I used to get very frustrated in meetings because I had lots of ideas–good ideas–but nobody was interested to hear them.
Maybe it was because I didn’t have enough authority. Or expertise. Perhaps it was because of my limited experience.
Maybe they knew I was really a fraud. That I didn’t know what I was doing and that it was just dumb luck that got me here in the first place.
They are all experienced professionals and I am just barely scraping by.
Of course, that’s not really true.
But that is how it feels.
Because it can be hard for each of us to fully embrace our professional value.
More fully embracing your own professional value comes with some risk. However, that risk is always worth taking.
The thing is, that risk doesn’t have to be so scary (or even so risky, really). Just follow the 5 simple steps we’re going to talk about in this post.
This process is all about building confidence in yourself. Recognizing the value you have to offer. And becoming committed to making bigger and better contributions.
This is how you grow as a professional. What’s more, this is what people need from you.
In fact, they expect it.
Everybody is waiting for you to speak up more. So let’s get ready!
Step 1 – Zoom Out for an objective look at the big picture
You are probably spending too much time and energy on your own subjective point of view, which is limited.
In order to contribute to the bigger picture, you need to make sure that you are taking a look at it. Which means getting out of your own little area of focus for a bit.
You can step back and consider things from a higher viewpoint. This really helps to put many little worries of the day into proper perspective.
Getting out of your own shoes for a minute helps you to see that whatever you are worried about as a personal risk or awkward moment is really nothing of significance in the big picture.
A little bit of this healthy sense of detachment is the power behind what I call the consultant’s secret.
Holding yourself a bit arms length from the work helps you to de-personalize it without diminishing your personal level of commitment to doing great work. Again, in fact, it’s necessary to detach a bit in order to do great work.
Big picture mindset is step one.
Now you can start to see some of the gaps.
Step 2 – Look for gaps to be filled and nuance to be added
Now that you’ve stepped back to view the big picture, you can get a better sense of the context for all the little pieces being worked on.
From there, it will become easier to spot gaps. These are places where the team maybe has some blind spots or missing information or where items have simply fallen off the radar.
You can help identify those areas and start to explore how you might be able to help address them.
You can start to see areas that maybe need a little more nuance. Perhaps you see that some things have been glossed over but need closer examination. Or that some insights are skewed, not fully accurate, not up-to-date, or not fully-informed.
These are the many opportunities where you can make a contribution. You can help.
Step 3 – Find ways to help, even if they seem a little outside of your role
You are an expert in whatever you do. You are responsible for whatever it says in your job description. And you are accountable to all the formal structures that you work in.
But you can do more. Because your job is really just to help in any way that you can.
Organizational structures and all the little boxes we’re supposed to fit into don’t really work. That’s an artificial construct that helps us to organize to some degree. But it’s not really all that useful to getting work done all the time.
Work is messy. It doesn’t fit into neat little boxes.
Neither should you.
A good plan for your success now and in the future is to make your job bigger.
Nobody is going to be upset if you start doing more good work. If you figure out how to do things more efficiently, help others, or contribute more ideas. (If they do, then, well, that’s a different issue, isn’t it?)
Your role is meant to evolve. This evolution doesn’t need to be dramatic and Earth-shattering. It just needs to progress over time.
Now is a good time to begin.
Step 4 – Take small steps. Start by asking better questions.
To take the pressure off, try starting by asking better questions. Don’t worry so much about trying to make some crazy-wonderful insight. Seek to understand more.
You might be surprised at how useful this can be to everyone around you. And it can start small.
Asking simple clarifying questions is a good way to start. Try to avoid yes or no questions, but rather ask someone to explain or elaborate on something.
You might be discussing a process that takes place in another part of the business. If you ask someone to explain it in a little more detail, you will learn a lot. And so will others in the room.
You could ask questions about the gaps you noticed from your big picture thinking above. Maybe there is a business partner in the mix that nobody has mentioned yet.
Perhaps there was a similar issue in the past that was resolved. Or maybe a change happening in another part of the organization.
By asking if anyone has insights from those areas, you prompt bigger thinking by everyone in the room. Maybe you can help identify other people that should be involved in the discussion. New issues and new ideas might come to light.
You are helping to think things through.
Some questions I like to ask include:
Basic definitions. I don’t mind asking about something I don’t understand. If I don’t understand it, I can’t help.
Questioning assumptions. A lot of discussions are based around assumptions that may not be well articulated or well founded. Bringing these items to light can be helpful.
Asking about the goal. Revisiting the goal can help to bring things back on track or clarify thinking when discussions veer off track.
Ask follow up questions. Don’t move on too quickly from one thing to the next. Ask follow up questions that seek clarification, deeper understanding, opinions, insights, and perspective.
Above all, try to help. Help yourself get a better grip on things (which will undoubtedly help others in the room). And help by asking questions that broaden the topic of discussion about gaps and nuances.
Step 5 – Validate and expand your approach
Take aside a trusted colleague and ask for feedback.
Are the questions I’m asking and suggestions I’m making helpful?
Do I look dumb?
Am I slowing things down?
Find out if your approach is helping. I bet you will come to see that you are being helpful.
You can also look for validation in your preparation for different meetings and discussions. As you get a better sense of the big picture, see potential gaps, and try to understand different nuances, you can talk that through with others offline.
You can test your thinking. Try out your questions. Toss out a few insights or suggestions.
Getting some feedback can help you refine your thinking further. And it can help you to gain some confidence.
Because, the thruth is, that everyone in the meetings might not welcome what you have to say. Maybe they are afraid of something or defending their territory. Maybe they don’t like change or they have some other agenda.
But your job is to try to help the organization achieve its big goals. You can’t let the sticklers stand in your way.
Validating your thinking with others you trust and respect can help you build the confidence you need to speak up when maybe everything you say isn’t going to be popular.
The world needs you to contribute. Don’t be passive when you can make a difference.
Waiting to be called on was an ok strategy in grade school. But it’s not the best approach now. Not if you want to grow as a professional and have a real impact on things around you.
You can gain the confidence to speak up more by following the 5 simple steps in this article.
Step 1 – Zoom Out for an objective look at the big picture.
Step 2 – Look for gaps to be filled and nuance to be added.
Step 3 – Find ways to help, even if they seem a little outside of your role.
Step 4 – Take small steps. Start by asking better questions.
Step 5 – Validate and expand your approach.
In this way you can take more initiative. You can help lead the way forward.
Others will appreciate your effort. And they will start to see you in a new light.
Over time, this will become easier for you and you will be able to contribute more and more.
All the while, you will be growing as a professional. And you will have a bigger and bigger impact.