You are in a staff meeting with your boss. She details a possible situation that might occur and is asking for ways to address it. You have an idea that you think might work. Your hand quickly goes up and you speak forcefully. Two of your colleagues begin shaking their heads “no.”
As soon as you finish, the negative responses start. There are some things you hadn’t thought about—a couple of weaknesses in your plan, but you still feel the need to defend your idea. The discussion goes on for some time. As the end of the meeting draws near, a colleague who has been fairly silent speaks. He lays out an expanded and rather elegant version of your original idea which incorporates many of the enhancements suggested by your teammates. All of a sudden there is general agreement, and your boss congratulates your colleague for the (your) great idea.
What happened here? You may have been too eager. Your idea was a good one, but you probably presented it too early — before you heard the comments of colleagues and before you had time to revise it as needed. Most importantly, you spoke before you listened.
The following are some guidelines for getting your next good idea heard and accepted:
•Take your time to fully understand the situation or request. Hold back offering a solution until you have heard the views of others.
•Participate in the overall general discussion, and speak early so you are part of the exchange, but don’t rush to a solution. Ask questions and listen carefully to the responses.
•Try to be open-minded and objective. Don’t broadcast what you are thinking by shaking your head “yes” or “no.” Remember the goal is to listen, not to evaluate or disparage.
•Do not appear competitive or defensive. If you and your co-workers are a good team, members should be able to offer ideas without feeling attacked or ridiculed.
•If someone else presents an idea similar to yours, support and build on it. Don’t try to capture the credit. It sounds unprofessional to make comments such as, “That’s a great idea Bob. In fact, it’s the same one I mentioned to you earlier.” Such sarcasm or humor frequently falls flat.
•Once the discussion slows down, decide if the time is now right to present your plan or solution. Does your original idea still have merit. Can you incorporate the input and address the concerns you heard?
•Similar to a sporting event, the final hit or goal or basket often gets the most attention. The same may be true with the last suggestion at a meeting, since it probably is based on the joint input of others. Being the last presenter is often advantageous.
•As your career progresses, make it a habit to watch how people you admire effectively participate in discussions. Especially note the language they use. It rarely will be dismissive or belittling. Also, watch when they speak. Timing is important.
Most of us work in competitive environments. Most of us want to impress our bosses and be recognized for our skills, hard work, and good ideas. Too often, what is lacking is our ability or willingness to listen and learn from our colleagues. There is an old saying, “Think before you speak.” When it comes to business, perhaps it should say, “Listen before you speak.”