Why is everyone tuning me out? Six ways to be heard at work
Joe McCormack says the more you say, the less people hear. He explains why this happens at work and shares some advice to help you “be brilliant, be brief, and be gone.”
You’re full of great ideas; you just know it! So why do your contributions at work frequently go unnoticed by colleagues, clients, and bosses? You speak up—or maybe share your ideas in emails—but it feels like people tune you out. How can you start getting heard at work?
Joe McCormack says part of the problem is the workplace is so inundated with what he calls “noise”—text alerts, rambling emails, endless meetings, social media notifications, and so forth—that it’s tough for any message to get through. If you want people to hear you, you need to revamp your communication style.
“Clarity and brevity are key,” says McCormack, author of NOISE: Living and Leading When Nobody Can Focus (Wiley, January 2020, ISBN: 978-1-119-55337-3, $25.00) and BRIEF: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less (Wiley, 2014, ISBN: 978-1-118-70496-7, $24.00). “If you want to be heard, you need to get very sharp in your thinking and intentional in how you communicate it. Be brilliant, be brief, and be gone.”
First, he says, consider why people may be tuning you out.
You’ve forgotten to answer WIIFM? (What’s in it for me?) When talking to a prospect, a client, or a manager, do you discuss their needs first, or jump to talking about your products or ideas?
You’re long-winded. You lack the discipline to make a concise point and stop talking. People ignore or instantly delete your emails. Over the course of your career, your knack for being long-winded impedes your career growth.
You talk at them versus with them. Speeches and monologues don’t capture an audience’s attention. No one wants to sit through a one-sided conversation and be talked at for a long time.
When you commit to keeping your communication brief and clear, you’re taking the first step in joining McCormack’s “Just Say No to Noise” movement. A few suggestions:
First, know your (exhausted, distracted) audience. Your coworkers and bosses (and even you, yourself) almost certainly have shortened attention spans. Consider these statistics from McCormack’s website, The Brief Lab:
- Professionals have an 8-second attention span.
- They check their phone 150 times per day.
- They check their email 36 times per hour.
- They are interrupted 50 times per day.
- 92 percent of people multitask during meetings.
“The first step of learning to be heard is being aware of where the listener is coming from,” says McCormack. “They’re fatigued, frustrated, and have little capacity to listen. Don’t underestimate the impact of noise on a person’s attention span. Plan for it, and don’t be part of the problem.”
Prepare ahead of time. There is no substitute for doing your homework. Assemble your thoughts in advance. This gives you confidence and allows you to speak intelligently about an issue rather than rambling, getting lost in the weeds, and leaving listeners asking, “What is this person talking about?”
Don’t over explain. People speak 150 words a minute, yet our brains can process 750 words a minute, says McCormack. When your message isn’t on target, those 600 leftover words—what McCormack calls “the Elusive 600″—will surely distract them and they’ll start thinking of other things.
Think and speak in headlines. Lead with your most important idea before going into the details. For example: “I have a solution for the problem we were discussing at lunch.” Most people skip headlines and force their listeners to search for the point.
Cut the jargon and say what you mean. Call a moratorium on phrases like “strategically leverage platforms to scale growth” or “turnkey solutions to optimize enterprise impact.” These words are meaningless, and what’s worse, they trigger the Elusive 600 in employees and cause their eyes to glaze over.
Use active listening to replay the conversation. When you converse with another person, are you actually listening or are you just waiting for your turn to speak? There’s a big difference between these two. A great way to make sure you’re listening actively is to say, “So let me make sure I’m hearing you…” and then repeat what you heard.
“It’s not too late to become one of those people whose words have incredible power to make things happen,” concludes McCormack. “Imagine being able to easily close a sale, get a manager’s attention, or win a promotion. Brevity is not just a skill people are born with. It’s a muscle that you can use to streamline your communications and change your life.”
About the Author:
Joseph McCormack is the author of NOISE: Living and Leading When Nobody Can Focus. He is passionate about helping people gain clarity when there is so much com¬peting for our attention. He is a successful marketer, entrepreneur, and author. His first book, BRIEF: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less (Wiley, 2014), sets the standard for concise communication.
Joe is the founder and managing director of The BRIEF Lab, an organization dedicated to teaching professionals, military leaders, and entrepreneurs how to think and communicate clearly. His clients include Boeing, Harley-Davidson, Microsoft, Mastercard, DuPont, and select military units and government agencies. He publishes a weekly podcast called “Just Saying” that helps people master the elusive skills of focus and brevity.
To learn more, visit www.thebrieflab.com.