How many of us have been in a gathering or meeting where ideas are sought and amongst the first to speak up usually know the least about the subject?
Confidence not always equals competence
Irrespective of the quality of content, the confidence of the speaker is never in doubt. Right from school days we have always had that one fellow student who may not know what he or she is talking about but says it, nevertheless, with supreme confidence. It is the confidence which sometimes makes others believe in the knowledge of the speaker.
In contrast, you may not feel the need to speak unless you can add a whole new perspective to the discussion. Or you may know the subject well but lack the confidence displayed by the speaker who spoke before you.
Isn’t it a waste of time to speak in a meeting unless you have something to contribute which has not been tabled before? Or you need a clarification. Time is invaluable. One needs to respect time of others. There’s no point speaking just for the sake of being heard.
Why does it happen?
Often, your silence may be perceived by your teacher or the leader in your group as under-confidence or lack of understanding about the issue being discussed. It is to obviate such a concern which usually drives your confident classmate or colleague to speak up, though she or he may not have anything significant to add.
Those who speak up, without knowing enough about the subject of discussion, do so to leave an impression of being smart, capable, confident etc. Sometimes, your teacher or leader may see through it and realise the futility of what’s being said. But, more often than not, such confidence is misconstrued as competence. And decisions may be taken to allocate roles based on this erroneous assumption.
A former colleague who I sat next to in a meeting called by an industry body was the first to speak when suggestions were sought by the chair. She turned to me after making her point, smiled as if to indicate that her mission was accomplished. She then shared her secret with me, as a tip to try in future. ‘Be amongst the first to speak, while others are still gathering their thoughts. It has always served me well.’
To speak up or not?
Have you been in this position where you wondered if you should follow the same practice as your confident associate or colleague? Not doing so may risk missing an opportunity to be tasked with a key assignment or an important project. Or being lost in the crowd with strangers where you only have a few minutes to make an impression.
I have been in such situations many times. I choose to speak if I can bring something new to the table. Or if I feel very strongly about the issue being discussed. More often than not, I choose to hear and not speak. Have I missed chances or been judged as less competent than my more vocal companions? Possibly. It is tough to be certain about it. If I had to live my life all over again, would I change my approach? No. I have never let others’ judgement alter my basic character.
How about you?