Do you ever have trouble getting your voice heard at work?
It’s not uncommon; workers in all levels of business report being talked over, ignored or feeling simply that their thoughts are never heard.
In creative teams, you’ll experience the full spectrum of personality types from introverted to extroverted. It’s often the case that a few “louder” voices seem to be the ones who are always heard or always called upon to give an opinion.
If you are that “louder voice”, you probably have no idea what we’re talking about, but awareness of others is still an important trait to have. The same thing goes if you are a manager of team members – it’s your job to look out for them.
How can you get your voice heard? Here are a few strategies:
I’m not naturally a dominant voice in a room, so I have found myself in the following scenario more than once:
You’re sitting in a meeting with several others and have been asked to come up with ideas on a problem or topic. You naturally will process your thoughts for a bit before volunteering to speak up, however there are others there who just start blurting immediately what comes to their minds.
You have a hard time finding a gap in which to express your ideas, then when you finally do, you get interrupted or talked over. A couple of minutes later, someone else is talking about the idea you raised and being praised for their “brilliant” ideas. You feel frustrated and unheard.
“Many Western cultures tend to favor extroverted personalities, people who act quickly, appear friendly and are outgoing. Introverts often feel pressure to be extroverts, which can lead to anxiety or lowered self-esteem.” Dan Buettner, Psychology Today
Sometimes, in creative agencies it doesn’t matter how extroverted you are, being heard can be about “rank” or pecking order. However, this doesn’t invalidate your good ideas, so its important to learn are some strategies for meetings:
#1. Arrive Prepared
There are many times where you already know what the meeting is about, right? In these cases, arrive with your ideas ready and challenge yourself to get them on the table within the first few minutes.
Doing so establishes you as a “voice” in the meeting and an engaged participant. If you hang back waiting for a gap to interject, you often won’t find one, especially if there are a few dominant voices in the room.
Another strategy is to take on an agenda item yourself beforehand. Be the person in charge of presenting it to the team. This means you don’t have to wait for a gap because you’re already booked for an agenda slot. It’s a great strategy for introverts or for those who feel that their position in the company doesn’t give them much of a voice.
#2. Synthesize Ideas
If you are the quieter, observant type, you probably often find yourself sitting in meetings processing the conversation around you and reflecting on ideas. Your colleagues may still be rushing at a million miles an hour trying to get their ideas out and totally missing that they’re actually all in agreement or that their ideas already work well together.
If you can find those common threads and interject, this is actually a very helpful role in a meeting because it ensures clarity. “From what I’m hearing, Mary and Todd both feel that we’re missing a target demographic in our copy. How do we want to address that?”
#3. Talk to Your Manager
If you work in the kind of agency where everyone is eager to offer ideas and meetings tend to be dominated by a few louder voices, perhaps talk to your manager about it.
In the most diplomatic way possible (assuming your manager is approachable), say something like, “I feel that there are a lot of good ideas among the team that aren’t necessarily heard at our meetings. May we try introducing a “no interruptions” rule for meetings?”
Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant talk about this in a New York Times essay, which was part of a wider series on women at work. “Speaking while female” was described like this:
“When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive.”
They told a story of the writing team behind the television show “The Shield.” Once the show runner, Glen Mazzara, noticed that female writers were not being heard in meetings, he introduced a “no interruptions” rule when anyone (male or female) was pitching an idea. He observed that not only did the idea work, it made the whole team more effective. There’s even a case study you can use to pitch the idea if needed!
During Your Work Day
Meetings tend to be at the more extreme end of getting your voice heard, but are usually part of everyday life in an agency setting. Many people struggle with getting themselves heard outside of meetings, too. How do you get your manager or colleagues to support your ideas?
#1. Build Relationships
A Harvard Business Review study found that a strategy that could help female executives get themselves heard more is to master the “pre-meeting.” They found that their male colleagues arrived early and spent time talking with colleagues and garnering support for their ideas. The male colleagues also tended to stay later after the meeting doing the same thing.
Anyone can use this technique to get their voice heard at work. If you spend the time fostering relationships with others, it is more likely that they’ll make the time to listen to your ideas and even get behind them.
#2. Create Temporal Distance
Studies have found that when there is some distance created between you and the problem, more creative ideas ensue. If you are too close to something, it can be difficult to accept that there may be better or more creative ways of doing things.
Tyler Tooveren points out that your boss, who is probably an expert in what you do, has the same problem with being close to the issue. You can create temporal distance for your manager when you pitch them an idea and you just might find that they are more accepting of your thoughts.
“…rather than pitching a new idea in a way that makes it feel like it would happen now, try framing it as more of a hypothetical. Paint your idea as a picture of what things could be like, maybe some time in the future. Maybe something like:
Can you imagine what our future would be like if we made this change in how we work [insert creative ideas]?
This will take the pressure off your boss to feel like she has to act on it now, and that will allow her to see the possibilities and consider them and not immediately put up red flags. You’re slowly warming her up.”
#3. Adjust Your Communication Style Accordingly
It’s a fact that we all have different communication styles and therefore, will respond to other people according to our own preferences. For example, someone who is an energetic, quick speaker might switch off when spoken to by someone who is slower and measured.
You might lose your audience if there is a discrepancy in communication styles, so it’s important that you tune into the style of the person you are talking to and try to match it. Some people respond to stories or emotion, others are impatient and need you to get straight to the point.
Getting heard at work is not always easy, but it’s doable if you plan ahead and come up with some good strategies.
Be prepared with research or any information that backs the points you’d like to make and challenge yourself to participate early in meetings. Be mindful of interruptions and, if you find them to be a problem, see if you can instigate a “no interruptions” rule.
Outside of meetings, make sure you develop good relationships with colleagues and seek support for ideas early. This way they’re more likely to back you later on. Lastly, be aware of communication preferences and adjust your style accordingly. This way you are more likely to grab the attention of the person you’re trying to get support from.