Being “heard” is a funny thing. Sometimes it has to do with saying the right thing at the right time. Other times it has to do with knowing when to “shut up” before you say the wrong thing. Regardless, too much of either can prevent us from being noticed, seen and valued. So, what can we do and how do we know if we fall into either camp? Let’s take ‘em on one at a time:
“I don’t talk much”
Pretty obvious – you’re not going to get heard if you don’t talk. Simple as that. Let me give you a story. John was your classic introvert. A brilliant mind, John was not comfortable speaking publicly or with leadership in his organization. As John put it, “I’m just afraid I’m going to say something stupid… or worse, I’ll get started and I won’t be able to stop so I just don’t say anything at all.” Consequently John is seen by leadership as a solid technical expert, a strong performer in his area of expertise. But leadership does not see John as someone who could lead others or manage customer relationships. Consequently, John has plateaued in the organization – whether he likes it or not. The takeaway from John’s story is important – every interaction you have with leadership is an audition; an opportunity to show off what you are capable of. If they don’t see it in you in their interactions with you, they won’t take a chance on you. Gambling isn’t in their nature, particularly today.
So what can you do? If you are looking to turn up the volume on your conversing in the office, consider these recommendations:
1. Provide positive feedback – Sometimes the best way to get noticed is to tell another person that what he or she did was appreciated, effective and/or valued. A simple “thank you” or a more pointed piece of complimentary feedback can go a long way. Remember, everyone (including the most senior leader) is guessing every day (if you don’t believe me, look at the global economy). No one really knows what he or she is doing. Providing positive feedback is tremendously valuable to them as a way of letting them know that they are adding tremendous value. Don’t gush. Just simply tell them what you noticed they did and the impact it had on you.
2. Add value with good questions – Leaders are not looking for someone who can say something brilliant or insightful. They are looking for individuals that ask the right questions to help get to the right answers. Be one of those individuals. Ask good questions and you’ll be noticed quickly. A good friend of mine did exactly that and rose quickly from an entry level position to the Chief People Officer of a large organization simply because of her courage and insight to ask good questions at the right time. Here are some examples to build off of as you craft your own insightful questions (picture using these either in a meeting or discussion regarding possible decisions):
• “How is this going to impact our customers?”
• “What is the greatest threat to our organization today?”
• “If we look 5 years out, what is the greatest opportunity for us as an organization?
• “What are the risks if we take this action? What are the risks if we do nothing?”
• “How will we know if we’ve succeeded? What does success look like?”
“I talk WAY TOO MUCH”
What if your problem is the opposite? What if once you start talking you begin to get nervous and before you know it, you are sharing with the CEO why your significant other won’t commit, your shopping list for the weekend and your most embarrassing moment in college. Not good. Jack had that problem. Once he started talking to someone he deemed “important,” he would get flustered, he’d lose the focus of his conversation and he would begin to ramble. “Before I knew it, I would be sharing with them my allergic reaction to shrimp and how I threw up the last time I ate shrimp at a company event. I could tell they wanted to run away… I wanted to run away.” Jack became known as the “nice guy you don’t want to get stuck with in an elevator.” It was understood that if you wanted to communicate effectively with him, it was best to either go through his manager or send him an e-mail. He was stuck.
If this sounds familiar, here are some good recommendations to get out of your own way:
1. Quit while you are ahead – Communication is a funny thing. You’re either adding value or diluting from existing value. Sometimes, the trick is knowing when you are ahead and then simply closing your mouth. A little bit goes a long way. Concise and succinct communication can present you as more purposeful and intentional about what you say – always good traits to have.
2. Turn the tables and ask questions – If you have a tendency to ramble, stop yourself and turn the conversation back to the other person with a question. Maybe the question could be a clarifying question or perhaps you just want to avoid verbally “throwing up” on your unassuming listener. For example, say you are asked by a senior leader: “so what are you hearing from our customers?” A broad question. If you don’t watch yourself, you might end up detailing the blow-by-blow accounts of conversations with customers. Instead, ask a clarifying question. “Before I go too far down that path, is there a particular customer group you are interested in hearing about or a particular trend you would like me to speak to?” Trust me, this will help you to stay on target and most importantly, keep you relevant. If you are relevant, you are heard.
That last statement is so important that it’s worth repeating again: If you are relevant, you are heard. Whether your problem is that you don’t talk enough or you talk too much, keep your points relevant and you will quickly get noticed and recognized for the value that you bring. Remember, every interaction with a senior leader is an audition so make them count.
Oh, and stay away from the college stories – they never turn out pretty!