Breaking old habits
If you think that your supervisor or other members of the leadership team on your campus don’t listen to what you have to say, don’t get discouraged. Before you jump to conclusions and assume they don’t like you, consider changing the way you communicate and see what unfolds.
We are creatures of habit and tend to think the same thoughts over and over, often making ourselves highly predictable. We look at situations through lenses that might differ significantly from other people’s lenses. If what you commonly say is not perceived as adding value to the conversation, people will naturally tune you out. It’s how the mind works; it’s not personal.
To gain more influence, the key is to interrupt old habits, and instead of saying what you typically want to say, pause and be more intentional. Make sure you understand what is needed from you in that situation.
What’s your intention?
Imagine that you are in a meeting with your new supervisor and he explains his vision for your department. This person was brought in as a highly competent change agent to make improvements to your institution.
If your habitual thoughts are to resist change, worry about what can go wrong, and fear discomfort, your mind will automatically think of dozens of potential problems. Naturally, you will want to warn your new supervisor to prevent crises. In fact, you will be so attached to sharing your valuable insights that you might forget what your role in this meeting is supposed to be!
How do you think your new boss will respond to your “insights”? Not well. Unless you are explicitly asked to explain what can go wrong, your role is to show support and focus on solutions rather than exaggerate problems. It’s a critical time for you to become an asset, not an additional problem for your boss to have to handle. So, make sure you always know what your intention is, before you start talking so that your words won’t work against you.
What outcome do you seek to create?
Before you speak, or do anything really, I highly encourage you to ask yourself what outcome you wish to create. It will save you from major faux pas. Remember, your habitual mind should not be running the show. You want to be far more intentional when you contribute to a conversation.
For example, here are some examples of outcomes you might seek when you meet with a new supervisor. Are you in this meeting to…
Show support for the new vision?
Be seen as an asset?
Learn more about your supervisor’s expectations?
Understand your supervisor’s definition of success?
Start building a good relationship with your supervisor?
Share important information about your department?
Learn how your new boss thinks?
Understand your new boss’ goals and needs?
Show team spirit?
Or something else?
Only pick two or three outcomes to stay focused. Be intentional in how you choose what information to share and what questions to ask. Obviously, if you see immediate danger (e.g. the building is on fire), speak up now! But that’s not likely to happen. Resist the urge to bring up too many issues and obstacles early on, or you might be seen as a difficult person. First, you need to be seen as an asset and a resource. Then, you’ll be able to have much more influence because you’ll have established credibility and competence.
I also strongly encourage you to reflect on how you want to be perceived and what you want to be known for, because it will help you get clear on how your behavior helps or hinders your success. Once you define your professional identity, make sure your actions and decisions are aligned with your goals and consistent.
Some people say: “Audrey, I am very direct and I am authentic. I refuse to filter what I have to say. It doesn’t feel honest.” Well, honestly, that’s a lame excuse for not wanting to make efforts. All of us already filter what we say depending on whom we’re addressing. You have a completely different conversation when you’re speaking with a 5-year old, or a coworker, or your parents, or your spouse, don’t you? Does that make you a hypocrite? Not at all. You can be 100% honest in all of your conversations but adapt what you say to the person as well as the circumstances.
Being intentional doesn’t mean inauthentic or manipulative. It shows a higher level of emotional intelligence and sensitivity to other people and situations. It is an excellent exercise to improve interpersonal relationships and creativity, all the while remaining completely honest.
Plan for your next meeting
Before you go into your next meeting, reflect on the following questions:
What is the purpose of the meeting?
Who is the lead/chair?
What does that person need from the meeting?
What does that person need from me?
How do I want to be perceived?
What outcome(s) do I seek to create?
Practice it and notice how people around you change the way they respond to you. If you need any help, I am only a phone call away. I invite you to click here to schedule a complimentary call with me to discuss working together. Too many higher education leaders are frustrated because they feel under-appreciated or think they don’t have enough influence. Let’s join forced to turn things around! Talk to you soon.
About the author: Dr. Audrey Reille has empowered thousands of professionals through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking engagements, and online courses. Audrey is the go-to coach for leaders in higher education administration. She empowers them to thrive by reducing stress, optimizing strategies, improving professional relationships, and developing a strong and empowered mindset.