Let me start with a story: the other day I was in a meeting where someone in a position of authority was banging the table (literally) to make a point. However, instead of being a really powerful moment, I observed that the reaction of most people in the room was to shut down, with eyes cast down and I wondered just how clearly his point had actually been made.
When I reflected on this, I recalled that there’s ample evidence that as primates we are exquisitely sensitive to emotion and perhaps this was why people had shut down. In fact we now know that fear can almost totally block our reasoning faculties due to the functioning of a key part of our brains called the amygdyla. It’s not clear WHY the amygdala works this way – perhaps it’s to do with speeding up our “flight or fight reflex” but you can be sure it plays out in the workplace as well as on the sports field. So shouting or banging a table may feel good but may be the worst possible way to get your point across.
As a total contrast, I was told a story many years ago about a very effective chairperson who had a saying: ”talk quietly but carry a big stick”. In other words, make sure you have effective levers and let the potential threat of the stick (hopefully never used) work for you. This is also sometimes known as gunboat diplomacy – that’s a stick hopefully not used often at a country level.
So we know the “talk quietly, carry big stick approach” may work, but we don’t always have the big stick, and therefore may have to use more subtle approaches to be heard, to get our point of view across, to have our ideas acted on.
So here are my offerings of things that have worked for me, and some learning strategies I have picked from others:
- Don’t worry about who gets the credit for an idea. This is tough particulary when you are trying to make your reputation, but ideas can be influential beyond measure if they are not tied up in your own ego.
- Speak quietly but clearly and firmly.
- Learn whether you use an up inflexion at the end of sentences (as many younger Australian females seem to do) – and if that’s the case, do whatever you can to learn to down shift at the end of sentences. Your thoughts will be tagged as indecisive and tentative if you end them with an up inflexion I can assure you.
- Find who is influential and try to get one on one time with them to get your point of view some air time.
- Recognise that not everyone uses the same style of communication; I have blogged on this topic before. In particular you need to get comfortable with using pictures, words and most powerful of all: stories.
- Choose your time carefully. There are usually key times when people are receptive to ideas and in loud crowded rooms with lots of testerone spraying about you can be sure that good ideas are likely to go unheard or under-appreciated.
- Give credit to others who have helped inform your thinking. Gaining a reputation for fairness will do you more good than you might imagine.
- Use simple diagrams to help encapsulate your thoughts but don’t make them so simple that they dumb down the idea.
- Realise that most of us need to see/hear an idea more than once in order for it to stick or to be accepted. Don’t be disappointed if the idea doesn’t seem to gain initial traction. Try another channel as suggested above (e.g. raise the idea with another infuencer).
- Consider that we are most influenced by people who are similar in some way to ourselves (see SMS MT careers which builds on the work of Robert Cialdini). Knowing this, try to identify who we most need to influence, and then identify the subgroup most aligned to that person by age, gender, cultural factors, even height! Yes – it is amazing but people will truly be influenced most by people they can most recognise and see as in their own ‘tribe’, so to speak.
Be persistent. If the idea is powerful then it may need some seeds to be sown before the growth is seen. Are there some ways to fertilise the ground?
Feel free to shout or quietly share your thoughts back!