This seems to be a common challenge. It might be your boss but could just as easily be someone more senior in another division or department. How do you get them listening to you and taking you seriously? If you are looking for promotion, your boss is only one of the voices who will support or block your chances.
If you have nothing to contribute to your organisation but just want more status and salary – stop reading now! On the other hand, if you have a fresh idea that’s going to address a pressing problem, maybe radically change the way things are done or the markets you are in, then you absolutely must be heard. On the ladder to influence, the first step is being attended to – but only if you have something substantial to offer.
Before you can make an impact you have to be noticed. Some people don’t even know that you exist! Time for some reputation management. If the very idea makes you recoil, wake up – you already have a reputation – it’s what other people say about you. What script have you given them? There’s the verbal script – what you tell them (and therefore the grape-vine) about yourself and your ideas. Then, there are the non-verbal messages – how you look, sound and generally show up – around the office, on-line, at meetings, who you hang out with, and how often people see you do something amazing. You can be your own spin-doctor and choreograph your public profile or you can pretend that none of it matters. But, the truth is, you are always communicating whether you plan it or not. So, what’s cool? Being aware but not contrived. Stay true to yourself and let it be known what you stand for – what your values are. Be alive in the moment – let everyone who interacts with you feel your presence and be glad to have engaged with you. Become a visible champion for the things you think should happen and get other people on board too. Take an interest in them too and support them whenever you can. I could go on – but you get the idea.
You do this every day. It may include the next level up but more often it takes place at other levels. In organisations, everyone contributes to your reputation and lots of unexpected people can speak up, on your behalf, just when it matters. Your reputation is key to your credibility. Getting results also matters – but not as much as you might think. On their own, results are not enough.
So, be visible and be available – do the day job but don’t disappear into it.
Why should your boss or any senior colleague give up their precious time to focus attention on you, however well-informed you may be? People do things for their reasons, not yours. So what are their reasons? What motivates them? Watch carefully – what do they say? What do they do? Why do they say and do that? What fears and anxieties are pushing them, and what aspirations are pulling them, into the future? What’s important to them, both superficially and at a deeper level? Do this exercise on yourself before you attempt it on others! Then, open yourself up to understanding what really matters to them and identify what you like and admire about that. It will change the chemistry between you.
Everyone, whatever their level, is influenced by the opinions of others. Some people are reputedly influenced by the last person they spoke to – if so, see them often! The “king makers” rely on this and whilst becoming one is unlikely to be your ambition, who holds that position? If someone does, work on them to support your cause. More likely there are a number of people who are held in high regard by the person you are trying to engage with so find ways to connect with them. Lobby for your point of view and seek out allies. Sound political? It is. Knowing who influences whom is key to being influential yourself. So, who influences your target individual?
To gain attention you must have something to offer that is attractive to the person you are focusing on. What impresses them? Is it facts and figures – in which case, create them by analysing and charting company figures in different ways to illustrate progress, opportunities or threats that might not have been obvious. Collect information from the internet on competitors and market movements. Find how to make government statistics relevant to your organisation. Conduct some opinion surveys of your own – it’s easier than you think. Or maybe they are an innovator and you can capture their imagination with illustrations of what’s going on in fast moving companies. Or perhaps they like anecdotes, in which case, you need some stories to tell. What you think is impressive might cut no ice with them – tune in to what matters to them and find a way to offer it – remember, you are only trying to get their attention not to change your personality!
When we can’t get someone’s attention, what chance does building a working relationship have? None is the answer. It can make us feel invisible, irrelevant, disregarded and even rejected. Difficult stuff to handle – so we protect ourselves by rationalising that, if someone’s in the wrong here, it must be THEM. They are the useless one – otherwise, who must it be? So we begin to label them as a block to our progress and guess what, that’s just what they become! Next question – be truthful here – “What are they really good at?” Acknowledge that. Feel good about it – it will affect your attitude and demeanor towards them and that will make you more attractive even if you never say what it is – although you could. Everyone likes to be appreciated. Besides, you want to build a working relationship with someone you can respect and like.
How are you similar to them and how do you complement them? You’ll see eye-to-eye on the similarities and be able to enjoy building and growing these areas in the business. Where you are different will be an opportunity to leverage off one another. But the key question here is, “Where could they use some support?” It might or might not be your strongest suite but it will be the most valuable and that’s what really matters. Genuine added value is an instant attention-getter and, if the outcome is good, you build credibility all round.
My last question to you is, “Why do you want their attention?” What are your motives and if they are simply self-serving then you won’t get their attention, you’ll become an irritant. If your motives relate only to your job, you deserve attention but it may well be given begrudgingly – they have other things on their mind. If you genuinely want to help the person at the next level up to push through a difficult challenge, for them as well as you, then you have the best chance of getting their attention. And when you deliver on it, don’t expect applause – they will take that. In political currency, that’s the price you pay. But they will be back for more. You will have won the right to claim their attention.
How does this put you at the front of the queue for promotion? Think about it – you’ll be the obvious choice and not only your boss will have noticed.
Dr Jacquie Drake is Founder of cool-leadership.com and Editor of the cool-leadership newsletter.