Wisdom//

What to Do if You Struggle to Be Heard at Work

Four highly effective strategies for getting people to listen to you.

retrorocket / Shutterstock
retrorocket / Shutterstock

You’re in a meeting and offer a suggestion that barely gets acknowledged. You pitch an idea to your boss that she says “might work” — but then it never gets off the ground. Meanwhile, your colleagues seems to have a magical ability to get everyone to listen to them. What gives? Feeling like no one is listening to you is no doubt a frustrating experience. But it’s also one that can zap your energy, create extra stress, and derail your productivity and motivation

Unfortunately, you can’t wave a wand and make everyone you work with a better listener. But there are a few tools within your control that could make a big impact. Here are some common reasons your colleagues don’t listen when you speak — and some strategies to get them to perk up their ears.

Why you’re not being heard: Your colleague isn’t “getting” your idea 

The solution: Find the gap

Ever talk to someone and feel like you’re having two separate conversations? If you can’t get on the same page because your colleague just isn’t following your train of thought, start by getting curious, says Judy Ringer, conflict and communications coach and author of Turn Enemies Into Allies. The idea is to pinpoint exactly where your wires are crossed so you can get in sync. To start, you could ask: “Where specifically do we differ?” or “What do you think is the best solution?” Sometimes just trying to understand another’s perspective will help them hear yours.

Why you’re not being heard: Your colleague is distracted

The solution: Ask if there’s a better time to talk

You just spent two minutes relaying some important information to your manager, only to receive this response: “Sorry, didn’t catch that. Could you say that one more time?” It’s natural to feel exasperated and devalued in this situation, but before rushing to judgment, Ringer says it’s important to consider that your manager’s attention may be elsewhere for a valid reason. Ringer advises mirroring what you’re seeing in their behavior, “for example, ‘I notice you’re absorbed in your screen right now…’” Then ask if there might be a better time when they could give you their full attention. 

Why you’re not being heard: Your colleague has a fixed opinion

The solution: Acknowledge their perspective

Your idea of a perfect work environment might be to have people listen to and agree with everything you say. But disagreements are healthy — and important — for a company (and you) to grow. That said, if your colleague isn’t even open to hearing out your side, try this: Instead of getting defensive, aim for mutual understanding where you show them that you not only hear where they’re coming from, but you appreciate their perspective, suggests Ringer. The Gottman Institute also recommends speaking in a way that acknowledges your listener’s emotions, e.g. “I can see why you’re feeling hesitant about authorizing this expense.” This simple tactic shows that you understand and empathize with their position, so they may become more open to taking in your point of view.

Why you’re not being heard: Your communication style needs tweaking

The solution: Honest self-reflection

Sometimes a feeling of “I’m never heard” stems from not communicating clearly or effectively in the first place. That’s why self-awareness is key. First, ask yourself if you truly said what you intended. But don’t stop there: Ask yourself how you said it, and if you were concise or perhaps running on too long. Keep in mind that your idea of “to the point” may be different from someone else’s. There’s some evidence that a listener begins to lose interest after just 20 seconds of continuous speaking. The lesson: Even when you want someone to hear what you have to say, make sure you’re having a conversation instead of a monologue. 

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