The life of an educator is filled with meetings. Administrative meetings, staff meetings, team meetings, grade-level meetings, PLC meetings, work groups, planning groups, task forces—the list could go on. For many, these meetings are seen as obligations to be tolerated, and we can fail to see the opportunity these activities present to build professional respect and stature. Of course, with professional respect and stature comes the opportunity to be listened to, to influence, and to make things better.
Yet, building professional respect and stature requires more than simply attending and tolerating meetings. Gaining influence requires intention, strategy, and discipline. Here are seven ways to gain the professional respect you seek and deserve, while contributing to and influencing the outcomes of the meetings you attend.
Plan to participate early and confidently. Prepare for the meeting by exploring the agenda for items that you want to influence. Assemble any facts, examples, and research that may support your participation. Your preparation provides an advantage over those who simply show up. Further, your reference to credible resources adds to your own credibility. When issues of opinion are at stake, those with higher status may dominate the conversation, but if facts, data, and research are involved, the person with command of information will typically prevail.
Use a confident tone and speak at a moderate pace. People tend to equate confidence with capability. Speaking quickly can be confused with nervousness, fear, and uncertainty, while a clear, measured statement can carry increased weight and impact. Bear in mind that even if you are typically reluctant to speak, that personality trait does not mean that what you have to say is less valuable.
Present your position or make your argument as a statement rather than as a question. Avoid the habit of lifting your voice at the end of a sentence, thus implying a question. Statements framed as questions can send a message of not being certain and risks their being ignored or dismissed.
Avoid repeating or over-explaining your point. Perseveration risks appearing insecure or implying that others are not capable of listening and understanding. If you believe that some may not grasp your message, you can ask if there are questions or if someone needs an example.
Don’t wait to share your perspective until after the meeting. Choosing not to share your thinking during the meeting can make you appear uncertain, uncollaborative, and even judgmental. It is better to state your position and learn why it may not work or may need to be adjusted than not having it considered at the time when it could have made a difference.
Build support and strength for your position by endorsing others’ points and perspectives and then, when you can, use them as a starting point to build your own. Your agreement with a previous point, especially one that has been well received, taps existing support. Your addition can further solidify an idea or course of action. At worst, others will see you as a listener and consensus builder. At best, they will see you as capable of building on previous thinking to create something even better.
Remain focused and avoid distractions. Resist checking your email, texts, and social media during meetings. Rather, use your thinking to “mind map” the discussion. Consider: What is missing? What has not been explored and noted? What implications have not been identified and contemplated? Your full attention can position you to observe and point out issues that others who may be distracted will miss. When important issues and decisions are at stake, your contribution can make a huge difference.
If we hope to make the institutions in which we work better, and if we hope to serve the needs of students more effectively, we need to challenge and contribute productively. A key element in our being able to make a difference is the professional respect we build and hold.