Speaking Up in Meetings – an Awesome Power

Note: This post was originally a Racket and has been transcribed here with some edits to aid understanding in blog post form.

Recently I’ve been working with a number of teams where we’re having a lot of Zoom conversations to try and understand what it is that we’re trying to do / build. One of the big things that I am finding is that people just need a bit of encouragement to talk up and to speak in these conversations.

As a tester I find talking in meetings and agile ceremonies is really important because it helps us gain clarity and unification of our ideas; it also allows us to flesh them out a bit more. When we talk through and discuss an idea we can drive up its quality by identifying and solving problems up front (like asking “what happens if the network connection fails as we try to save?” resulting in error handling and pessimistic save states being added to the design).

The awesome benefits of speaking up

In any given meeting that we have, we should all be talking and collaborating because it gives us so many benefits:

Getting information: We should have conversations to get information, not just for ourselves (although that’s really important) but for our team mates. There’s going to be people who are a bit quieter on a call, maybe a bit more introverted, who really need somebody to speak up, ask questions and drive things forward.

Unblocking others: Some people might be just in a bit of a block, not able to say or think about what needs to happen in a meeting or a project. Just by reframing things through talking it can really help them unlock their thoughts and be able to contribute too.

Sharing our opinions: By talking and speaking up in a meeting, especially in Zoom meetings, we can share our opinions. People can’t see you so much at the moment, especially if you’re doing everything online; by actually speaking up about your opinions and whether something feels good to be doing or not they can get a good vibe of whether or not they’re going down the right path.

Giving vocal consent: Remember that online, other people can’t see you making those faces of disapproval or discomfort sowe actually have to be vocal and say those things. If we sit quietly, quite often people take that as consent to something rather than actively looking for agreement.

Having structured conversations

We do have to be a bit more vocal to allow us to get our opinions and our point of views across. One way to do this is to add structure to a conversation using something like Triforce to have a discussion between the business, quality and engineering mindsets. By speaking up in those meetings you’re bringing your specific expertise, discipline knowledge and views to that discussion; this can ensure that everyone is heard and that there’s a well-rounded discussion of things.

Why speaking up might be hard

So why are people not talking up in meetings? I have spoken to my colleagues and we’ve come up with a few possible reasons:

Some people are just quiet: it’s a high bar to entry for them to join in to a conversation because they have Just less energy to give to social situations or discussions, especially on zoom. Everybody has different energy levels when it comes to social dynamics which can be heightened or lessened by talking in-person or talking to a computer screen; we should understand and accept that for ourselves and for other people.

Some people have a lot of fear when it comes to speaking up in meetings: there’s a lot of imposter syndrome, especially when you’re new to working somewhere. You don’t want to look stupid, you’re taking up people’s time or like you’re not knowledgeable.

If you have started a new company, or you started in an all online environment, you might not know your teammates very well. You don’t know what they can do, what they expect from you or even whether they assume good intent from you. That’s when imposter syndrome rears its head and you put a good face on things by being quiet.

Some people may be a bit neurotic: they might have a personality where they’re very worried about how they will be perceived and how things will come across when they say things. You might know that by being that vocal person in a meeting people are going to think “yeah that really helped me and they really drove things forward”,  but you might worry that people are going to think you’re overbearing and bossy as well.

Speaking up is an awesome power

There are loads of benefits to bypassing the fear of speaking up (or embracing them but also speaking up in meetings) to ensure that we have conversations.

If you ask a question because you purely don’t know something, you’re not going to look stupid. You’re going to look like somebody who’s trying to strive for clarity which is something that’s really important. Clarity means that everyone has the same knowledge about something and that we haven’t just assumed things are right.

If you speak up with an opinion then we’re actually subjecting that idea to testing. We can test ideas by actually talking about them up front and prevent issues from happening down the road in development. This saves time and drives up the quality of a product in the long term.

By talking we stop the build-up of monoculture and people just being yes-men. We don’t want the most senior people to just say “this is how we’re doing things” and nobody feeling that they can question or challenge that or everyone just agreeing with the loudest voice in the room. If no one’s questioning anything then we don’t have any diversity of thought in our designs or practices so how can we ensure that design or practice works for everyone?.

By speaking up we can not only drive meetings forward through discussion, we can give voice to people by asking their questions, help gain shared clarity on things and also just bring a bit of ourselves into a discussion and a meeting.

So, I encourage everyone to make sure that they’re harnessing the awesome power of speaking out and talking up in meetings.