I just heard it again today: “Sometimes my voice isn’t heard.” I’ve heard this complaint from leaders at all levels–individual contributors, middle managers, and senior-level executives, and it’s a critical issue. When people don’t feel heard, they often believe they’re not being fully utilized for all they have to offer – and often, they’re not. They have something to give, perhaps in the form of an idea, and the team is missing out.
When people aren’t heard, it’s not only a problem for the person experiencing this but also organizationally. The consequences tend to snowball: If someone doesn’t feel heard, they may not be completely committing to organizational decisions. The organization is, therefore, missing out on that commitment, and also then losing the opportunity to tap into all the people resources available to them. And, since speaking up is part of how one develops leadership presence and influence, not being heard causes people to feel disrespected and to lose confidence. This loss of confidence causes them to hesitate to try things outside their comfort zone – which is precisely how organizations nurture and grow their leaders. So, both growth and leadership suffer.
For the “unheard” individual, consider two questions:
Question 1 – Are you not being heard because you aren’t speaking up – due to either lack of confidence, lack of opportunity to connect with the right people, or because you are surrounded by a bunch of extraverts who just won’t shut up (or all of the above)?
Question 2 – Are you not being heard because what you’re saying doesn’t seem to be received, considered, or recognized?
Let’s tackle each scenario.
Lack of Confidence
Next question: why? Why do you lack confidence? Reassess your qualifications, experience, and education. If you’ve got what it takes, say it. But perhaps to build up your confidence, you might need more practice. So, get more practice. Find opportunities to practice speaking up in low-risk situations. Practice sharing your ideas and opinions (especially if they differ) in an environment that feels somewhat easy. Then work your way up. If you truly believe in what you have to say, then say it. Don’t let the inner critic inside your head get the best of you. The more you speak up, the easier it will get.
Lack of Opportunity
If you feel like you don’t have the opportunity to be heard by the right people, work on building rapport with those right people. Building relationships is part of one’s professional development. It’s how things get done. And if you want to be more influential, rapport is the first place to start. Connect with that someone in the lunch line or at the coffee machine, get on a committee that you know that someone is also on, join their golf league. Find something you have in common that person that will allow you to get to know them better. Think genuine bonding and rapport.
Surrounded by Extraverts
Get used to it, my friend. The world is full of them. Here’s the funny thing: they’re wondering why you’re so quiet and why you won’t speak up more often! Start saying things like, “Hey, I’d like to jump in here.” Or “I’ve got something! I’d like to share it.” Whatever it takes to get their attention, say it. And if that doesn’t work, you can try “who wants a cookie!” – it works with my puppy every time.
Message Not Received
This is where you need some feedback from others you trust. Could it be that the problem is with how you’re saying it (tone, pace, volume, message clarity)? Recruit some trusted colleagues to provide feedback on your interactions with others. Are you rambling when delivering a thought – saying too much to where the crux of your message is diluted? Thinking out loud isn’t the most effective way to deliver an important idea. Save that for brainstorming sessions. Make sure your message is clear and succinct, especially when it’s a higher priority idea or request.
Are you not saying enough? Sharing an idea is one thing; sharing your idea and why it’s important is a whole other ballgame. Don’t skip the part about how your idea will impact the bottom line, performance, employee engagement, or client relationships. Also, play around with prefacing your ideas with “From my experience…,” “Here’s what I’ve seen…,” “What my work has taught me is…” That will get their attention every time. If you’re thinking that what you have to say won’t make a difference, recognize this thought for what it is: an assumption. Don’t do it! Your idea just might spark yet a different thought that could be even more amazing than the first. Just put it out there. Some ideas are great, some good, some not so good. That’s what makes great ideas great!
Lastly, if someone else is controlling the conversation in such a way that it appears they are attempting to convince you to their point of view, hear them out. Then say, “that’s one approach. Would you be willing to consider another?”
One definition of leadership is “to influence an outcome.” If you are taking your leadership seriously, you must find the right way, the best way, to make your voice heard. Take some time to consider how you can best do so. Recognize that we may have to come at things multiple times, utilizing different approaches. Keep going. You will make a difference, and both you and the organization will benefit.
Keep speaking, so you can keep leading.
Originally appeared in Central New York Business Journal February 12, 2018.