In November, I wrote about the disadvantages of not playing a full role in meetings. After reading the article one of my clients said: ‘I know I need to play an active role. And I try to. But sometimes the others just ignore me. What can I do and say then?’

Good question. And a really frustrating experience to make.

First of all, you need to decide whether it’s appropriate to intervene directly in the meeting. This depends on a number of factors: the number of participants, the formality of the meeting, your position in the hierarchy, etc. A good guide here is to ask yourself what you would do if something similar happened during a meeting in your native language. Would you press your point?

If the answer is yes, it’s time to stand up for yourself and your ideas in English too. Calmly and constructively.

Let’s take a look at three different situations and some phrases you can adapt to your own needs.

 

Your objection is ignored

XY is outlining the schedule for producing the new marketing literature. You have serious concerns that too little time has been allocated for the translation and say so. XY doesn’t respond to your objection. He just carries on as if you’d never said anything. 

What you’re tempted to say:
What the hell?! Didn’t you hear what I said? You can’t just ignore me like that.

Objections often aren’t exactly welcome. After all who’s pleased to hear that their plan isn’t going to work or that they’ve made an error somewhere along the way? Especially if XY is absolutely convinced that his schedule is realistic, he may be tempted to ignore you so that he can push on and avoid any discussions about changes to his plan.  

What it would be better to say:

  • Sorry to interrupt, but we really do need to think about how we can allow more time for the translation.
  • Just a moment. Perhaps I didn’t put that clearly enough, we’re really going to run into problems if we don’t schedule more time for the translation.
  • Can we just come back to the point I was making? In my experience the translator needs xx days for this amount of text.

 

Your idea falls on deaf ears

You outline your idea for dealing with a problem. And there’s no reaction from the rest of the group. The discussion moves on without anyone commenting on what you’ve just said at all. You’ve done some research into the matter and believe your idea could be the solution. At the very least you’d like to discuss it with the others.  

What you’re tempted to say:
Just because my English isn’t perfect, that doesn’t mean I haven’t got any good ideas.

It’s not only non native speakers whose ideas fall on deaf ears. All too often there’s a meetings ‘culture’ where people spend their time thinking about what they want to say rather than listening attentively to what the others say and then responding to that. It’s especially difficult for non-native speakers to stand up for their ideas and insist on a fair hearing.

What it would be better to say:

  • Before we move on, I’d like to explain in a little more detail what exactly I have in mind.
  • Just a moment. What do you think about my suggestion? Would it work in this specific situation?
  • Sorry to interrupt, but I think we should take a little time to discuss my idea before we carry on.

 

Someone ‘steals’ your idea

You describe an idea but there’s no reaction from the others. Oh well, you think, perhaps it wasn’t such a brainwave after all. Ten minutes later you can hardly believe your ears when a colleague brings up exactly the same idea. This time it’s met with great enthusiasm. And now it looks like it was his idea.  

What you’re tempted to say:
Hey! What’s going on here? That’s my idea you’ve just pinched.  

Unless XY is notorious for repeating other people’s ideas and making them look like his own, I’d give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he wasn’t listening to you and really thinks he’s the first to come up with this. And perhaps you didn’t present your idea persuasively and powerfully enough to convince the others. Now XY has done that for you.

What it would be better to say:

  • That’s actually what I was suggesting earlier. But I couldn’t have put it as well as you have. 
  • That’s what I meant a few minutes ago. I must admit you’ve made a much more powerful case for it.
  • Well I’m certainly all for taking this approach. It’s actually what I was trying to explain earlier. 

 

I hope that has given you a few ideas for what to say. How you say it is very important too, of course. Aim to keep your voice light and friendly. That may not be easy when you feel you’re not being taken seriously, that your opinion doesn’t count. But sulking, being sarcastic or getting aggressive are likely to be counterproductive.  

The trick is to speak up before the understandable resentment at being ignored really builds up.

Porträt Nicola Bartlett
Nicola Bartlett
I’ve been an English trainer for over 25 years, helping adults to get their message across in English – clearly and appropriately. Successful communication in English requires more than just a good knowledge of the language. An understanding of different mentalities and a feeling for the best approach are vital, too.