Monday, December 10, 2007

Getting People to Listen to You

Sometimes it can be difficult to really make yourself heard at work. You give suggestions, but they seem to be ignored. You offer opinions in a meeting, but no one really pays attention. You can never get more than a minute of the boss’s time.

Perhaps the problem is not what you’re saying, but how and when you’re saying it.

Let’s say that you’re on the agenda of the next office meeting to give a brief rundown of a project you’ve been working on for several months. You’ve been scheduled as the next to the last item, right after a speech on parking lot safety tips and just before a note about employee benefit enrollment deadlines.

Chances are good that people will not be alert and listening by this point. In fact, they’ve probably started using their Blackberries to respond to e-mails, or text messaging their friends to say that they’re bored spitless in a meeting and can’t wait to escape.

In this case, you should work hard to have your position on the agenda changed before the meeting. Because no matter how interesting your project is, people are probably not going to be in the mood to be receptive and excited about it, simply because they’re tired and fed up and bored. Instead, by getting an earlier time slot, you have a better chance of getting others to listen to you.

Another way to get others to pay more attention to what you’re saying is by joining forces with an already popular person or group. For example, if someone in your office has just gotten major funding for a project, is there a way you can tie your work into that? By piggybacking your efforts onto something that is already well-positioned, you increase your chances of being heard.

Some other ways to get yourself on the radar with others:

· Schedule face time. The boss may be busy, but tell his or her executive assistant you need some one-on-one time with the boss and ask to be put on the boss’s schedule. It helps enormously if you’re polite, friendly and professional with the assistant so that you can get a time slot when the boss won’t be rushed or stressed. Always try to avoid Monday mornings or Friday afternoons, when the boss may be the most distracted.

· Being at the right place at the right time. If an important client or potential customer attends a certain gym, arrange to “run into” them. “Oh, I’m glad I ran into you. I’ve been meaning to give you an update of my project. I’m starting to wind it up, so can I call you this week?” This make it sounds like you’re doing a nice thing, and doesn’t sound needy or pushy.

· Avoiding interruptions. While some people like to schedule breakfast, lunch or dinner meetings, the atmosphere makes it difficult for someone to concentrate on what you’re saying. The serving of the meal, the chatter of nearby customers and other interruptions make it tough to keep the focus on your message. It’s better to try and have a meeting set for a private location where you won’t have distractions.

· Being prepared. Whether you’re speaking to two people or 200, if you want people to listen to you, you must do your homework. Be armed with interesting facts and work on using inflection in your voice as well as some hand gestures. Maintain eye contact. Watch how key players seem to gain the attention of others, and learn from it.

· Listen. The key to communicating well with others is learning to listen so that you can respond appropriately to questions and react to changes in the conversation. People will listen to you when they know you are listening to them.


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