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Speak Up and Get Results

demonstrate courage Sep 03, 2023

Within the global discussion about the need for more diversity in the boardroom, the higher-level goal of maximizing diversity of perspective seems to get lost in the mix of what’s truly important when key decisions are being made.

On their own, completing a compliance checklist or creating a complicated matrix of gender, race, age, orientation, faith, and social status won’t result in better decisions. Creating the conditions for all directors, of all backgrounds, to feel comfortable expressing their views is a prerequisite for achieving a healthy mix of diverse perspectives in the boardroom.

If you’re at all hesitant to speak up during a board meeting when you have a relevant question or a point to make, finding your voice in the boardroom can make a real difference to the discussion.

Your willingness to speak up will get results. Your participation will benefit the overall diversity of perspective within the board team. It will also benefit your board career to be seen as a thoughtful contributor.

And it’s okay to disagree with your fellow directors. Just don’t be disagreeable.

The premise for this week’s edition of The Savvy Director is that your board needs you to speak up. Finding your voice and speaking out contributes to the board making its best decisions. Even if you’re feeling hesitant, or there’s a big, dominating voice at the table, remember you were recruited to the board for everything you bring to the table, not just the career skills in your toolbox.

For some, that’s easier to do than for others. Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, we’ve curated some excellent resources to help support the conditions for full participation in every board meeting.


Why aren’t you heard?

Let’s keep in mind good boards need to hear and consider everyone’s viewpoint, but they tend to hear more from the extroverts at the table. The January 2021 edition of the UK’s Accounting and Business Magazine provides direct insight to help the introverts on the board to speak up.

If you’re an introvert, there are three main reasons why you’re less likely to speak up and be heard in meetings:

  • Detail. Introverts tend to think in detail, which can hold them back from ‘top level’ discussions.
  • Thought. Introverts ‘think to talk’ while extroverts typically ‘talk to think.’ That means introverts consider their point before they start talking, whereas extroverts use talking to help them think through their point. By the time the introverts are ready to speak up, the extroverts are ready to move on.
  • Time-wasting. Introverts tend to be reflective and, unless they feel very strongly about a particular point, are unlikely to add to a discussion unless they’re sure they’ll add value.

These characteristics lead to the following advice for introverts who want to have their say:

  1. Prepare. Practice the points you most want to say, in short sentences. If you’ve prepared them, they’re easier to say.
  2. Announce your points in advance. Where possible, get your points on the agenda. If not, briefly state them near the beginning of the meeting.
  3. Plan your small talk. As an introvert, your energy can be drained by pre-meeting small talk. Plan some points pertinent to the people there, or points in the news. You’ll feel less drained by the time the meeting starts.
  4. Make holding statements. Your internal processing can delay you while you think of the perfect answer - that gap can be interpreted as you not knowing. In his book ‘Great Answers to Tough Questions at Work,’ Michael Dodd says that replying with a practiced, ‘I’ve been thinking about that and have two really important points to add,’ will give you a couple of seconds to think, preventing someone from taking the conversation away. Prepare a couple of assertive ‘holding statements’ that you’re comfortable with.
  5. Monitor your body language. Stand, or sit, as if you’re confident. It shows you’re alert, interested, and helps make your point more powerfully.
  6. Look for allies. When making a point, invite an ally into the discussion and build on their points by saying something like, ‘Pete made a good point when he said …. I’d add …’.
  7. Make use of your listening skills. Rambling, extrovert-led discussions often leave people confused and frustrated. But introverts tend to be good listeners, making them great at summarizing what’s been said. Doing so helps you get recognized and allows you to easily make your point.
  8. Be bright and brief. Summarize your detail into a sentence. Be ready to follow up with more detail, if needed. Having made your point, stop – don’t fill the silence. People respect brevity, even though they might not deliver it themselves. Don’t pad out or soften your points with comments that trail off at the end. End confidently and clearly.
  9. Don’t apologize. Starting by being apologetic weakens your position. Saying ‘I need to add …’ sounds much stronger than saying, ‘I’m sorry, but …’.
  10. Don’t set up barriers. Don’t start by saying ‘I disagree’. Instead, try ‘Perhaps we might also consider …’, or ‘I agree, but I have some doubts about …’.
  11. Link back. If someone gets interrupted, or you interrupt them, give them the floor again afterwards with a lead-in such as, ‘I think Pete got interrupted just now.’ You’ll be seen more positively, and it makes it easier should you ever interrupt.
  12. Follow up. Introverts tend to be more comfortable with one-to-one discussion. Play to your strengths by delving deeper into relevant topics outside the meeting.


Creating the conditions for diversity of perspective

What can the board do?

The Nasdaq Center for Board Excellence’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) Insights Council polled sitting directors about boardroom practices that encourage every director at the table to speak up — especially when their perspective is not in alignment with the group at-large.

Encourage board members to assert areas of expertise and experience.

While the ultimate goal is to receive contributions from directors based on their unique perspectives — and not just their specific area of expertise — one way to get new directors comfortable with speaking up right away is to let them know what the board needs from them.

Seat newer board members next to the CEO and CFO.

As simple as it sounds, seating arrangements can have a significant impact on group dynamics. Seating the least-tenured directors next to the CEO and CFO during board meetings makes it easier for new directors to casually ask questions and engage during breaks. It’s also a powerful visual demonstration that the insights and perspectives of new board members are welcome.

Moderate boardroom conversations to draw contributions from all directors.

Many boards take proactive measures to ensure all directors have an opportunity to speak their minds. When someone is conspicuously silent during a discussion, the board chair can check in with them to see if there’s a different point of view or perspective they’d like to share.

Encourage directors to meet with the management team outside of the boardroom.

New board members are more comfortable adding their voices when they have a thorough understanding of what’s going on and they know the management team. Encouraging board members – particularly new directors – to engage with the management team helps them gain deeper insights into the organization. There are additional benefits to engaging outside of the boardroom. For example, site visits help foster an understanding of operations and a connection with employees.

Provide informal opportunities for board members to mingle and network with each other.

Spontaneous conversations in informal settings foster collegiality and connectedness between board members. After an event such as a board lunch or dinner, each director could be asked to share something that’s top of mind or something they’ve learned that would be relevant for all to hear.

A buddy system is another good way to foster inclusion. By partnering each new director with a longer-serving board member who acts as a mentor or ‘board buddy,’ the new director has someone they can use as a sounding board and an ally vested in their success.

Leverage board evaluations to assess the health of board dynamics.

Most boards conduct routine board evaluations, which present an excellent opportunity to assess the communication style of the board. Annual board evaluations can help uncover potential roadblocks to sharing disparate perspectives and viewpoints.


Disagreeing in a healthy way

Healthy, respectful disagreement can be difficult to achieve because of the way people tend to act in groups. They feel social pressure to agree with others, even when they don't understand the reasons — or even when those reasons don't make sense.

Put simply, people are often afraid to be different.

There are a few things the savvy director can do to promote a culture of healthy disagreement. Note the following from Justin Bariso of the consultancy, EQ Applied.

  1. Don't disagree just for the sake of disagreeing. But if you lean far on the ‘agreeable’ spectrum, you have to learn how to speak up when needed. One way to do this is to ask yourself: If I don't say this, will I regret it later?
  2. When you do speak up, do so respectfully. Often, it's not what you say that people take the wrong way, rather, it's how you say it. So, strive to really understand your fellow director’s position before countering it. And when you do counter, remember that your opinion isn't the only one that matters; be open to hearing what others think, too.

“So, if you're the type who isn't afraid to speak up even when everyone else agrees, keep doing so (respectfully). Or, if you're the opposite, the next time someone speaks up or starts to rock your boat, resist the urge to dismiss them as "difficult." Remember the value they bring, and the power of those two, emotionally intelligent words:  

Respectful disagreement.

Because it's the people who are willing to rock the boat who will take you places you never thought you'd go.” – Justin Bariso


In Summary

All facets of diversity in the boardroom — including gender, race, age, experience and expertise — are intended to strengthen the perspectives that shape and guide a cohesive corporate strategy. However, even diverse boards cannot combat Groupthink or improve decision-making unless every director feels free to contribute their unique perspective.

Speaking up in meetings can have multiple benefits to your personal and professional development. It can help you to build confidence, strengthen relationships, improve communication skills, and open you up to a variety of new opportunities.

Diversity of perspective is vital to effective decision-making in the boardroom. You were recruited for a reason. While you may be tempted to ‘stay in your lane’ and stick to your specific area of expertise, when you have something to contribute talk yourself into stepping out, speaking up, and providing the unique perspective that only you can.

Your board will thank you for it.


Your takeaways:

  • If you’re new to the boardroom, it’s okay to build your confidence speaking within the smaller confines and collegiality of committee meetings.
  • It’s okay to disagree. Just don’t be disagreeable. People remember how you make them feel.
  • Speaking up and speaking out is good for both your board career and the diversity of perspective you bring to the board’s decision-making process.
  • Start with facts, not judgments or opinions.
  • Don’t focus on convincing.
  • Be skeptical of your own point of view.
  • Own your right to have your opinion.




Thank you.


Scott Baldwin is a certified corporate director (ICD.D) and co-founder of – an online hub with hundreds of guideline questions and resources to help directors prepare for their board role.


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