How to be heard when everyone’s talking over each other

We’ve all been there… Stuck in a room with a group of people who seem intent on talking over each other, whilst not listening to what anyone else has to say…

It’s a not uncommon observation that on these occasions the ‘adults’ in the room are seen to be ‘acting like a bunch of school kids’. So, consulting a primary school teacher on how they manage a class of excitable children seems like a good idea.

Experienced teachers have their methods and the best do it without having to even raise their voices. My particular favourite is the teacher who controls their class by merely standing silently and raising an arm in the air. One by one, the pupils attune to this signal and the flow of chatter dries up.

While this may not be a suitable for a more junior member of a team way to bring calm to a voluble meeting of senior ‘speak because they have to rather than because they have something to say’ types much as I’d love to see it, believe it or not, I have seen a similar effect wrought by bringing a prop into play to garner attention. In fact, a simple pen can be wielded much in the same way that a conductor uses a baton to guide an orchestra. It emanates a subtle sense of purpose when raised in the air. Here I should add that the pen (or pencil) needs to be of sufficient status. No chewed HB grade Staedtler or Bic biro here please – think Mont Blanc and you’re in the right area. After all, always think what your accessories say about you. Keep an eye out for speakers who wield props to make a point, bring a room to order or even admonish often commanding more attention than they otherwise would and doing so with a certain gravitas.

Another, more subtle tip for rising above the hullaballoo is to know how to pick your moment. The advantage of everybody talking over each other is that all that hot air eventually dissipates with a collective loss of breath.

The trick in these scenarios is to bide your time until a break arises, presenting an opportunity for you to strike. Consider it to be like one of those incredibly busy roundabouts at which you arrive and think to yourself, ‘how am I going to get out, the traffic’s never going to stop.’ It may take a while, but a gap will always appear and when it does it is your moment to move.

While waiting for such a gap to open up, you must nevertheless be present and focussed. This means being a presence in the room, typified by having poise and purpose. I have written before about how to be in such a situation, to be in the room without being directly involved in the conversation. It’s a similar dynamic here.

Nevertheless, when the opportunity inevitably arises act with purpose and commit. A good trick is to take out the main protagonists by noting that they have valid points. This validation will stop them from jumping in. It also gives you a chance to add a strategic segue into what you would like to say with something along the lines of “…and to build on that” or simply turning the conversation around should you be about to disagree.

I should probably have precluded this last point with the importance of actually having something decent to say. If you don’t want to just be adding to the general white noise make sure it is a worthwhile contribution.

Therefore, spend that waiting time refining your response, measuring it up against those words which have already been spoken and tweaking if necessary. Consider, will your point add substance to the discussion? Making the best use of your opportunity to speak, with a valid contribution, will see you rise above all that hot air.

A final word of advice is to own what you say. For some people these situations can be intimidating, but remember this, just because someone shouts louder doesn’t mean to say they have something better to say. In fact, it’s often quite the opposite. So, believe in yourself. Never forget, if you’ve been invited into the room, you have as much right to be heard as anyone else. Just make sure it counts!