champion the calls for equality on International Women’s Day and greater gender diversity within our investee companies.

* Helene Winch is responsible for overseeing Premier Miton’s overall responsible investing strategy and development. Helene has over twenty years of investment industry experience, including considerable experience in responsible investing, co-ordinating the integration of ESG into investment processes, as well as working as an investment manager. Helene holds an MSc in Mathematics & Finance from Imperial College, London. Helene also holds the CFA certificate of ESG Investing and is on the IA Sustainable and Responsible investment committee.

inclusive interviews

How To Ensure Your Job Interviews Are Genuinely Inclusive

By Inge Woudstra

There are many things we do to make a selection process more gender inclusive (as discussed in my recent blog about empathy and inclusive progression). Many of these actions are aimed at creating a more objective, transparent  interview process.

But how often do we end up hiring someone whom we believe to be the perfect candidate, only to desperately try to ‘move them on’ after a few short months because we misjudged them? How can we make sure we see the real candidate during an interview, rather than someone who is just saying what they think we want to hear?

As we’re focusing on Listening this month – the second of our 8 Inclusive Behaviours℠  and a crucial part of recruitment – I’d like to focus on the interviewer and their ability to see the candidate for their genuine capabilities and fit for the role.

The benefit of genuinely inclusive interviews
An inclusive interview has the distinct benefit of assessing a candidate on their true strengths and potential value to the team.  We can only do this if we are mindful of the various – often unconscious – preconceptions that we hold about people and the role itself.  For instance, we may think that a role requires someone who is a ‘go-getter’, regardless of other skills.  When we focus on our preconceptions, we may miss out on other important attributes that would make another candidate a better fit and performer.

To get the full benefit of an inclusive interview process, interviewers need to apply excellent active listening skills so they can listen out for the meaning behind the words they hear and probe further.  Active listening requires clearing the mind of any preconceptions, applying a curious mindset, paying close attention and probing further.

Not everyone communicates in the same way
A good job interview helps the candidate shine, so they can be seen at their best. That way, the interviewer can learn more about them and their experience, and find out whether they are the right person for the role.

However, because people often have different ways of communicating, it is easy to dismiss those whose communication style emphasises skills and behaviours that – while seemingly important to them – are trivial and less impressive to us.   This is a critical pitfall for interviewers.

For instance, in my book Be Gender Smart – The Key to Career Success for Women, I summarise research that shows that women are more likely to:

  • Talk about failures and learning points, diminishing their success
  • Talk about team achievements
  • Develop people skills
  • Respond well to encouragement
  • Look for a place they will enjoy working

For example, when discussing a project, a female candidate may say:
We had a fantastic team and through joint effort we managed to make most of our deadlines. Of course, there were some issues, so it was hard work to get everyone aligned, but eventually our finance manager saved us.  

Men are more likely to:

  • Talk about achievements and amplify their success
  • Talk about personal achievements
  • Develop technical and financial skills
  • Respond well to a challenge
  • Be strategic about their career

Describing the same project, a male candidate might say:
I had budget oversight for a major project, and we delivered within budget, against targets. I am good at keeping control.

Based solely on communication style preferences, therefore, when an interviewer who is not skilled in active listening compares the male and female candidate, they may conclude that the female candidate had more issues in her project, and needed more help to solve those issues, whereas the male candidate was an excellent leader. This may be true, but it may also be a difference in communication styles. So, to truly find the best candidates it’s important to check these assumptions, using active listening skills.

Three ways to apply active listening in interviews
Here are three suggestions that interviewers can use to hone their active listening skills and ensure candidates are assessed more evenly:

  1. If a candidate uses the word ‘we’ a lot, use follow-up questions that help uncover what the person did themselves, and what others did within or outside the immediate team. This can be quite revealing. In the example above, ask the female candidate what her personal role was in solving those issues, or ask her what her role was in the team. Help her identify details and examples of her individual contribution.
  2. If a candidate is confident in listing their achievements, ask additional questions to explore further detail of the situation. In the example above with the male candidate, ask what issues he came across, how he solved them and what he learned in the process. Then explore what he did to bring in the team.
  3. Find ways to test which approach works best for the candidate to show their best self: encouragement or challenge. For example, as encouragement, you might say ‘That’s a great example, I really enjoyed hearing about that. I bet you know a good way of applying that here too. Can you think of how that might work?’.  Alternatively, to challenge, you might say, ‘That sounds interesting, but we doubt that might work here. What are your thoughts about that?’ .  Observe whether they enjoy the challenge or prefer a more encouraging style. Then use that style throughout the interview to help the candidate show themselves in the best light.

In summary
Given that people have different communication styles, it’s important to employ skills that allow an interviewer to compensate and bring out what might otherwise remain hidden.  Active listening makes it possible to ensure that candidates are given a chance to showcase their very best.  This gives the interviewer an opportunity to assess them on an equal footing and not miss out on the opportunity to hire the best person for the role.

To find out more about training on inclusive listening skills for interviewers, please contact us

How To Make Sure You’re Heard At Work

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

Being Heard in a Challenging Exchange
In an Harvard Business Review paper entitled How To Make Sure You’re Heard In a Difficult Conversation, Amy Gallo suggests we focus on what matters to us and express things that way.

It’s easy to point fingers and lay blame at others’ feet.  The trouble is, no-one likes to be at the receiving end of criticism, so if they think that you’re criticising them, they won’t be in listening mode.  If you can, however, voice what niggles you about the situation, people will be much more inclined to hear and even take responsibility for their action.  So, instead of saying ‘Since I’ve been here, you’ve promoted only white men’ try saying ‘I feel like I’m being passed up for promotion for my colleagues who appear to be doing exactly the same as I do’.

As part of any difficult exchange, it’s important to maintain one’s composure and focus on getting to a constructive solution.  So, once you’ve identified what you want out of the situation, think about what words will take you off-track and what kind of communication will convey the opposite of what you want to achieve.  Is your body language betraying your true feelings about what you hear and hence steering you off course?  Is the pitch of your voice giving away heightened emotions that would not be conducive to the desired outcome?

Keeping your eye on the prize makes it easier to ensure you use the right words and gestures.  Using phrases that gently swipe away any derailing attempts will make it easier to stay on course.  Gallo suggests using phrases like these to avoid escalation:

  • “You may be right, but I’d like to understand more.”
  • “I have a completely different perspective, but clearly you think this is unfair, so how can we fix this?”
  • “I’m not sure how this connects to what we’ve been talking about. Can you help me make the connection?”
  • “I’d like to give my reaction to what you’ve said so far, and see what you think.”
  • “This may be more my perception than yours, but when you said ‘X,’ I felt . . .”
  • “Is there anything I can say or do that might convince you to consider other options here?”

Being Heard in a Meeting
One thing we often do, when it’s our time to present ideas or provide an update, is talk too quickly. We sometimes feel the need to fill every space we get with words. Yet, if you take a look around and observe how people with influence speak, you will probably notice that they speak slowly. And clearly. They pause a lot, giving their audience a chance to catch up with their words.

Speaking without haste doesn’t just give people the chance to properly understand what you’re saying, it also gives the speaker an air of confidence and gravitas. It makes the content of what is being said more persuasive.

We also tend to speed up when we’re nervous, so if we intentionally slow ourselves down, we will come across more confidently – and that will impact how what we say is heard.

Another thing we tend to do, particularly when slightly nervous, is to either use no physical gestures or exaggerate them. Gestures are important as they emphasize our points for us quite neatly – but only if they’re consistent with what we’re saying. They’re particularly useful when we finish one point and go onto another, if we transition through a ‘neutral’ state when our body is quite still and at ease, before moving on to the next point that might introduce more gestures.

Finally, it’s helpful to give the listeners a structure, so they know exactly where they are at all times.

  • Start by introducing the topic. (I’m going to talk you through our launch of an internal comms campaign to introduce our new values.)
  • Tell them what you’ll be discussing. (I’ll be covering 3 different ways in which we plan to do this: First, …)
  • When you’ve finished the first point, take a short pause, then conclude before moving to the next point.  (So this is point 1. The second way is….).
  • Once you’ve covered everything you wanted to say, summarise. (So, to summarise, we will be launching in 3 ways, 1…2… and 3…).
  • Now signal that you’ve finished and open it up to whatever should come next. (I’m happy to take any questions, comments or observations.)

In short, bearing in mind how what we’re saying is being heard will vastly improve our chance of being listened to.