How To Make Sure You’re Heard At Work

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

Being Heard in a Challenging Exchange
In an Harvard Business Review paper entitled How To Make Sure You’re Heard In a Difficult Conversation, Amy Gallo suggests we focus on what matters to us and express things that way.

It’s easy to point fingers and lay blame at others’ feet.  The trouble is, no-one likes to be at the receiving end of criticism, so if they think that you’re criticising them, they won’t be in listening mode.  If you can, however, voice what niggles you about the situation, people will be much more inclined to hear and even take responsibility for their action.  So, instead of saying ‘Since I’ve been here, you’ve promoted only white men’ try saying ‘I feel like I’m being passed up for promotion for my colleagues who appear to be doing exactly the same as I do’.

As part of any difficult exchange, it’s important to maintain one’s composure and focus on getting to a constructive solution.  So, once you’ve identified what you want out of the situation, think about what words will take you off-track and what kind of communication will convey the opposite of what you want to achieve.  Is your body language betraying your true feelings about what you hear and hence steering you off course?  Is the pitch of your voice giving away heightened emotions that would not be conducive to the desired outcome?

Keeping your eye on the prize makes it easier to ensure you use the right words and gestures.  Using phrases that gently swipe away any derailing attempts will make it easier to stay on course.  Gallo suggests using phrases like these to avoid escalation:

  • “You may be right, but I’d like to understand more.”
  • “I have a completely different perspective, but clearly you think this is unfair, so how can we fix this?”
  • “I’m not sure how this connects to what we’ve been talking about. Can you help me make the connection?”
  • “I’d like to give my reaction to what you’ve said so far, and see what you think.”
  • “This may be more my perception than yours, but when you said ‘X,’ I felt . . .”
  • “Is there anything I can say or do that might convince you to consider other options here?”

Being Heard in a Meeting
One thing we often do, when it’s our time to present ideas or provide an update, is talk too quickly. We sometimes feel the need to fill every space we get with words. Yet, if you take a look around and observe how people with influence speak, you will probably notice that they speak slowly. And clearly. They pause a lot, giving their audience a chance to catch up with their words.

Speaking without haste doesn’t just give people the chance to properly understand what you’re saying, it also gives the speaker an air of confidence and gravitas. It makes the content of what is being said more persuasive.

We also tend to speed up when we’re nervous, so if we intentionally slow ourselves down, we will come across more confidently – and that will impact how what we say is heard.

Another thing we tend to do, particularly when slightly nervous, is to either use no physical gestures or exaggerate them. Gestures are important as they emphasize our points for us quite neatly – but only if they’re consistent with what we’re saying. They’re particularly useful when we finish one point and go onto another, if we transition through a ‘neutral’ state when our body is quite still and at ease, before moving on to the next point that might introduce more gestures.

Finally, it’s helpful to give the listeners a structure, so they know exactly where they are at all times.

  • Start by introducing the topic. (I’m going to talk you through our launch of an internal comms campaign to introduce our new values.)
  • Tell them what you’ll be discussing. (I’ll be covering 3 different ways in which we plan to do this: First, …)
  • When you’ve finished the first point, take a short pause, then conclude before moving to the next point.  (So this is point 1. The second way is….).
  • Once you’ve covered everything you wanted to say, summarise. (So, to summarise, we will be launching in 3 ways, 1…2… and 3…).
  • Now signal that you’ve finished and open it up to whatever should come next. (I’m happy to take any questions, comments or observations.)

In short, bearing in mind how what we’re saying is being heard will vastly improve our chance of being listened to.

Inclusive Progression: How Empathy Can Help

By Inge Woudstra

Who makes up the senior team in your organisation?

Many organisations have noticed that the homogeneity of their people becomes particularly stark in more senior roles. The existence of a Gender Pay Gap across many sectors in the UK is a clear example of this lack of diversity.

When working with our clients on addressing this situation, we come across the common perception that they are working within a truly meritocratic system: You do your job well, receive a positive performance evaluation and then you are asked to take on a more senior role or larger project.

Yet in focus groups, another picture emerges. Some people recognise the process as described. Many, however, tell us that progression seems completely subjective. They tell us that, in order to progress in their organisation, it’s important to be visible, know the right people and be the ‘right sort of person’. Not only do these factors tend to be more decisive than performance, they also skew perception of what good performance entails.

So how can we solve this and ensure that it’s not just the dominant group – the group that tends to be better connected and informed – that is the beneficiary of this ‘meritocracy’?

How do we make the system more equitable by giving everyone a fairer chance of advancement?

How Empathy can help make progression more equitable

Let’s apply the first of our 8 Inclusive Behaviours℠ – Empathy – to help with the answer.

To do this, we must put ourselves in the shoes of those who find it harder to be visible, bond with the ‘right’ people or be ‘the right sort of person’.  We must ask ourselves: what can we do to make it easier for them to progress without the need to be ‘part of the club’?

Here are 5 ideas that have worked for a number of our clients:

  1. Make the progression process more transparent.

Many employees report that they don’t know exactly what it takes to progress in their organisation and that the process is opaque at best! Empathetic managers will realise that this can be discouraging and daunting for team members who would like to progress but don’t know how. In this case, we recommended companies set out clearly what experience, skills and capabilities are required to progress. One example of this would be to design career progression maps that show various pathways to more senior roles. Another example is to list the requisite capabilities, skills and experiences required for the various levels of seniority.  In this way, every employee knows what experience and skills they need to amass and demonstrate in order to progress.

  1. Find ways to allocate work more equitably.

This is especially important for projects that offer greater visibility or vital experience. For instance, consider ways that high profile projects can be rotated so everyone has a chance to work on them. The aim is to encourage everyone to step up, whilst understanding that not everyone is comfortable putting themselves forward. When that happens, the more coveted projects are no longer only available to those who have asked for them.

  1. Publish job roles widely.

When job roles are visible to all, the chance to apply is there for everyone. It becomes less important if someone is tipped off about a job opening and gives equal opportunity to those who don’t know ‘the right people’.

  1. Formalise (parts of) the progression process.

When the process is more formal, it’s less subjective, meaning that the contribution of those who are less visible will be more easily seen. For instance, consider publishing clear performance criteria that are measured objectively and communicated widely. Ideally use ways to assess skills that do not rely on interviews alone. For example, use role plays with real life scenarios or ask the candidate to do a particular task that is required for the role, such as a client presentation, working out a financial business case or designing an image for a computer game. Another example of formalising the progression process would be to set up a formal sponsorship system where senior leaders get actively involved in the progression of a minority staff member.

  1. Reduce the risk of failing in the next role.

People from underrepresented groups might be particularly reluctant to take a chance on a more senior role in case they don’t succeed in it. Organisations that are empathetic to this found that it helps to reduce the risk of a new step. One such company, for example, offers shadowing opportunities ahead of progression. Another offers a six-month trial period in a new role, after which the person can choose to return to their previous role and salary.

Empathy Training and Coaching

We recommend that you accompany these process changes with training for managers. Process changes are susceptible to sabotage if there isn’t a genuine understanding of the reasons for the change, and empathy for those that will benefit from it, but this can all be addressed with training. Once the premise is accepted and the changes adhered to, they help reinforce more empathetic, inclusive behaviour by managers and colleagues.

If you think your organisation’s progression process is not as inclusive as it should be, why not schedule a 30 minute call to talk to Inge about it?

Our TABLE Has Five Legs

We’re living in exceptional times. Our world was already changing at a pace that was difficult to maintain, but since the onset of Covid19, traditional thinking and working has been uprooted and deposited as a new challenge. But this also presents us with an opportunity: an opportunity to test our resolve, our systems and processes. It is also a chance to discard convention that is inconsistent with the future direction of society’s travel and calibrate organisational culture with purpose.

Our new destination is to make companies more agile, reactive to societal changes, with a beacon of leadership that proposes a more inclusive future for all stakeholders.

I’m talking about evolving our organisations into TABLE organisations, reshaping relationships with customers, staff and other stakeholders.

A TABLE is one that exhibits the following characteristics: T – THINKING with reflection A – ACTING with purpose B – BEHAVING inclusively L – LOOKING diverse E – EXPRESSING EMOTION

T=Thinking With Reflection

A TABLE organisation is one that allows time for thinking and reflection. It has a culture that welcomes a coaching-style approach to leadership and encourages everyone involved to take individual responsibility for their actions. At the same time, it is led with the benefit of experience and reflection, as well as an appetite for thinking and learning. The Black Lives Matter movement, for instance, has given us an excellent opportunity to pause, reflect and institute impactful changes that address the persisting challenges around racism.

A=Acting with Purpose

In the words of Simon Sinek, a TABLE organisation starts with “why”. The “why” is the purpose.

A purpose that is specific to the particular organisation can act as a litmus test for all organisational activity, constantly asking the question: is this consistent with our purpose or are we straying away from it?

During lockdown, the overriding purpose of most companies has been to ensure both staff and customers are coping well, are connected to each other and are safe. With such a narrow focus and purpose, many leaders were surprised at how quickly they could set up channels of communication, how much empathy colleagues and bosses displayed, how dedicated and motivated everyone was and, in the end, how well everyone coped.

An organisation that unites behind a clear and stated purpose is better equipped to motivate and pull in the same direction. And that became crystal clear during the lockdown.

B=Behaving Inclusively

Most of us think of ourselves as being inclusive. And for the most part we are, so long as it doesn’t require much effort.  We encourage and support, we extend rules and policies and we welcome a few token individuals that make our circle more diverse.

But rarely are these efforts enough.

When I talk about “behaving inclusively”, I mean going the extra mile to understand what we don’t know or see and then another mile to develop new habits that allow us to better understand and cater to people from vastly different backgrounds.

L= Looking Diverse

Diversity is the reward for inclusion. An inclusive culture is able to attract, retain and promote a diverse population.

Diversity increases the level of creativity and innovation, begets new ideas and offers previously unnoticed experiences and opinions. It is the gateway to a more complete set of data.

The more diverse and inclusive an organisation, the more information it has to utilise for the fulfilment of its purpose. Lack of diversity at the top therefore, limits what we can achieve.

E= Expressing Emotion

An organisation that is in touch with its feelings, that is unafraid of expressing decisions and motivations in terms of emotions will be better equipped to attract the talent of tomorrow. Emotional and psychological safety is a large part of today’s and tomorrow’s well-oiled, well-functioning organisation. Creating and demonstrating safe space conversations that allow colleagues to express how they feel are valuable tools for leaders who want to attract bright talent. An organisation that speaks from the heart and the mind will be better equipped to deliver on its purpose for more of its stakeholders.

Does your organisation have 5 legs?

To find out which of the 5 legs of your TABLE organisation are more stable and which require more support, get in touch with me.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the world… Let’s Steer a Course Towards Accelerating Gender Parity

You’ve seen these figures before: 100 years to close the overall gender gap, 257 to close the economic gender gap. It’s beyond our lifetime and too long to wait. What can be done to accelerate the closing of these gaps – or rather, chasms – by us, our companies and our governments?

Many countries, including the UK, are well placed to reap the benefits of their investment in female education and harness the gender balance opportunities made possible by the changing nature of work. So far, they – and we – have failed to do so.

But if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we can do things differently! We can work from home without disrupting the flow of business, we can reverse the signs of environmental damage to our planet, we can slow down, look up and ‘smell the roses’ once in a while. And, yes, we can accelerate the closing of these unspeakable gaps.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has already launched a programme with a number of countries to do just that. Suitably named the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator, the programme is designed to pull together global and national public and private action that narrows these gaps. To date, the WEF has managed to secure commitment from nine governments around the world to join the Accelerator programme (its goal is 15 by the end of this year). Only one of the nine is a G20 country – and it is not the UK.

My point is that the tools and solutions to help accelerate the closing of these gaps are available to us, but for some reason, we are not taking the necessary steps to implement them – either on a national or more local front.

One of my worries is that the lessons we have and are continuing to learn from the pandemic will not be captured by our society. I worry that we will all return to work and life in the same way we did before Covid-19. This would be a lost opportunity; to reset our values, our priorities and our trajectories and to look at our lives from a different perspective and to realise that they could be different.

In April, I wrote about the fact that the new way in which we have started to interact with each other as a result of having to work and live from/at home has made us more empathetic, more accepting and more kind. We have reverted to what it means to be human and have injected that humanity into our work. We have become more tolerant of the daily disruptions in our work from children and pets; our “offices” show glimpses of who we are as people; we’re reconnecting with nature and with ourselves – our emotions and philosophies – as much as with distant friends and family. In other words, we’re bringing more of ourselves to work and are accepting of who that is, of us as well as our colleagues. Our managers are learning to lead with humour and be more comfortable with being less serious all the time. We care about the emotional and physical state of our colleagues and bend over backwards to help them cope.

I classify all this as inclusive behaviours. And, while we may feel that it’s not within our powers (query as to whether this is true) to persuade our CEOs and MPs to join the WEF’s commitment to accelerate the closing of gender parity gaps, what we most certainly can do is preserve how we interact with and treat each other when we go back to our desks in the office, and continue to nurture those inclusive behaviours that we have started to develop.

Inclusion leads to greater appreciation of diversity which makes programmes like the WEF’s Closing the Gender Parity Accelerators feasible and impactful.

 

Learn more about the WEF Accelerator programme and how your company can get involved.

Watch a short WEF video on the gender parity gap.

Want to learn more about Psychological Safety?

If you’ve heard the term but would like to know more,

join our LIVE Q&A on 9th December.

BOOK YOUR FREE SPACE HERE