Feel like you’re talking into the void?

Blog | August 10, 2021

Feel like you’re talking into the void? Know who is in the room.

Ever feel like your team or colleagues respond to you like you’re speaking a different language?

As if—no matter how clear you think you’re being—some senior stakeholder misunderstands you, or worse, disregards you entirely?

Whatever you’re trying to achieve, you won’t be effective if your audience can’t hear you.

You must tailor your message to who is in the room. It’s tempting to blame difficulties on your listeners—and you wouldn’t always be wrong. But that approach rarely leads to positive change.

A perfect example was a recent client, Ann, who describes herself as an intuitive thinker. Ann regularly worked with a particular stakeholder, Simon, whom she described as a linear, or data driven, thinker.

Ann reported that Simon constantly undermined her in meetings, sometimes dismissing her perspective entirely. To Ann, it felt as if he were saying, “You add no value.”

That Simon was very senior to Ann only heightened her frustration so that she felt utterly dysregulated every time she stepped into a room with him.

Ann and her coach chatted through the idea of speaking in the language of your audience. Ann had an aha moment:

“Now I know what I need to do!” It occurred to her that intuitive leaps made Simon uncomfortable. That data made Simon feel more at ease, more confident in what was being presented.

Whatever the reason, Simon’s reaction was out of her control. She could, however, shift how she approached their conversations.

“Oh, so all I need to do is speak to my intuition in the form of data for him.” This revelation alone lessened Ann’s anxiety. She didn’t have to change who she was; she just needed to adjust the message so her audience could better receive it.

To clarify, it’s less about the message and more about the relationship.

Case in point: Rashad, VP of Engineering at an up-and-coming tech company, had locked horns with his lead engineer Charles, who strongly disagreed with his approach to a product development project.

Not only had their conflict halted progress, but Charles’ repeated public escalation of his concerns also sowed dissent across the team. Rashad had dug his heels in, feeling he’d adequately responded to each point.

His coach investigated a little further and discovered why the conflict had continued to escalate without resolution:

All of this back-and-forth had been happening in an open ticket.

There had been NO face-to-face discussion between the two. In months. None.

Rashad needed to understand why Charles was so invested and get to the real root of his concerns.

He would need to stop engaging the argument, and put Charles at greater ease—i.e., build rapport with him. (This is why small talk is not a waste of your time.)

None of this would ever happen in an open ticket.

His coach suggested they meet in person and that Rashad stick to neutral questions and statements that held space for Charles’ viewpoint:

“I hear what you’re saying…”

“I can see how important this is to you…”

“Help me understand your issue with…”

When Rashad tried this approach, he shifted their entire dynamic. A single conversation that placed the relationship over the message defused a conflict that had hampered the team for months.

Important to note here, Rashad didn’t give up his position; he’s not leading a democracy, after all. But by making Charles feel heard and respected, Rashad finally got him on board, if not in 100% agreement.

In your role as a leader, you’re no longer responsible for the deliverable but for influencing and motivating the people delivering it, which means knowing who you are in the room with, the way they prefer to communicate and thus tailoring your message accordingly.

The key to resolving entrenched conflict, or gaining buy-in from a recalcitrant stakeholder, is to tailor your message. Put your audience at greater ease, and tend your relationship with that person, so they feel seen, heard, and respected, and they’ll be more open to your perspective.

Do these scenarios sound familiar? If you’re at an impasse with a colleague or team member, there IS a way to resolve it. Schedule your complimentary discovery call today to see how a coach can help.

Rachel Rider
Executive Coach, Leadership Consultant