The Corporate Boardroom: Sometimes It’s What You Don’t Say

Contributed By: Sue Kaye

656924000_ed810cc6b3_m.jpgGo to any top-level business meeting and you’ll find two languages spoken or, to be more precise, unspoken. There’s power talk – direct,muscular and sure. And there’s the gentler give-and-take of conciliatory, careful conversation. Guess which approach gets the job done in a tough situation.

“We spend so much time thinking about what’s going into our mouths and so little time thinking about what comes out “ complains Laurie Puhn, a Harvard family and divorce attorney/mediator, and best-selling author of Instant Persuasion: How to Change Your Words to Change Your Life. Differences in language and style can put women at such an inadvertent disadvantage that Lois Frankel, author of See Jane Lead: 99 Ways for Women to Take Charge at Work , has made a career of building awareness among her female colleagues.

Among her time-worn rules:


Ask permission

“Too many women develop ‘surplus powerlessness.’ They act as if they’re not in control, so people treat them accordingly,” warns Frankel. “Rather than, ‘can I suggest?’ try wording like, ‘here’s what I’m going to do. I’d be interested in your feedback.”

Seize the moment, and stop waiting for the right time to participate, she adds. Not speaking up in a business setting suggests you have nothing to contribute. Besides, men interrupt freely, and often gain the upper hand.
Caveat or over explain

Get to the point. Caveats dilute the message and diminish the speaker’s credibility. In addition, excessive detail does not validate an idea; it only wastes time and challenges patience Just as important, eliminate ‘minimizing words’ that get in your way; ‘kind of’, ‘I think,’ or ‘it seems.’ They make you seem unsure.


Correct a mistake and move on. Excessive apologizing places more (and often undeserved) blame on you. Instead of saying ‘I’m sorry’ when something goes wrong, calmly discuss the problem and offer ways to remedy it.

“Many women have an instinct to apologize, I tell them to instead say something like, ‘this was not made clear to me in the first place. Why don’t you clarify it now?’” Frankel says.

Give away your ideas

When someone else takes credit for your ideas find a way to turn the conversation around. “Say, ‘I’d like to revisit that concept because it’s very similar to what I said earlier. Let me elaborate’,” Frankel counsels

Speak too softly

Pump up the volume. You’ll be heard, but you’ll also be taken more seriously. Particularly soft-spoken women should consider taking acting courses, public speaking assignments or hiring a professional voice coach.
Tilt your head

Ever seen a puppy cock his head? It’s endearing, but it doesn’t look decisive. When delivering a message, keep your head straight. When seated, keep your hands under the table.


Develop a firm handshake

Offer your hand immediately when meeting someone. Extend young hand until you hook thumbs with the other person, look her in the eye, keep a strong grip and offer a greeting like ‘I’m delighted to meet you.’
“It says you want to be taken seriously,” says Frankel.

Establish ‘table presence’

“Position yourself next to the most important person and his or her power transfers to you. “Next to is better than across from,” insists Frankel. And never hide in the ‘quiet’ place off to the site or out of view. Frankel coaches women to ‘lean in’ to gain attention at a noisy meeting, and to always volunteer for whiteboard duties.

“The person with the magic marker has the group’s attention, and it’s also powerful to stand up” says Frankel. Besides, it’s empowering to summarize the proceedings.


Yes, smile. It may seem counterintuitive but it is the likeable thing for both genders at a time when likeability counts. People who don’t smile during an initial introduction come across as cold, distant, and unpleasant. A smile sets the stage for collaboration. But don’t smile if it feels completely disingenuous.

Act ‘as if’

If you act as if you’re in total control, you’ll help convince others you really are. “Most people undervalue personal presentation, but the people who come off as winners have the look and the sound of leaders,” Frankel points out.

Know your brand

In a professional setting, you’re always selling yourself. Know your key strengths and consider how those behaviors distinguish you from others, then make sure to display your brand at every opportunity.

Opines Frankel, “You create a brand for yourself by first identifying what distinguishes you from other people in the workplace and marketing the distinctions.”

“Career success,” she concludes, “requires you to move away from the girlhood messages that prevent you from taking charge of your life and acting in a manner that reflects the professional woman the rest of the world sees.”