Finding Your Voice

By: Pamela Walters, November 28, 2017

Ever been frustrated trying to convince, reason or explain to a decision maker? You understand the problem and have clear sight on the solution, but the obvious doesn’t pique the attention or action of your intended audience.  We’ve all been there.  So how do you get a fair hearing?

The answer is in finding your voice with your intended audience.  It doesn’t occur spontaneously “in the moment”; instead it takes planning and intent.  Start with being clear and succinct in what you are asking or stating.  It is crucial to build the story in the currency that matters to them such as a simply stated premise, evidence that demonstrates the value of the idea and address results. For example, “If we remain status quo, we will continue to experience X.  By doing Y we can eliminate duplication and improve the customer experience.”

Good preparation also involves examining self-doubt about the viability of the solution.  Have you considered the downside or factors that could derail its success?  Be prepared to respond to these types of questions.  Share the idea with other coworkers in advance to get feedback and a well-rounded view of how reasonable it sounds to others.

Below are four qualities that will strengthen your voice of influence:

Confidence – the poise and assurance with which you conduct the discussion, evidence of grace under pressure. Practice delivery in front of a mentor or record the conversation so that your body language matches the message you plan to convey.

Conviction – plating up new ideas involves risk.  Is it evident that you believe in your “gut” that this is the way to go and are able to articulate why?  Authenticity convinces others you are bullish about the solution and its resulting outcomes. The expressed conviction should be related to significant outcomes and should communicate openness in an alternative path to get there.

Curiosity – during the conversation, facilitate a discussion – not a presentation – where an answer is required after you finish.  The stakeholder may need time to think it over and their initial impression may not be where they eventually land.  The process may take time, several conversations and involve nuanced changes from your original idea.  Curiosity will remove defensiveness and increase your ability to influence.

Listening – tune into their optic, respond to their questions or statements to assure the stakeholder that you hear their view and respect their concerns.  Your vested interest in the idea should clearly be about helping the organization or senior management meet goals and strategic objectives.

Over the past 18 years, I have spoken with hundreds of leaders and managers who are frustrated with not being heard.  Typically we are examining competency strengths and weaknesses that give perspective to their struggle.  The coaching gave them hope and clear sight on improvements within their control. It is possible to raise your influence level with key stakeholders by understanding how you express ideas, learn to speak in their currency and be disciplined about building this skillset.

Take the long-view, every conversation can be an “ask” or advancement of solid ideas.  Are you willing to own the risk of expressing ideas that stand to make a difference in your workplace?