How is your maths? Let me show you a simple career equation….
Being heard means being seen.
Being seen means getting noticed.
Getting noticed means others know who you are and that you are good at what you do.
Getting meaty pieces of work, being named in succession plans, being considered for new leadership roles during restructuring and promotion rounds, being front of mind when looking for trusted opinions.
Because you are front of mind. Because you are known. Because you are known to be good at what you do.
This is a simple careers formula that not everyone is aware of. Women mainly.
It forms part of a basic career strategy based around the concept of working hard, producing good results and being noticed and rewarded for your sterling efforts.
Career strategy? I hear you say. What’s one of those?
Well it usually includes core career activities that involve visibility, self-promotion, personal branding, profile raising and game plans. These are concepts that to many men seem natural and fairly easy to incorporate into their to day working activities but for many women that I come across they seem completely alien. And if women are aware of these activities many of them don’t feel comfortable incorporating them.
So lets look at things from a different perspective and apply a different equation to see if we can work out why this concept can be such a mystery to a lot of women.
Being heard means people can see your mistakes and you’re vulnerable to criticism.
People seeing your mistakes means they will think you aren’t very good at your job.
If you’re not seen as being good at your job you won’t progress.
Staying quiet, getting your head down, working diligently, getting the results…and not actually progressing as you want to.
You see its a popular misconception.
The idea that if you just keep producing the churn, fulfilling the job description and continuing to produce excellent results that you will automatically rise and move through the career ladder with ease.
In reality it just isn’t like that I’m afraid. I can already hear the groans and sense of dread as many of you whisper to yourself, “So do I have to start speaking up then?”
Well short answer – yes. If you want to start having a say in what your career looks like, while doing fulfilling work that get’s recognised and you get rewarded for it.
But it doesn’t have to feel icky. It doesn’t have to feel like you’re playing the game.
You see you can play this “game” however you want to because you get to set the rules. You don’t have to take up squash, or golf and spend your extra hours attending networking events or hauling yourself off to the pub after hours. You can create visibility, build professional relationships and get your voice heard in a much more subtle but still powerful way. The key is to have some sort of strategy in place.
Urgh, another groan. Strategy. Who’s got time for that? It feels so…ruthless, so power hungry, so not me.
Of course not every woman feels like this, but I know I once did and I hear women’s stories on a daily basis and these type of feelings and beliefs often come up in some form or other in the course of speaking with them.
Often they are aware that they “should” be speaking up more, that they should be being more visible because they see others around them having great career success by doing it, yet when it comes to them, they either avoid it through reluctance or they forget to make space for it as they’re so snowed under, pounding away, doing their jobs to such a good degree.
So how do you do it, how do you raise your voice and start being seen?
Well it does take some extra effort. It’s not enough to just start shouting empty phrases in the team meeting and expect people to sit up and listen. Being heard isn’t the same as making noise. There has to be weight and authority in what you say, and you need to fully believe in what you’re saying whether other people agree or not.
“Ah, not so easy then” I hear you say.
Well it can be a challenge, especially if up until now you haven’t had much practice in exercising your vocal chords in wider forums at work. But like anything that you practice, it becomes easier the more you do it and the more you fully understand why it’s so important.
Because it doesn’t have to be all about you, if that makes it easier to swallow. Getting comfortable with raising your voice can have further reaching benefits not just to you but to your organisation and the wider world around you. You can contribute to better organisational performance and influence company culture if you get more confident about speaking up when you have something valid to say that’s worth listening to.
What does it entail?
There are two key elements here – quality of thought and delivery.
So its not a case of “It ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it” what you say matters AND how you say it for it to have true impact.
To get that outcome it usually involves a combination of foundational confidence building, practice at putting yourself out there and truly valuing your own opinion and worth enough to believe your voice has a right to be heard. So assuming you have that in place (often not an overnight job), here are a few pointers to get your message across loud, clear and comfortably:
1. Think ahead
Pick an appropriate situation where you know you’ll have a greater opportunity to be listened to. Team meetings, one to ones, company forums, training courses, can all be great places to practice and find and an audience already receptive to hearing your thoughts. Once you’ve identified the right forum get clear on why you want to speak out, what it’s purpose is to those listening and to you personally.
2. Be respectful, not passive.
You can’t rely on being asked to join in so you’ll need to create the space to be heard either in advance by adding in things such as agenda items, identifying who you need to have career conversations with, and knowing the core objectives you’re trying to get across. This can involve some prep work before opening your mouth, and remember that other people will have their opinions to which they may want to share so welcome those other voices in and be willing to take their views on board while getting yours across.
3. Frame your views in the positive
This applies even when you disagree with practices with the aim to be constructive and bring solutions to the table. If you’re wanting to feedback and improve things managers and organisations are often solution focused and it can feel like a drain on their time and energy if they feel they are being indirectly attacked or moaned at, especially if they have cleared space in their busy schedules to hear you out.
4. Plan in advance as much as possible
Make sure you have something to say and that you are clear why you’re saying it. We’re not just talking about merely getting your voice heard for the sake of it. This may mean setting the aside in your work calendar to get clear about your key objectives before you speak in a meeting or event, and think through any potential objections or concerns your views may raise so that you don’t feel ambushed should you be questioned on them.
5. Use others to amplify your voice
This can be a great tactic if you’re feeling under-confident initially and while you practice getting your voice out there. Find an ally in your team or organisation and ask them to bring you in at meetings or in discussions. And remember that you may also be helping them to highlight their own skills and thoughts in the process, if you can dovetail your voice with theirs.
6. Bring humility with you
By speaking up you will be opening yourself up to the possibility of criticism from others but keep in mind that you’re all working towards the same goal and if you approach the views of others with a collaborative mind set then criticism can be viewed as feedback. Instead of knocking you down can it can lead to productive conversations that provoke diversity of thought and ideas from others.
So as you can see raising your voice isn’t just a matter of turning the volume up and letting your voice out. There are certain techniques and approaches that will give you a greater chance of your voice truly being heard and as result your profile and visibility raised in the process.
If you would like some further information and insights on how to speak out more effectively in the workplace I have a great mini guide which you can download here by signing up to my newsletter. It gives more exercises on confidence building and specific examples of how you can speak more easily in meetings.
Without visibility as part of your career strategy, you may find that you get to a point in your career where moving up becomes a challenge or that your hard work isn’t enough for what the next level requires as soft skills, rapport building and company impact become additional requirements. So if you want to progress further and more easily in your career, it really is time to start putting your views out there and getting those vocal chords working in your favour.
Career Empowerment Coach
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