Ask Women in Product: The ideas I share are ignored, but they’re acknowledged and lauded when others say them. How do I solve this?
Answer from Sara Vienna, Head of Design at BL3NDlabs
I often see ideas being restated by others in both casual brainstorming sessions and more formal meetings. Teammates playing off of each other’s ideas isn’t always a bad thing — it’s certainly part of the creative process. In fact, you can think of meetings and group interactions as improv in a business setting.
These situations go awry, however, when the person with the loudest voice, the best delivery, or another underlying advantage gets “credit” or positive feedback when they reiterate the ideas of others. When you find yourself in this situation, what can you do?
Call It Out
I’ve had success calling out people who restate my ideas when we’re aligned, and I trust them and their intent. I usually address this with a giant smile and say, “Dude, that’s what I just said.” (My current workplace has a casual environment; you may not want to call your coworkers “Dude” if you work in a more formal setting.) In those instances, I know I can call it out because of my relationship with the people in the room.
Find men and women who can raise their voice for you and for whom you’ll do the same.
When you’re in a group where you can’t directly address the situation, find allies who can jump in when they see it happening. Stay professional when you recruit allies. Avoid gossiping about the offender, no matter how tempting it may be (I’ve been there). You will want to find men and women who can raise their voice for you and for whom you’ll do the same. Once you’ve found your allies, brainstorm what you’ll say when people restate others’ ideas in meetings. Keep it collaborative and positive. Here’s one to get you started: “It sounds like we’re all thinking the same thing since [Name] just said something very similar. Let’s dig into it more…”
You’ve Got This
Whether you’re standing up for yourself or for someone else in the room, remember:
- Look people in the eye when you address the undesired behavior, even though it may be uncomfortable. A direct gaze communicates strength and confidence.
- Asking for and expecting fairness is not selfish.
- Record when this happens and look for patterns.
- Know where to escalate the concern (starting with your manager and HR) if needed.
Regardless of how you address the way others repeat your ideas, it’s always a smart call to work on improving yourself. Consider a public speaking course or attend improv to work on your presence. Also, the Women at Work podcast from Harvard Business Review has great tips on how to make yourself heard. I’ve found that as I continue to improve myself, the confidence to stand up for what’s right (especially for myself) in tough situations comes more naturally.
Finally, if you’ve tried it all and still do not see a positive change, you may be better off at an organization with a culture that will let you shine.
Answer from Lisa Zhu, Product at Aaptiv
In my first few years in the workforce, I was often shy about talking in meetings, especially when more senior folks were present. To make matters worse, when I finally worked up the courage to offer an idea or suggestion, people typically ignored me. Later, a more senior (and usually male) colleague would restate my point in different words and get a flurry of pats on the back.
Sound familiar? If you’re also frustrated every time your idea goes ignored, here are a few things I’ve learned that helped me reclaim the credit I deserved.
Find allies you trust to amplify your opinions
First, enlist the help of trusted peers or mentors. If this is a systemic issue, they should already be aware that your ideas are being ignored; if they’re not, explain what you’re going through and provide concrete examples that illustrate the behavior. Then, work with your allies to craft a strategy where they amplify your achievements back to the broader group in meetings.
Here’s an example of how this could go:
Me: “The most number of users seem to be dropping off at the first screen in the flow, so perhaps we could try A/B testing it against a version that combines screens 1 and 2?”
Ally 1: “Lisa, that’s a great idea, I definitely agree. We should prioritize it against your original idea of A/B testing the signup flow as well.”
This strategy was used to great effect by the female staffers in the Obama administration and is one of the most risk-free ways to make sure you get credit for your ideas.
Maintain a paper trail
It’s easy for people to misattribute ideas shared during meetings to whomever their unconscious bias prefers, but it’s harder to do the same when you have written documentation stating the contrary.
Aside from coming up with ideas and sharing them during meetings, spend 20 to 30 minutes thinking of ideas in advance. Then, send out your ideas before the meeting with the agenda, or present them on screen as you discuss them. Your colleagues will be more likely to remember that the idea was yours when they see the written idea with your name next to it.
It’s possible that your colleagues may not even realize what they are doing and would be aghast when you point out their behavior to them.
Provide direct feedback to the people who ignore you
Consider providing direct feedback to repeat offenders by pointing out their behavior calmly and respectfully. It’s possible that your colleagues may not even realize what they are doing and would be aghast when you point out their behavior to them.
Be ready to provide specific examples of when they last ignored your ideas — direct quotes are particularly useful if they try to feign ignorance. After they have acknowledged their mistake, work with them to develop a plan for how to better share your ideas in the future, whether it’s through weekly 1:1s or written updates.
Move on if you have to
At some point, if you’ve tried everything and nothing seems to work, it might just be that the culture at your company is too toxic to fix. If that’s the case, it’s better to cut your losses and find a workplace that values cultivating a diversity of opinions from all team members and will reward you for your ideas.
Answer from Vidya Venkatesh, Associate Director, Product Management at Talis Biomedical Corporation
That jaw-dropping moment — your awesome idea, ignored by your co-workers a few minutes ago, now receives resounding applause when it’s repeated by someone else on the team — can be quite demotivating and leave us feeling powerless.
Let’s talk about how to turn these situations into opportunities to establish your thought leadership, and build that oh-so-important communication muscle.
Figure out the cause
If you often experience this behavior, spend some time in introspection to identify why.
- Are you being assertive enough? Or being too assertive? Women tend to apologize too much and act timid to avoid sounding arrogant, or on the flip side, come across as aggressive. Rather than quietly fuming or reacting aggressively in such situations, build up your self-awareness and identify your triggers: Getting interrupted? Someone else repeating your ideas more assertively? Is it something else? Use that insight to fine-tune your response.
- Are you stating your thoughts and ideas confidently? If you sound hesitant and doubtful, your ideas may not come across as credible. Do your homework and present your ideas backed with customer insights and data. As the cliche goes, fake that confidence, and it will start to come more naturally! It may help to buoy your confidence if you shared your ideas/thoughts with the team in an email in advance of the meeting, enabling you to stake your claim in digital print.
- Is it the team or the work environment? There are some teams or workplaces where the culture is just toxic, and it may not be worth your mental and emotional energy to try and fix the situation. Your best option may be to switch to a different team or company. Remember, you always have the power to walk away from an unpleasant situation!
Do your homework and present your ideas backed with customer insights and data.
Decide on a course of action
After some introspection to understand what’s contributing to the situation, decide how best to address the situation.
- Pick your battles. In some circumstances (e.g., you are new to a team, you’re still building relationships, or if there are more junior folks who are eager for a “win”), it can be prudent to pick your battles and address the matter privately.
- Give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Often, when ideas are flying back and forth, and we’re brainstorming at breakneck speed, an unintended action may result in what appears to be idea-stealing. Give the other person the benefit of the doubt; you’ll avoid unnecessary conflicts and passive-aggressive responses.
- Use humor. Don’t forget to use humor as an effective tool to get your point across without raising tensions — “Haha! Thanks for re-stating my ideas; great minds think alike!”
- Ask for your manager’s or mentor’s support before the next meeting. Enlist your manager or mentor as an ally beforehand and gather feedback and advocacy for your proposed ideas. They can amplify your idea and help ensure that you are heard during the meeting. For example, they can say: “[Name] and I discussed this idea before the meeting. I really liked it, and I think we should consider it. [Name], can you explain your idea to the group?”
Don’t give up
Every idea counts because the small wins add up, and ultimately, they compound to create an avalanche effect that enables you to gain recognition, feel empowered, and amplify your authentic voice. So, keep at it. You’ll soon find yourself getting tapped to come up with creative ideas and solutions to lead teams through challenging situations.
Go forth and own it!
Thank you to Tricia Cervenan for editing this piece.
Ask Women in Product: What are the best conferences for product managers?
Tanya Elkins shares her approach for picking conferences and maximizing the value you get from attending.