Visit any organisation and you’ll find a mix of different kinds of people: a plethora of personalities. It’s what makes for great ideas, creativity and ultimately, success. But it’s also what can lead to a difficult working environment for some personality types.
Perhaps you’re struggling with the feeling that you’re being ignored, overlooked, or simply not valued as a member of the team. This may stem from a lack of confidence, or simply because a few people consistently dominate the group dynamic. Whatever the reason, if you’re struggling, it can make for an uncomfortable and unfulfilling work life and a cycle that can be difficult to break.
Is being ignored at work an introvert thing?
It’s unsurprising that introverts, who prefer quieter environments and are more inward-looking, suffer the most with this feeling of being ignored at work. In fact, Susan Cain talks about this in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. In it, she suggests that “at least a third of us are on the introverted side” but that “extroverts have taken over” and that “society misunderstands and undervalues introverts.”
This is a shame. Having worked with many introverts, we know that they can have powerful and coveted leadership qualities. Introverts are often stunningly creative, deeply analytical and adored by many – think of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, or Steven Spielberg to name a few. However, many have barriers that stop them from showing off their abilities, and find these obstacles difficult to overcome.
Being ignored at work isn’t only an introvert issue either. Extroverts, who tend to get energy from talking to others, can experience it too. But they may be ignored for different reasons. Extroverts often process the world by expressing themselves, and can fall into the trap of speaking too fast, gabbling and not considering their message before they try to share it. Because of this, others may choose to tune out rather than trying to decipher the message, deeming it too hard to work out the ‘point’ of what they are saying.
So, how can you convince others you’re worth their attention?
If you feel that you’re sometimes overlooked or forgotten about at work, help is at hand. There are several simple strategies you can use to help you take your place at the table with confidence. Put these into practice when communicating at work, and other members of your team will soon begin to sit up and take notice of you.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes saying less can make your message more impactful. Whether you’re an extrovert who tends to waffle, or an introvert who gabbles when nervous, this is an important one to keep in mind. The beauty of brevity is that less is almost always more.
In a meeting, never speak for the sake of speaking or just to fill a natural silence. Make sure you make and deliver your points carefully, like you’re giving a gift to your audience.
No matter whether you’re in a one-to-one or group situation, build yourself a reputation for only saying things that are of value. You don’t need to be the loudest voice in the room to have the best input. Prepare your points for the meeting in advance, back them up with evidence and offer solutions or actions. Think about it, wouldn’t you rather meetings took less time and everyone only said what needed to be said?
Engage your listeners by creating a vivid vocal landscape
Consider for a moment the difference between a flat, uninteresting, muddy view to the horizon compared with beautiful undulating green hills dotted with interesting trees and sparkling rivers. Then try to reflect that difference in your speech. When we create a vivid vocal landscape, we’re more likely to sound engaging, and people are more likely to sit up and notice.
Avoid speaking in a monotone and slow down important points for emphasis. Think about leaning in to highlight the beauty of the ‘landscape’ you’re creating in people’s minds and add pauses to allow time for your words to settle.
In our coaching sessions, we help clients add colour, dimension and texture by choosing carefully the words they use and the stories they tell. Even the most mundane or sensible ideas can sound riveting when delivered in an interesting way.
Use your voice to instil confidence
Vocal gravity - using your voice to direct listeners - is another important part of ensuring people take you seriously. It’s a way of emphasising the important points you’re making and adding gravitas to your message. It has a very welcome effect on the subconscious brain of your audience by adding weight to what you’re saying.
It will take some practice, but the key thing is that you add a downward inflection at the end of each idea, helping it to ‘land’ as you place it into your listener’s mind. Finishing with an upward inflection, sometimes called ‘upspeak’, can make you sound like you’re asking a question rather than making a statement. Unfortunately, this habit can undermine us by making our idea come across as unfinished or simply that you’re unsure of yourself. Upspeak can cause the point you are making drift up, up and away from your listeners’ minds like a helium balloon.
Instead, visualise reaching down to place the idea in your listener’s hand. This will help prompt you to downward inflect at the end of a point, giving your voice that lovely, confident gravitas.
Use your body to your advantage
The first three points have focussed on what you say and how you say it. Becoming valued is about more than just your voice; you need to involve your body too.
If gestures don’t come naturally to you, don’t force them, but make sure you’re not wooden either. Simple movements such as opening out your palms or pointing to something on a PowerPoint can be a great starting point.
Aim to reduce tension by pulling your shoulders back and down to send signals to your body and brain that you are relaxed and confident. And smile, as long as it’s appropriate for the subject matter. As they say, ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ – it’s amazing how easily you can trick your body into feeling calmer. Read our post on power poses.
And don’t forget eye contact. It can be a real differentiator when it comes to helping your audience to understand your most salient points – and makes you harder to ignore.
Believe in your own value
This can be a really tricky one, particularly if you tend to suffer from imposter syndrome. But before you enter the room, give yourself a pep talk. You are there because you’ve been invited to be there. Everyone in that room has the right to speak and you deserve airtime as much as the next person. Knowing you have that right is a great first step to becoming difficult to ignore.
Keep your personal values front and centre – this may sound like it’s only relevant if you’re a business owner making a pitch. It’s not. It’s about you as a person. How do you want to come across to others? What’s your desired reputation? How can you ensure that you stay true to your values when interacting with others?
When you know what you have to offer and how you can offer it, you will effuse an energy that people come to trust, respect and rely upon.
Come up with a strategy for dealing with things you’re worried about and banish negative internal talk. For example, if you lose your train of thought, simply take a few deep breaths, put those shoulders back and start again. If people interrupt, politely but firmly say, “Can I finish, please?”. You’ll instantly gain the respect of the room and give yourself the opportunity to continue. Remember that to be valued you don’t always have to be saying things that other people agree with.
Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, these are small things anyone can do. Think about Michele Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Nelson Mandela – we respect the ability of these speakers to command the room. And even President Trump – we may not like what he has to say, but he is hard to ignore, which makes him compelling.
Practice active listening
Becoming widely respected in your workplace isn’t just about speaking well and saying the right things. It’s about communicating well in both directions. Take an interest in others and really pay attention to what they have to say.
And that’s not just nodding along while mentally running through the stuff you need to pack for your weekend away, either. Active listening is about actually listening - nodding, making eye contact, keeping your body open towards the person speaking and remaining engaged.
Ask pertinent questions without interrupting and comment on things you agree with. You’ll instantly make the speaker feel important and create a rapport, making it increasingly unlikely they’ll ignore you in the future. Making an effort and listening actively can tangibly change the energy within your relationship. In fact, this will serve you well in all areas of life, not just in the workplace.
Show you know your audience
It doesn’t matter whether you’re participating in a larger group discussion or presenting to a small intimate group, how you interact with your audience and the rapport you build will play an important part in determining what sticks in their minds. That’s why it’s worth doing everything you can to make them feel important.
Be responsive to specific language issues – if you have non-native speakers in the audience, consider slowing down to give them the opportunity to keep pace. If you believe that there are people who aren’t aware of the background to a particular situation, make sure you cover this before moving on to your main points.
This way, your audience will feel like you’ve really thought about them in advance, making them much less likely to ignore you in the future.
If you find yourself in a situation where you feel you’re being overlooked or undervalued at work, consider trying out some of these techniques. You don’t need to do everything at the same time, just pick something that seems doable for you and give it a go at your next meeting.
If you need further support to speak with confidence in the workplace, why not book a Taster Session and find out how we could help?