Can you speak up freely in group meetings and conferences?

It is very tough especially if you are a student, postdoc or junior scientist to speak up at group meetings and conferences. This has been a constant challenge for me throughout my career. Now, I am a mid-career to senior level scientist. But, I still get nervous (sometimes extremely) when I need to stand up and ask a question or provide a comment in seminars or group meetings. And, yes, even in zoom meetings. So, I usually keep quite unless I am supposed to say something or I am the one hosting the meeting (obviously).

Many times in group meetings, conversation is dominated by one person. And, when you finally find your inner strength to speak up, that one person shuts you down. With a fear that you may not be able to control yourself, you decide to stay silent throughout the meeting. Sounds familiar?

Based on my personal experience, this happens more frequently if you are a junior scientist. Your opinion is often disregarded because you don’t have the credential like other more senior scientists. And, many senior scientists have the skill to fight back and crush the aggressor. So, people think twice before they attempt to criticize or shut down senior scientists.

A funny thing is that when I am in a meeting with my close colleagues, this is never an issue. In fact, some of my colleagues told me that I talk too much (yes, I know). It is not just me. I have seen some scientists who talk very well and interact very effectively with others in some meetings, but miserably fail in other meetings.

Some people refer to this “psychological safety“, the belief that your opinion is valued or at least not ignored by the group. I think we all have roles to play to ensure psychological safety in group settings. If you are the host, you want to create an environment that all opinions are valued and it is safe to speak up. If you are a participant, try not to be too judgmental, especially toward junior scientists. And, say something nice like “oh, that’s an interesting idea” (not in a sarcastic way).

Let’s remember this. It is our very nature to attack and criticize others for our own gain. So, we need to remind ourselves constantly. And, keep your ears open for any criticism or suggestions from your colleagues. I will do the same.

Image credit: https://www.minervaengagement.com/how-measuring-psychological-safety-enables-a-proactive-approach-to-employee-mental-wellbeing/

2 thoughts on “Can you speak up freely in group meetings and conferences?

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  1. I know what you mean. In zoom meetings I’m reluctant to cut in with a question or comment even if the host invites us to. Submitting written comments doesn’t work well either.

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  2. David, you are very polite and courteous when you ask questions during seminars. You treat all speakers the same way, whether the person is a very junior or a famous scientist. I like that very much. I think in general you are a bit tougher on high-profile scientists. I like that too. – Sang-Ki

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