Got a problem? Ask Liz

Wednesday 31 March 2021

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Author: Liz Codd

Professional Investor’s Agony Aunt, Liz Codd, addresses some of the key challenges facing professionals in their careers. You can write to Liz anonymously

Dear Liz,

I am part of a multi-asset team at an investment management firm. The team is passionate about what it does, but sometimes, it feels to me, that the person who shouts the loudest is the person whose view is taken onboard. I’m the type of person who prefers to let my work speak for me, and it’s fair to say my personality is more reticent, but I am conscious that it doesn’t get me anywhere. How can I put my views forward without getting into the game of making the most noise?

 

Dear Reader

Thank you for your question, it's been a thought provoker!  Here is what I've been thinking about in response.

It's not uncommon for people to want their work to speak for itself.  These people probably dislike self-promotion and prefer not to be in the limelight.  Other people are happy to be the centre of attention and may even actively seek to be in the limelight.  They are motivated by recognition and do things that get them recognised.  If we are the kind of person who prefers to be understated, i.e. this is one of our values, we may have a negative reaction to someone who puts value on recognition and seeks to be the centre of attention. These traits are neither 'good' nor 'bad' in themselves, they are purely different ways of behaving and indicate that people put value on different ways of being.  

The reality is that we are all different and we put value on different traits and ways of behaving.  But what can we do about this?  Fortunately, or unfortunately, it is the case that we can't make other people change - we can try but generally this doesn't go well.  If, however we accept that we can only change ourselves, then we find we are in a stronger position, we have 'agency'.  Taking this to the next step ... to get a different outcome to the one we are getting (and are not happy with) we have to change something about what we are doing or the way we are thinking.  Changing our approach (what we do and how we do it) will increase the likelihood that the outcome will be different (although there are no guarantees).

Sometimes when we know we need to make a change in our approach but are reluctant to do so, we see only one unappealing option - an extreme of change.  I think this might be a way to let ourselves off the hook.  Our internal conversation is something like this, 'I don't really see why I should have to change, the other person should be the one to change, and also, it feels uncomfortable so I don't really want to have to push myself out of my comfort zone, so I'll make an excuse for myself by thinking that the only way to change is to have to go to the other extreme and that's not acceptable to me'.  It's a way of justifying ourselves and our behaviour and consequently not having to make a change.  In the example posed by the questioner, the extreme option is to go from being reticent to noisy.  My apologies if I am being very direct.  However, there is somewhere in between - to speak up whilst not going as far as being noisy.

OK so that's what might be going on in our heads, but let's get to practical solutions for increasing our ability to speak up.  One way of making it easier might be to ask a colleague to help.  Speak to a trusted colleague who is in the same meetings as you and ask them whether they would be willing to actively invite you into discussions to give you the opportunity and space to bring your ideas, opinions and perspectives.  They might say something like 'I think <name> has some interesting thoughts on this ...' to create a cue for you.

Sometimes, people who are introverted find it difficult to contribute to discussions, especially if there are a number of extroverts in the room because they find it more difficult to think on their feet.  Extroverts prefer to think out loud and will often be first to speak up because they don't need to stop and think before speaking.  Introverts prefer to take time to reflect and do their thinking in their head only speaking up once their thoughts are formed.  One way to give yourself a chance if you are introverted is to prepare thoroughly for meetings and do your thinking in advance.  This enables you to be ready with your views and you'll be in a much better position to put your points across in a well-constructed and influential way. (Of course it's not possible to prepare for every single direction a conversation might go.)  

You could write out your views and opinions and practice saying them out loud - rehearsing them - this will give you confidence when the moment comes to speak up in a meeting, as you will have heard yourself expressing your views before and you will be more articulate as a result.  You could also discuss the meeting topics with a trusted colleague so that you can prepare your thoughts and views in advance.  The discussion may enable you to think more broadly around the topics and unearth insights that you can then bring to the meeting with your noisy colleagues.

I hope this is helpful and that you give some of my suggestions a try.  I would love to hear how you get on.

Liz Codd

 

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