I am a senior executive with a lot of experience who is on the leadership team of my organization. I have a problem I’ve never had before, which has been developing over the last year.
Since we got a new CEO (my new boss), there has been a lot of turnover on the leadership team including three new leaders who have come in from the outside. They are all young and extremely confident (read: arrogant and brash). The problem is that, somehow, I seem to have lost my voice.
No one on this new leadership team seems to be listening to me when I do manage to get a word in edgewise. Here’s a typical scenario: I say something and no one pays attention. Ten minutes later someone else says basically the same thing and everyone—my new boss, in particular—agrees with the other person and remarks on what a good idea that was.
I know I need to somehow change my MO because I am doing something that isn’t working. But I don’t know where to start. I am afraid all the ideas I have for speaking up will make me come across as whiny or needy, and I really don’t want that.
Lost My Voice
Dear Lost My Voice,
It seems that something essential has shifted: your voice has always been heard and respected and, all of sudden, it’s not. You haven’t changed but your environment has. So it is you—but only in that you haven’t adapted to your new environment. Yet.
Here are some questions: What was going on in the former team environment? I presume you had a longstanding relationship with your old boss? You had a track record with the other members? The meetings were run differently? I have no way of knowing, but you do. Identify what is different and analyze how you might close the gap. Some ideas:
- Talk to the CEO about your concerns and ask for support in holding the space when you speak and acknowledging what you say. They probably have no idea that they are bowing to the loudest and most aggressive voices.
- Develop one-on-one relationships with the new members of the team. Go to lunch, have coffee, meet about specific projects, ask for their help with your goals, offer to help with theirs. Once the new people begin to see you as a human being, they will be more likely to show respect.
- Don’t let people interrupt you. The only reason people get good at shutting down interruptions is that they have to. In your past team meetings you probably didn’t have to, but now you do. When someone interrupts, hold your hand up and say, “I’m not finished,” or “Please wait until I finish,” or simply “Hold on.” Watch the others—I’ll bet they do that all the time. People will only interrupt you if you let them.
- Formulate your ideas so that when you do speak, you are brief, clear, and direct. Use a volume slightly above what you are used to using—and if you are female, make sure you keep your voice in the lower register.
- If someone repeats an idea you just shared, and now all of sudden it’s heard, you have a clear example that you can discuss with your boss. Ask your boss after the meeting what you are doing that causes others’ voices to be heard, but not yours. The feedback might help you to use more effective language—you might learn something useful.
The thing you really don’t want to do is lose confidence and stop trying. Don’t take the bad behavior personally, because it probably isn’t personal. Sit up straight, look people in the eye, prepare for the meetings so you can be bold and succinct, and don’t give up. It might take a long time. It took time for you to be comfortable with your old team and it will take a while for this one to gel. Keep at it. You haven’t lost your voice—you’ve just misplaced it. So get it back.
About the author
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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