Making sure that others hear your best thoughts – more often

Andrea Schüller on April 28, 2015

Making sure that others hear your best thoughts – more

Have you ever asked yourself “Why can’t I be as confident as all the other guys who are listened to around here?”

Well, there is one good thing about this question: you acknowledge that confidence is contextual. Apart from that, I’d be happier to hear you ask yourself “How can I make sure that, around here, people hear my best thoughts more often”.

What’s better about that? It’s focused on making something happen in the future rather than lamenting the lack of a trait now and forever. It implies that it’s you who can do this. It’s specific re the outcome you want and, finally, it’s not absolute. ‘More often’ is achievable.

But I’m jumping ahead.

What might be behind this heart-felt sigh? How do others see you?

Do you frequently puzzle people? Do they experience you as ‘the quiet one’ in meetings, who will share his sometimes less than coherent thoughts when put on the spot, rambling on?

Do they then rub their eyes when they see you being in charge and impactful when giving a presentation about your specialist area? A presentation that’s dripping with insight and presented with both oomph and apparent ease?

Do they wonder seeing you tong-tied and aloof with strangers and bubbly, warm and witty with people you’ve worked with for a long time?

Chances are you’re less of an enigma than a lot of people think. You just happen to be introverted.

Is introversion a weakness to overcome? Emphatically not.

Did your school reports say you were all sorts of good things ‘but’ rather quiet? There is no ‘but’ to this. In fact: having the capacity to be quiet is a wonderful quality (don’t just take my word for this, but look for instance at Susan Cain’s terrific book Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, 2012).

Only, you being quieter than others is an easy thing to spot. Hence, 9 out of 10 feedback givers at work, with your best interests at heart, will recommend that you ‘join the discussion earlier and tell us more of what you think’. Yeah, thanks. News indeed. Does that mean that they will give you more space and time to think in the next meeting? Thought not.

Developing useful crutches will only get you so far …

And here comes the crux: when you don’t have time to prepare, when you need to make sense of what you’re thinking in the midst of other people talking, you’re not at your best. You know that.

So, when it matters, you will sometimes follow up with a written note, stating coherently and succinctly what you are thinking and had tried to say. You will take pains to prepare for meetings, trying to pre-empt what will be discussed, so that you won’t be caught ‘cold’.

Still, with all these crutches, and I’m sure you’ve developed a few of your own, you feel like a fish out of water. Deprived of the conditions that allow you to be at your best: time, expertise, silence, the comfort of belonging, the kind of respect you gain over time.

What are you to do? Fake it ‘till you make it?

Faking confidence you don’t feel is tricky. Few people can carry it off.

Yet you could go on a truffle hunt for those beautiful exceptions from the rule. There is no harm in looking back at the various meetings, heated discussions, conference calls, where you did share your best thoughts and were listened to against all odds. What allowed you to be impactful? What was it in you, in the stance you took and in the way you put things that got others to take note in the right way?

Create the right conditions for you!

And (!): If the conditions don’t work, change them! If confidence is contextual, who says you have to accept that most situations at work are geared towards providing the circumstances for extroverts to excel?

What stops you from saying “This is a fascinating question that I’d like to truly think about. By the sounds of it, we’ve got three options here …, right? What, if anything, are we missing? … OK. If that’s the case, what is most important to us, regarding the outcome?”
Yes, you’re on to me. I’m advising you to take the pressure off yourself. You don’t have to come up with the perfect answer straight away. You can ask questions instead. Hearing the answers will not only improve the quality of the discussion overall, but the quality of what you say – next.

Create the right conditions for everybody

If you’re a team leader however, you can do more. You can do what Nancy Kline, creator of the Thinking Environment® (Time to think – Listening to Ignite the Human Mind, 1999) advocates, and allow the participants of your meetings to truly think. Write up the key question on a flipchart and give 2-3 minutes for people to think – individually, or in pairs. You’ll be amazed, just how much better the thinking is, even after such a short time of consideration, especially if it’s the right kind of question.

Ensure better thinking – all round

Remember: just because we talk, we don’t necessarily make sense. Just because we discuss animatedly, we don’t solve problems. Just because we have an opinion straight away, doesn’t mean it’s the best one we can come up with.

What do you think? How can you make sure that people hear your best thoughts more often?

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Andrea