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Earning the Right to be Heard.
By Phil Van Hooser   Printer Friendly Version

"Why wont people listen to me?" This is a question that I hear repeated over and over as I speak to and work with a variety of organizations around this country. Employees ask that of their supervisors. Supervisors ask that of their managers. Managers ask that of their general managers.

"Well, what is the answer?" I have spent a considerable amount of time developing an answer to that question. In this day and age, as we encourage employees in all areas of the organization to become involved in managing their own jobs and the decisions that are required, we must be sure to share with them the realities of the situation.

REALITY NUMBER 1: Supervisors, managers, and business leaders, no matter how well intentioned they may be, simply don't have time to listen to every problem, situation, complaint and desire of every employee. There is simply too much to be done. Frivolous conversations, without any noticeable benefit, simply add to the already overwhelming burden that many decision-makers are asked to bear.

REALITY NUMBER 2: If something has become important enough for you to call special attention to "it," an emotional bond has already been created with "it." On the surface, there is nothing wrong with emotional commitment. From it grows passion. However, we must always be aware of Reality Number 3.

REALITY NUMBER 3: People who are responsible for managing things have always been taught to make decisions based, not on emotion, but on logic. In other words, decision-makers will think or say, "Don't tell me how you feel, tell me what this idea of yours can do for us." Their response based on their position and the responsibilities associated with it, is both predictable and appropriate.

With these three realities clearly in mind, I suggest to my audiences that if one truly wishes to be heard, then he or she must first earn that right. To earn that right, I believe there are four questions that any decision-maker must have the answers to, before they can act in good conscience. If we know what these questions are, it then simply becomes our responsibility to prepare the answers -- in advance. Here we go.

QUESTION NUMBER 1: "HOW MUCH IS IT GOING TO COST?"
Managers learn this question in the first week of "supervisors school." There are three definitely wrong answers . . . "I don't know" . . . "Not much" . . . "It doesn't matter; we need it." Each of these answers may be offered with much emotion, but the missing logic is immediately apparent.

The correct and appropriate answer needs to be specific. One must be prepared with actual numbers including investment cost, implementation costs, training, etc. If this answer is supported by written documentation, in the eyes of the decision-maker, you are inching further away from emotion and closer to logic, thereby making your thoughts/concerns more valuable.

QUESTION NUMBER 2: "WHAT IS THE BENEFIT?"
You must nail this one. The successful answer will include a complete listing of all the benefits that can be derived as a result of your suggested action. If 85 benefits can be identified, then come prepared with a list of 85. One cautionary note, all 85 of those benefits must be legitimate and defensible. If the decision-maker determines any of your listed benefits to be less than legitimate, then the entire list is considered to be in question. If the benefit list is made up of only one, make sure that its foundation is unshakable and secure.

QUESTION NUMBER 3: "HOW LONG WITH IT TAKE?"
We have all heard the old saying, "Time is money." Well, decision-makers have it tattooed on their chests. All of us can think of opportunities that were intentionally bypassed, not because the appropriate resources were not available, but rather because there was no clear picture of how long this activity might take to implement. I strongly suggest that to earn the right to be heard, we must take the time to develop answers to such difficult questions. We simply cannot assume that those things will work themselves out, or that we can cross that bridge when we get to it. Proactive communication professionals anticipate such timing concerns as shipping dates, training periods, outages, in-house delays, etc., in advance, and communicate them openly.

QUESTION NUMBER 4: "WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF NOT ACTING NOW?"
Many individuals feel that if they have successfully maneuvered their way through the first three questions posed by suspicious decision-makers, that they must be home free. Not quite. Many decision-makers have a deeply ingrained tendency to just "wait and see" what happens. Indecision proves to be a tremendous idea killer. My suggested answer to this particular question requires a certain amount of gutsiness on the part of the responder.

When asked, "What are the consequences of not acting now?" I suggest the following response, "Well, boss, if you decide to not act on my recommendation, you can certainly count on my continued support and participation. However, remember that there are a certain number of benefits (those previously identified) that will not be realized as a result of your decision today." Put the full responsibility for both the decision and resulting impact of it squarely on his or her shoulders. As risky as this may seem, it can be very effective.

One final communication tip: Remember, it is not what you say, it is how you say it. Always strive to conclude every discussion and interaction on a strong, supportive and positive note.

Can I assure you that communicating your professional concerns in the manner that I have prescribed will always lead to personal satisfaction and professional success, regardless of the level of decision-makers you may encounter? Of course not. There are simply too many unidentified circumstances that may be outside our realm of control. However, I can assure you of one thing. If you regularly practice these methods of communication, your stock will rise in your organization. Why? It is simple. You have earned the right to be heard.

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