I’ve definitely had strong thoughts about things at work, and yet kept them to myself.
In many instances, it was absolutely the right thing to do (e.g. when I’m frustrated at a client), but in other cases, it was most likely counter-productive. Especially in a startup environment, it’s my opinion that ideas need to flow freely.
So in this blog post, I’m going to explore a few situations where not voicing our thought can be detrimental to the company:
“That’s a good point… now I don’t need to bring it up anymore.”
My process for reviewing product plans goes something like this: 1. Review the entire plan; and 2. Give feedback that others haven’t given yet (e.g. ask about how my team will be impacted).
What I fail to do is show support for other people’s thoughts and feedback with +1’s.
That hurt us bad one time:
After reviewing the plan for a new product feature, I noticed a comment that a colleague put in: “The design team failed to gather input from the customer success team, which would eventually have to use and educate our clients on the new feature.”
I agreed entirely with that comment, but didn’t show my support. My colleague ended up being the only one that voiced that concern.
So guess what happened… They designed and launched the feature without input from customer success. It resulted in flaws that caused some frustrations among users at launch. There’s a high chance that it could have been avoided by simply including the CS team in the product design process. That wasn’t the only negative outcome either. By neglecting their input, the customer success team had also lost a good amount of trust in the design team.
Speaking with the design team leader over the issue, it became clear that they didn’t get feedback from customer success because they thought that it wasn’t as important as some other issues. Afterall, only one person voiced the opinion that CS feedback was warranted.
So what did I learn? That +1s are important. People gauge the priority of issues by evaluating how much support it has.
“I don’t think they’d listen to me…”
I have dozens of conversations each month listening to colleagues’ frustrations about their managers and other team members. Most of the time, they’re simply venting sessions and I sit there listening. Yet on more than one occasion, people also shared with me thoughtful and well researched ideas that they didn’t share with their managers.
And when I ask them: “That’s a really good idea. Have you shared it with [manager name]?”
The answer is almost always: “No, I don’t think they’d listen to me.”
This clearly indicates that the individual lost some trust in their manager. I therefore spend time helping individuals gain the confidence to voice their thought, and formulate a pitch that properly communicates their idea. We then rehearse it together and prepare against potential rebuttals.
In most instances, I’m happy to report that people find the confidence to effectively communicate their idea to their boss. Their ideas aren’t always adopted, but they always feel acknowledged and listened to. And more importantly, they learn a crucial lesson in how to influence leaders.
So if they don’t listen to us, let’s find a way to make the message more appealing and manage up.
“There’s nothing we can do about that…”
When discussing long-term or low-priority issues, I noticed a tendency for me to end a discussion with “Yeah, oh well, there’s nothing we can do about that.”
And right after, I’d feel like a naysayer rather than a problem solver. Why did I even spend time talking about the issue if there’s nothing we can do about it? Clearly I care enough and want to do something.
Yet fact is, there are situations where I’ve heard “no” to an idea so much, or witnessed the de-prioritization of an idea so often, that I think nobody cares anymore.
So how do I deal with that? With time, I’ve learned to stop complaining and take action instead. I actively discard ideas that I also feel are low-priority, but re-work how I pitch an idea that I believe is important. I may gather further evidence to support my viewpoint, or assess if other individuals and teams in the organization feel similarly to gain additional support.
This helps me avoid feeling bleak about the future, and continue fighting for ideas that matter to me.
When should I not voice my thought?
In my experience, there’s only one scenario under which an individual should not voice their thought and that’s when our emotions control the best of us.
Too often, I’ve reacted emotionally to frustrations and concerns I have with a team member. It’d usually put the individual in an awkward spot. Even if the concerns were valid, I always regretted my reaction. It’s simply unprofessional and demeaning to others, and fails to demonstrate that I can keep my cool under pressure.
How do I deal with my emotions now? I have a 24-hour rule. I don’t react for 24 hours and let a good night sleep help me think about the situation. It helps me take the emotions out of the situation, so that I can think and act rationally the next day.
Let’s identify one thought that we failed to voice this past week and find a way to communicate it.
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