How to say anything to anyone (or that time I thought I might be fired two weeks in)
One day, two weeks into a new job, I thought for sure I was a goner. I was working with my team and my new boss on a pitch deck. I can’t even remember the client, but we had been working all day and it was after working hours. My new boss and I were engaged deeply in a conversation about what the appropriate story flow should be. It started as a healthy debate which turned critical and eventually ended in raised voices and total misunderstanding. We just didn’t see eye to eye and then we were talking past each other and in frustration, we ended up yelling at one another. I stormed out. “Well,” I thought to myself that night, “that’s not going to work. I guess it’s time to look for another job.”
I went back the next day and later that afternoon, my boss and I regrouped to talk about what went down. We both acknowledged that we were being stubborn and inappropriate. My boss asked me if I was aware of my physical posture during our conversation. I honestly had no idea. He showed me: crossed arms, shaking my head. The crossed arms didn’t surprise me but I was totally unaware that my head was actually shaking. Huh. If I had been trying to get through to me with that posture, I might have written myself off, too. It didn’t actually matter what either of us was saying at that moment because we couldn’t hear one another. We were talking to ourselves. Yelling at ourselves toward one another, actually.
We talk a lot about sitting at the table, leaning in, speaking up. This matters. I’m known for, ‘thinking with my mouth open,’ which sometimes translates into, at best, an inability to hold back, and at worst, an inability to hear other perspectives because I’m so busy talking. I’m sure that my reckless confidence has earned me seats in rooms beyond my experience and my title. And, I’ve learned that my communication style can shut others down, notwithstanding my physical posture.
My mentor Ellen Plusker taught me that, “you can say anything to anyone as long as you say it in a way that they can hear you.”
I used to think a great meeting was one where I got to say important stuff or make my point. That’s sometimes true and it’s also true that some of my best ideas have come from conversations, from listening to other people and making new connections. Prisms make rainbows and in the ideas business, diverse perspectives are input to a brighter output. Start where the greatest number of people are. Build your case, head nod by head nod (and try not to shake your head while others are talking to you!).
Listening is an art, and feedback is a gift. And what we don’t say is often as, or more important than what we do say. Taking the time to listen and understand the perspectives of the others makes you at once more powerful, persuasive and connected. It creates opportunity for empathy and understanding, and it gives you the time to frame your point of view in the context of what matters to others. It’s an opening to collaboration, building, connection and bolder outcomes constructed together. And it gives you a platform to say anything to anyone — as long as you say it in a way that they can hear you.