What does it take to be heard?
When it comes to the workplace, relationships, or pretty much any aspect of life, being heard is important to get things done and to feel like you are valued.
In an office, it can build morale and help incubate brilliant ideas – two essentials for a healthy environment. And in other parts of life, being heard builds trust, helps develop deep bonds, and makes us feel connected.
It’s not always an easy mission, though. You may be battling a work culture where other people and louder voices are prioritized. Or you may feel that you aren’t able to adequately state your feelings to friends or partners.
In any scenario, finding your voice and speaking up can be challenging, especially when you want to make a difference or have an idea to share.
Whatever situation you find yourself in, there are ways you can overcome, speak up, and ultimately make a difference by learning how to be heard. Organizations or groups that make it a priority to hear others are generally healthier, keep employees longer, and make greater progress. It's worth it for everyone.
So how do you find your voice, particularly when it’s hard to do? Here are a few ways you can make sure you’re not only participating, but being seen and heard in a sea of noise.
Like most things in life, being heard requires some work. If it were as easy as just saying what’s on your mind, you probably would have already done it by now!
To really hone this skill — not only speak up, but do it in a way that catches peoples’ attention — will take practice. After all, eloquence is not something that comes easily to all of us.
“Find words that work for you, have them ready, and watch as you automatically walk into rooms feeling more confident that you can handle anything coming your way,” advises UN negotiator and best-selling author Alexandra Carter.
Whether it’s an idea at a pitch meeting, speaking with a manager, or communicating with a client, take some time to collect your thoughts before it's time for you to speak. Write them out. This will help you organize what you want to say so that you can lock it into your mind and say it better in the moment.
Sometimes people aren’t heard because of a hectic or toxic work environment, but sometimes it’s just a lack of situation-appropriate communication skills. If you can succinctly say what you want to say in a way that the people around you can understand it, you’ll be a lot better off.
If you have a trusted colleague at work, you may also want to consult them before speaking with a manager or a client. They can help you gauge your language and delivery because they know the culture.
Think about the ways you don’t feel heard or seen by the people around you. There are probably some patterns that you can learn from.
What are the ways that you can make communication a priority? Maybe it’s setting a weekly check-in meeting with a manager so that you can ask questions. It might also be challenging yourself to voice a new idea every week.
Whatever it is that you can do to meet the people around you, make sure you keep it up. One or two check-in meetings won’t show that you’re serious. The same goes for input. You may feel like you don’t have a voice, but consistently offering ideas shows that you are dedicated and take the work seriously.
Say it with confidence
Have you ever heard that it’s not what you say, but how you say it? There is definitely some truth to that age-old advice, especially when it comes to wanting to be heard.
“Communication isn’t as simple as saying what you mean. How you say what you mean is crucial, and differs from one person to the next, because using language is learned social behavior: How we talk and listen are deeply influenced by cultural experience,” writes professor of linguistics Deborah Tannen. “Although we might think that our ways of saying what we mean are natural, we can run into trouble if we interpret and evaluate others as if they necessarily felt the same way we’d feel if we spoke the way they did.”
Finding confidence in yourself, especially in a work setting, can be intimidating, but it will pay off. If you want others to believe in you, you have to believe in yourself. After a while, you’ll find that people not only listen to you, they will seek you out.
There’s a lot to be said about being a good listener, especially in a professional setting. Done in the right way, listening can get you far, and it can get you heard. When you’re a good listener, you start to pick up on lots of cues that will help you get ahead, like what language perks up ears around the office or who needs help with an idea or task. Becoming intuitive about your environment will help you find a way to speak up.
Being a good listener means really comprehending what another person is telling you. The power of being a good listener is that it helps others feel like they’re being heard, and it can be a sort of domino effect. Somebody is more likely to listen to you if they feel that the behavior is reciprocated.
There are lots of ways you can be a good listener, but most importantly, you should give a person your full attention. Checking your phone or looking around the room can signal that you’re distracted and they’re probably not being heard.
Asking questions is another great way to let somebody know you’re listening to them. Dive a little bit deeper into the conversation by asking questions about details, how they handled a situation or why they feel a certain way.
Sometimes being heard only requires one other person. You don’t need the entire chain of command to listen to your concern or idea - you probably just need one person to hear you in order to get things going.
Building relationships will help you feel connected to the organization and the work. Plus, having somebody to lean on is a great idea when you’re feeling stuck. Instead of feeling lost, you know you will have people you can turn to for advice, a nudge or just somebody who can relate.