How to Make Yourself Heard — in Meetings and in Life

At this time of year social interaction increases, including where many of us work.  With pressure to meet year-end goals, tension may be in the air and made worse by more meetings than anyone wants to attend.  This climate offers an opportunity to assess if what you say is actually being heard -- to examine when and whether your comments are talked over, interrupted or even ignored.

At this time of the year social interaction increases, including where many of us work.  With pressure to meet year-end goals, tension may be in the air and made worse by more meetings than anyone wants to attend.  This climate offers an opportunity to assess if what you say is actually being heard -- to examine when and whether your comments are talked over, interrupted or even ignored.

We generally attend to what people say when they have high status and leadership roles.  It’s rare to see President Obama interrupted.  Who in your firm would change the topic right after the CEO has offered an opinion?  Such exceptions aside, interruptions, dismissals and outright ignoring of ideas are common at work.  If you don’t know how to handle such situations, you place yourself at a distinct disadvantage.

As children, we learn how to converse via imitation and training.  If we’re fortunate, we learn how to listen and respond appropriately.  Through family discussions and other early experiences, we discover, among other communication rules, how to stay on topic, how to introduce a new topic, and how to take turns talking.

To a large extent, conversational competence is about achieving what you want (e.g., getting your point across, defending a position, appearing well-informed and intelligent) while ensuring that others reach a satisfactory portion of their goals as well. 

In organizations where competition is intense, passion or politics may cause people to attempt to monopolize conversations.  They may interrupt and even run roughshod over others.  In such cases, those poorly treated exit conversations displeased, annoyed or even angry.

As aggravating as conversational hoarders may be, they’re unlikely to change unless and until pressed to do so.  Since each of us is at least 75 percent responsible for how we’re treated in conversation, silently fuming in a meeting or at a social gathering because we can’t get a word in edgewise is an abdication of our own responsibility.  By letting conversation hoarders have their way, we do so at our own personal, professional or social expense. 

If you are frequently interrupted or your ideas are often ignored, how can you turn things around? 

Here are a few useful strategies:

Link to what others have said – This strategy relies on the rule of reciprocity.  If you show respect for what others have said, acknowledging their comments in concepts and ideas that you introduce, you both compliment them and encourage them to do the same.  Even a conversational bully may notice the flattering connection you make to his or her comments and accord you a similar courtesy.

Speak with conviction – This is important for both genders, but especially so for women.  Speaking with conviction doesn’t mean raising your voice to a shout, but rather attending to whether you introduce your ideas too softly or modestly.  Women tend to use more disclaimers before stating an opinion, like  “I don’t mean to be difficult,” “Hopefully this doesn’t come across as anger,” “If I may just say” or even (all too often) “I think.” Habitually using such disclaimers or what communication experts refer to as aligning actions will cause people to overlook or devalue the thoughts you have offered.

Insist on being heard – While there’s no need to pound on the table, if you’re not getting a word in edgewise you might just say so.  “I can’t get a word in here and I’ve been very patient” or “Let me interject here for a moment,” spoken with conviction might do the trick -- or simply try continuing to speak even if someone begins to talk after you've started, especially during animated conversations. 

Hold the Floor - After being interrupted a couple of times, you can regain the floor, so to speak, by letting others know that you have tried to make a contribution and that your effort has been rejected.  “I know we’re all feeling passionate about this idea, but I want to finish the thought I started a few minutes ago” is one option.  If that’s too direct for the culture in which you work, consider, “I’d like a minute to complete my earlier thought.  It’s relevant here” or “I notice that Jean hasn’t had a chance to say what’s on her mind.  When she’s finished, I’d like a couple of moments too.”  This may make others aware that they’re being overbearing.  If only two or even three people are in the conversation, simply saying “My turn!” can make the point nicely.

Often people aren’t even aware that they monopolize conversations and that your own ideas have thus remained unheard or dismissed. Why drive home from a job or social occasion feeling badly about this?  Give yourself a gift this season. 

Find ways to get your ideas heard.  And when you do so, make those ideas worth the effort.  Once you’ve made a strong, positive impression, people are usually more inclined to listen.

Photo:  Michal Kowalski/

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The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

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Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

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"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.