Can You Hear Me? … Can You Hear Me Now??
How do we get our own voice or point heard in a room that’s full of talking people or even a single person who isn’t interested in hearing our viewpoint at all? It’s a challenge that many of us grapple with at work, home, or out in a crowd.
Maybe you’ve recently experienced this with your boss, direct report, significant other, or child? If so, you’re not alone. I hear about these stories every day, and it can be especially challenging for introverts, females or young professionals in certain organizations, as well as newcomers to a social circle or those who experience different forms of anxiety.
Our natural inclination may be to wait for a break in the dialog, jump in, make that valid point … and then … nothing happens. It’s like we weren’t even heard. (I’ll readily admit, as an attorney, a senior executive, an advisor, and a mom, I’ve made this mistake too many times. I still make it.) It can be frustrating and sometimes even a little embarrassing.
Is something wrong with us? Is it our timing? Our lack of influence? No. The cause is often this simple:
It is likely that no one was ready or “primed” to hear our voice in the first instance. When we overcome this threshold situation, our voice is far more likely to be heard and actually considered.
OUR UNIVERSAL CHALLENGE
So how do we get folks to slow down long enough to actually consider our voice, rather than simply volleying back a dismissive reply or ignoring us completely?
Getting people to slow down, to meaningfully connect with one another, and to create space to invite new or additional voices into the discussion is tough. It’s especially challenging when we’re all conditioned to “think fast”. As a result, even the wisest or most creative points can easily be overlooked or just plain lost in the cadence of fast-paced or lop-sided discussion.
HOW TO OVERCOME & BE HEARD?
Here’s a tool that everyone has at their disposal but few use. Questions.
Questions are often the strongest and most effective method for (subliminally) asking the other side to slowwwww down and consider another viewpoint.
WHY ASKING QUESTIONS WORKS AND HELPS US TO BE HEARD
First, it is human nature. We typically want to be “invited” rather than “told” what to do, how to think, or what to conclude. Asking others if they would be open to considering x, y, z, gives that person a couple of important cues. It tells them they matter. It engages and invites them in. And, it gives them space to consider and thoughtfully reply to the additional substance that you have injected into the form of your question.
Second, our brains function like computer processors. Consequently, our data-process-oriented brains pick-up on invitational cues to consider and process information from a novel perspective. And, our brains are invited to do so differently than simply taking in and spitting out data that the brain would otherwise reject. Research confirms this. Our brains and intellect have a tendency to skip over and discriminate against information that we outright reject given our natural cognitive biases. Questions basically log-jam (to our benefit) robotic, computer-processing.
Third, the fact of the matter is, sometimes we do enter environments that trigger real, unavoidable anxiety and undermine our confidence. For example, we may be new to the table, position, organization, or the social setting. In these types of situations, we may not yet have enough experience or history to know the various personalities surrounding us, their viewpoints, or how our voice may be received. Without a doubt, this is an uncomfortable situation for many (including the most seasoned of C-Suite personnel).
It’s natural for the newcomer or introvert to inherently appreciate the unknown risks of voicing what may be a lone-wolf opinion. In these instances, it may be natural to question our ability to add value to a larger discussion. Or, we may lack confidence in our own knowledge-base given others’ particular expertise. Here again lies the beauty and safe harbor of asking a neutral question, such as: “This is a really interesting issue. Have we considered looking at this from the angle of x,y, z as well?” Another subtle entry question could be, “I appreciate the strengths of x, y, z. That makes a lot of sense. What might be some potential risks or unanticipated outcomes?”
Bottom line, transition questions are often neutral, needed, and therefore appreciated. I’ve had the good fortune to sit with many intelligent, highly accomplished and well-respected people. One thing I’ve noticed about them is this: They ask many, simple, straightforward questions. These questions are often what others are privately contemplating. The irony is, nearly everyone is appreciative of the deeper, slower, and more methodical dive which results in clear(er) conclusions and supporting rationale.
The questioner-facilitator is often considered an unsung, respected hero.
We can actually lead by asking questions and facilitating discussion. When we do, we may just find ourselves gaining wider and deeper influence – especially over the long haul. This approach is often far more comfortable and effective for introverts who don’t necessarily relish speaking in crowds and also for those who may naturally be conflict-avoiders.
What do you think? Is it worth a try? For those of you who are comfortable with asking questions, how have you used this tool to your advantage, and what’s your advice for us? We all love tips and hacks.