How to Be Heard — Tips for College Grads
Impress people that impress people
Photo : Jason Rosewell/Unsplash
Adjustment is hard. I’ll just break the news now. The move from University into work is pretty brutal. It’s like being hit round the face with a wet fish. It’s a shock, it doesn’t taste very nice and it takes a while for the smell to wear off. It’s hard for a number of different reasons. You’re whole world is about to get flipped upside down and you better hold on tight because otherwise you might fall off. I’m not quite sure who thought it was a good idea to give a bunch of eighteen year olds the freedom to go to a new city, study whatever they wanted with a timetable that barely covered the days. It was only ever going to end up in routine drinking, not turning up to lecturers and struggling to remember what course you are on. For me it really wasn’t that wild but when I look back now I do think:
Jesus Christ we had so much time to do whatever we wanted. We were so free.
This isn’t an article about how great University was and how sad we all now need to be because we’ve entered the ‘real’ world. Although we can take a moment to reminisce…
This is an article about how to be heard at work. Now this will sound foreign to you if you’re still in University. But speaking and being heard are two completely different things. You can speak till your blue in the face but if no-one is hearing you’ll get nowhere.
You maybe thinking “How to be heard? Well you just speak up”… no, no, this isn’t University anymore. The working world is slightly different. And when I say slightly, I mean it’s total and utter complete opposite in so many ways… but that’s for another article.
So the first thing to remember is that you are new. Being new comes with a host of benefits. You can ask the stupid questions, you get to meet a lots of new people, you get to experience the whole business fresh faced. But because of all those reasons, people may not take you seriously. I’m being polite, sorry I’ll cut to the chase… They won’t hear a word you say because you are at the bottom of the rung.
It’s harsh. And some people might disagree. But the way I see work is pretty Darwinian like. However we’ve swapped hunting food and mating with the best DNA for some very 21st century substitutes. The food and surival of our genes in the of corporate world? Status, perception and promotion. We trade in how each of us thinks of one another. It’s our survival.
It sounds quite crazy and trust me if anyone told me this about work before I started I would have said “Bullshit, work is all about the work you do”
Work is all about output and perception of the output. Perception is 9/10th of the rule. We are hungry for what people think of us. If you can get someone senior in the business on your side then you are perceived by your peers as doing well and that, in turn, is good for your status. Good status leads to my second point. We have passed the point of survival. We’re thriving. We want more and more. And what is the ultimate aim here? Well to climb the ladder of course. So the ultimate gain is the promotion.
More, more, more.
So with that all in mind. Well you’ll probably run away and quit tomorrow. But hopefully not because it’s just human nature to want more and in a big place, there’s not enough time or want to understand everything that is going on. If you want to be seen, you need to put yourself in the limelight.
So how are we heard in the corporate sea?
#1. Ask Questions
Perhaps the most sincere way to be heard is to ask questions. Questions can obviously range from the stupid to the thought-provoking. I would aim more towards the thought-provoking. Ask questions when you’ve got something to ask a question about. Don’t ask really trivial questions, that will have the opposite effect. Going into any encounter with some questions at the ready about whatever meeting you are going into is a good rule of thumb. If you are stuck some good ones are:
What’s the history of the project? (Often you’ll find some projects will have been stopped and started many times if the problem is quite a difficult one. It’s good to know the background)
Who are the people to get in contact with? (People are the wheels of any business, figuring out who is involved and in what capacity is always a good thing.)
What the overall goal? What does success look like? (This always gets missed and it’s normally because it’s seen as obvious and a given. But I often find that when this question is asked there is several people on different pages.)
What’s the expectation of me? What’s my role? (Now, we can often sit in meetings and come to think of it, life, with no idea why we are there and what people want from us. Getting clarity is key.)
By asking questions people will remember you have a voice, they will remember that you gave a shit enough to be inquisitive which shows you have some guts and some energy about you.
#2. Ask the stupid questions to point out if things are stupid
This is a particular favourite. Sometimes people, especially if they’ve been there a while, have a tendency to not make a great deal of sense. They either beat around the bush or they are skipping around something. It’s not often you will hear people say things like “you know what I’ve not thought of that” or “to be honest I don’t have a clue”. For some reason, people in business mode pretend like they know everything and have no intention of letting on they are clueless.
If you ask questions you will expose what people really know. And not in a malicious way, this isn’t about making people look stupid (although if they are a bit of a dick then it’s not entirely a bad thing). It’s about making sure everyone has clarity. Things like:
Can you just go back over that bit around ‘x’? (I.e. I have no idea what you just said because it makes no sense whatsoever)
You mentioned the point of the project was ‘x’ in the first part but in this bit the way I’ve just heard it is actually the project is meant to do ‘y’ could you just explain? (I.e. you’ve just contradicted yourself and I need clarity)
What’s the rationale behind doing it this way when ‘x’ way seems much simpler? (I.e. this is wasting everyone’s time)
It’s good to ask questions that everyone else is thinking. It’ll give the group a clear view of what’s being asked and also it’ll give you some kudos.
#3. Impress the people that impress people
I hate this but it’s true. There are certain people in any business that people look up to. Remember those popular kids in school? Well they exist in the workplace as well. Some are popular just because they are genuinely great at their jobs and they add real value, people look up to them because they are honestly an inspiration (brings a tear to my eye). Others, well, they are the complete opposite, they are just good at playing the game.
Whether it be because they are ‘playing the game’ or not, it’s important to remember that politics exists. Generally speaking you are way more likely to get traction and be heard if you can get that ‘popular’ person on side. People listen to people they respect and because you are new, it’s hard to gain respect. But a good way to get it, is by association. So impress the people that impress people.
You’ll notice who the person to impress is because their name will get brought up frequently. They have a presence and people notice them. Figure out who that is and go about impressing them. Be mindful though, you’ll need to stand your ground. Often to be impressed it will take some patience and some due diligence. Do your homework, pre-empt the questions and impress away.
#4. Bring your work to life
You are capable. If you are here and reading this you obviously care about what you are doing. By caring so much we can assume that you put out some decent stuff too. There is no shame in being proud of the work you do. It feels slightly foreign, especially if you’ve just come out of Uni. At school everyone submits their work and teachers review them all fairly and squarely. At work it’s not so fair. You need to fight to get eyes over your work.
If you get the chance to showcase your work tell people why you did what you did, who you spoke to… bring it to life. People listen to people not spreadsheets and powerpoints. If you can bring your work to life and make it dance people will listen.
#5. Be known for something
In a sea of people you need to have something that is uniquely yours. Be known for something positive and quirky. It could be the way you dress, the way you deliver presentations, your honesty, your passion. Whatever it is that bubbles up inside you… bring it to work.
People respect people that have something about them. Often people envy people who are them complete selves.
“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.” ― Coco Chanel
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