The business world is fantastic. It's also challenging. Over the course of your career, you'll face ethical, cultural, political, and personal dilemmas in the workplace. You'll work with difficult people. You'll find yourself in compromising situations. You'll have to balance who you are as an individual with what your employer asks of you.
Can you stay true to who you are without sacrificing your success? Absolutely YES.
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Being Heard

Not Being Heard Is The Worst:
Why Won't They Listen To You?

Not being heard is like losing your mind.
Eventually you just stop talking,
 because you think you're going crazy.

It's not too much to ask really. You talk. Others listen. They talk. You listen. Sometimes you agree. Other times you don't. It's the dialog of life, at work and at home. Sometimes, though, the dialog just flat-out breaks down. What do you do?

There's nothing worse than being in a dialog with yourself. You talk. You think someone is listening. They act like they're listening. But they're not. They don't hear you. They don't understand your point. They may not believe it's important. They don't know why they should care. And they certainly don't do anything differently based on what you've said. 

It's easy to write these people off as a complete waste of your time. The problem? They may actually matter. They may be a big part of your daily life, or influence your ability to be successful. It may be a co-worker you rely on, or worse yet, your boss. You can't ignore them. You can't work around them. You have to work with them. You have to find a way to be heard.
What can you do differently in your conversations with someone to be heard 
How can you get someone to listen long enough to give your idea a chance?
Establish The Foundation

Let's start with the hardest thing you have to accept about being heard.  Being heard is only partially about what you have to say. Where you say it, when you say it, how you say it, and how you feel as you say it... all matter. Here are some things to keep in mind as you prepare for any conversation where it's particularly important that you be heard.
  • Choose the right time and place. More important, I guess, is to avoid choosing the wrong time and place. If your boss is rushing out the door, or his hands are on the keyboard as you walk into his office, there's a good chance that he won't give you his attention beyond quick updates or answers. If your co-worker is on a deadline, she doesn't want to take a break to hear your fantastic new idea. If you're resolving a conflict, where in-depth discussion is needed, the company cafeteria is absolutely not the best location. Be thoughtful about your timing and your setting. It makes a huge difference in how someone relates to you. Sometimes you don't have a choice. When you do, choose wisely if you want to be heard.
  • Be in the right frame of mind. Whether you want to believe it or not, your emotional state highly influences your communication skills. If you're angry, frustrated, or upset, those emotions are reflected in your choice of words and body language. Even if you think you're hiding it, you aren't. You can't. Emotions show through, in subtle and obvious ways. Sometimes you'll need to address communications challenges real-time. The best you can do in those circumstances is be aware of how your emotions color your reactions, and do your best to keep your emotions in check. Whenever possible, take some time to gain a fresh perspective on a problem, situation, or disagreement. Clear your mind of noise and focus on what you're trying to communicate.
  • Think in advance about how to make your audience receptive.  Communication experts always say that you should know your audience. This is particularly true for people who have proven in the past that they don't hear you. Think about what might make them more receptive. What are their motivations? What are their fears? Are these things relevant to your message? What part of their perspective can you "validate" in your discussion, so they'll know that you appreciate their point of view?  Don't get hung up on the fact that you shouldn't have to do all this work. And don't think of it as manipulation. Think of it as an effective strategy to break through barriers. Use any insight here to your advantage, 100%. 
With this as your foundation, you're ready to move forward with a new approach to being heard.

Make It Matter.  

One of the best ways to be heard is to make your message highly relevant to another person. You may believe that everything you say is important and relevant. Maybe yes, maybe no. Just know that the way you deliver a message has as much to do with making it relevant as the message itself.

The best presentation in the world delivered poorly... is received poorly. Amazing products never make it to market because of the way they're introduced to the world. The same applies to individual conversations. You need to make what you say matter to another person. The better you do this, the more you'll be heard. The more you're heard, the more successful you'll be, in life and at work.

A note of interest:  If you can't find a way to make your message matter as you plan for a discussion, it probably doesn't. That might explain why you're not being heard. If that's the case, regroup. 

Here are some ideas to help you make it matter and be heard.

1.  Establish a jumping off point.

If you want to be heard, you have to first demonstrate that you've heard the other person. Start any conversation of substance with a quick outline of what you want to talk about and what you understand about the perspective of the other person. Before you launch into your dialog, you'll set the other person at ease by showing that you understand where they're coming from. Any validation you can give them authentically, do it.

It can be as simple as, "I'd like to talk with you about <abc.> I know you have strong opinions about how we manage this and I understand exactly what you're trying to accomplish. I also recognize that you're under a lot of pressure to show progress in this area." By setting a jumping off point, you communicate clearly what you want to talk about and demonstrate that you've listened to what's been said by the other person to-date.

2.  Ask permission.

As ridiculous as it sounds, it's important to ask for permission to be heard. What I mean by this is to ask if it's a good time to have the other person's undivided attention for however long you need it. Examples:  "Is this a good time for us to spend a couple of minutes discussing <abc>?"  or "Can you spare ten minutes, uninterrupted, for us to talk through <abc>? It's important or I wouldn't ask."  Your goal here is to have them commit through a sort of tacit agreement to listen to you, and to hear you. It's subtle, but highly effective. When you ask permission to be heard, you're much more likely to earn the attention of another person.

3.  Make it about you.

Before something can matter to someone else, it has to matter to you. Once you've established a jumping off point for your conversation, and you've asked for the other person's attention, tell them why you want to have the discussion.

Why does it matter that you're heard on this topic? Examples: "I want to talk about <abc> because it's important to my success/my customer/my team."  Or "I want to share my perspective on <abc> because I believe we should consider a different approach/a different decision/handling this situation differently." Or "I want to discuss <abc> because I don't feel good about how the situation was handled/our decision/the result."  Set the tone for what's to come by demonstrating that it matters to you, and it's important that you be heard.

4.  Make it about them too.

A relevant conversation requires engagement by both parties. Once you share why you want to have a discussion, pull the other person in. Link what matters to you... to what matters to the other person. This is where your earlier work - anticipating motivations, fears, and priorities - comes into play.

Why should they care? Imagine them saying, "What's in it for me?" Then answer the question without them having to ask. Examples:  "I know you want everyone on your team to be successful. That's how we'll meet our overall objectives for the quarter." Or "I know you're always focused on providing the best possible service to customers. I think we can do even better, and, at the same time, show other teams how creative we are." Or "I think if we adjust our approach in this one area, we can achieve better results overall and still meet your defined objectives for the team." By speaking to their motivation, their fear, or their opportunity to be seen in a positive light, you earn the right to keep talking and be heard.

5.  Make it about results.

In the workplace, your boss and co-workers usually care about at least one of two things:  a) doing a good job as quickly and easily as possible, or b) being recognized for their results and contributions. If they don't have an intrinsic need to do a good job, they're likely motivated by how they're perceived by others. These two motivations are your key to being heard.

How can you make their job (or other people's jobs) easier or better? How can you help them be perceived more favorably in the workplace? If you can cater your message and what you're asking for to serve these needs, your message will be relevant. If you believe that your approach is a better way to achieve results, say that in a way that matters to the other person. Help them understand how listening to you - and hearing you - supports their success.

When It's Personal

Sometimes when you're not being heard it's a personal issue between you and another person. In these situations, you care less about changing a specific outcome, and more about establishing a respectful relationship. When someone blatantly disregards what you say, intentionally ignores you, or openly disrespects you, it's clearly not okay. That said, it's also tricky to address, particularly in the workplace.

All the principles just discussed still apply, but with a twist. For personal issues, as an example, it's important to center the discussion on how you feel in certain circumstances vs. what someone else is doing to you. In other words, it's better to say, "When I find myself <in this situation>, I feel <this way>." rather than "When you do <this>, I feel <that>."

It's also important to give the other person the benefit of the doubt, even if you think they don't deserve it. Here's an example:  "I know it's not your intent to make me feel this way. I can't imagine you would ever want that as an outcome. But I do feel that way and I'd like to talk about how we can change our approach to avoid it happening again. What's most important to me is <xyz>.  If you could do <this> rather than <that> moving forward, I would really appreciate it." Pause and give them a moment to respond.

Another approach that may help is to reference how your inability to communicate with each other is negatively impacting the perceptions of others. This would only be used for ongoing, chronic communications challenges. An example: "The people around us expect us to collaborate, sharing our ideas and developing the best possible solutions together. Others become aware when we aren't in alignment and it reflects poorly on us. I think it's important that others see us compromising and working through differences of opinion. To do that, we need to communicate more effectively."

This is a hard conversation, particularly if it's with your boss. Use discretion as to whether it makes sense to appeal to their broader sense of perception and self-preservation. You can always get advice from someone you trust in the office if you're unsure.

You may just want to say, "Stop being a jerk."  But I don't recommend it. Remember that this is about being heard. The stakes are high. Sometimes the only path you have is to cater your approach to how another person needs to hear your message. In other words, you may have to change your approach to get the results you want from others. This is true even if the other person is being difficult, belligerent, or ineffective. It isn't about changing the other person. It's about being heard and advancing your priorities to the benefit of the business. If you do the work, you're more likely to get the results you want. It's that simple.

Addressing personal challenges associated with being heard normally requires multiple attempts. My recommendation is that you be consistent in your messaging, remind the other person of any earlier conversation(s), and continue to respectfully press to be heard. Exercise your patience and it may pay off big time. Consistency in clarifying expectations and holding others accountable to what's been discussed is critical. You can always escalate a concern to someone higher up in the organization at some point, but it's better to handle it yourself if at all possible. Tenacity is your friend.

Bottom Line

When you're not being heard, you feel like you're going crazy. The tendency is to stop talking and suffer in silence. Don't do it. It's likely that you have important observations to share and valuable inputs to provide, at least some of the time. Be clear on what you want to communicate and the outcome you want to materialize.  Remind yourself that if it didn't matter, you wouldn't care that you weren't being heard. Don't give up.

Be thoughtful about where, when, and how you communicate messages that are important. Think about why your message matters to another person before you start talking. The single best way to assure you're heard is to make your message relevant. To be relevant to others, you have to listen to them and understand what matters to them. The more you practice the habit of relevant communication, the easier it will be.

When not being heard by another feels like a personal affront, address it with care. It's important to set aside your emotions. Watch your emotional tipping point, where you move beyond caring to anger or an overly emotional reaction. Take a time-out if you need one. Be clear, be consistent, and push to improve the situation. Keep trying unless it absolutely doesn't impact your satisfaction or success.

Bottom line:  Be clear. Be consistent. Be relevant. Be heard. Be successful.

More soon,