Don’t make it easy to be ignored

Most people hate saying no. Our reluctance to disappoint someone, or a fear of conflict, can lead to us doing all kinds of things that we didn’t intend to do just because we couldn’t, or wouldn’t, say no. Our fear of saying no often extends so far that we’ll avoid putting other people in a situation where they have to say no, just in case they feel as bad as we do. The result? We don’t get what we want. even worse, we never learn how to effectively ask for what we want.

There will be times when you have to ask for help, and failing to get people to agree will mean things don’t happen; things like events, because you always need speakers, or parties. At work it becomes even more pressing. Modern workplaces are built on collaboration so you might find that you can only succeed with the help of others. The good news is that almost everyone working in these collaborative environments is expecting to be asked for help, you just need to learn how to do it.

Step 1 – Know what you want. 
It is very hard to ask for something that you don’t understand or can’t articulate. Take some time to decide what it is you actually need to ask for. Is it time? Budget? Assistance?

Step 2 – Be Specific.
Often the way we ask for something is the problem. Either through inexperience or nerves we make the request so vague that we become easy to ignore. People are busy, they might not have time to dig through your long statement to try and work out if you asked for something without actually asking for it.

Step 3 – If the request is crappy, or if you know they’re busy, you need to appeal to their ego.
Everyone has an ego. Appealing to it can make a huge difference in helping someone decide if they’re going to help you or not.

Here are a few examples to show how these three steps can make a huge difference:

Example 1

Other person: “So anyone able to tell me anything about X?”
Everyone else: Thinking – I’m not sure exactly what she wants but this little thing I know probably isn’t important “…”

A more effective version
Other person: “So I’m stuck on this bug. Anyone worked on this code recently? Amy didn’t you look at it recently?”
Me: “Nope, that was this other thing but I think Adam might know more”
Adam: “I don’t think I know much more but let’s pair and work this thing out!”

Why it works: Explaining why you’re asking for something helps. Targeting an individual within a group will always be more effective than a vague full group address. If you don’t know who to target just pick someone who is responsive, diligent, and kind, they’ll help you find the right person.

Example 2

Other person: “I was wondering if you were going to be in the office tomorrow?”
Me: Thinking – umm, that sounds like it could lead to something bad… “Umm, so I’m not sure yet. Why…?”
Other person: “Ah, I was just looking for someone to do this crappy thing for me”
Me: ….

How this could have been better
Other person: “Could you do me a massive favour and be in the office to look after X tomorrow? I think you might be the only one around who can help”
Me: Feeling needed – “Oh hey, yeah sure, tell me more”

Why it works: There are three parts to the success of this one:
– You acknowledge that you’re asking for a favour. And you actually ask them for something instead of making loose statements.
– You’re up front about the crappy thing you want someone to do.
– You appeal to their desire to be needed (very effective!).

Example 3

Other person: “So I’m looking for people to talk at this event”
Me: Feeling a bit interested but also busy “Oh hey, yeah maybe one day…”

How this could have gone better
Other person: “Oh so I’m organising this event (and it’s going to be awesome because of X) and I’d love you to come and talk about Y”
Me: Feeling flattered but still busy “Oh really? Well sure, I’ll see if I can fit it in”

How this could have gone even better
Other person: “Oh so I’m organising this event (and it’s going to be awesome because of X) and I’d love you to come and give that talk you gave at Y. I really loved it.”
Me: Feeling loved beyond belief “Oh really? Well sure!”

Why this works:
You’re selling your event to the person by telling them why they should care.
You’re explaining why you’re asking this specific person.
You remove a load of work for them by telling them you want a specific, already existing, talk.

So next time you need something to happen take the time, and a deep breath, and actually ask for what you want.

You are the sum of everything you’ve ever experienced

It can be easy to think that every problem you face has been solved before, or to think that every story you have to tell has already been told. In fact we should all remember, and embrace our uniqueness. People have likely faced similar situations before you, but no-one has ever stood in your shoes.

Our experiences in life give us the tools we need to navigate the present. Even without intentionally realising it, the person with 20 years of experience have more tools to help make decisions than the person with 6 months of experience. Maybe you haven’t helped this child to stop crying after this particular fall but you have helped others. Or maybe you haven’t had to decide on the best restaurant in this particular city but you have chosen restaurants before. Work is the same, people fight, get upset, or want it to be different. Years of experience can help you navigate each unique, but comparable, situation because you can see the similarities, or patterns, to previous situations.

The problem is we very rarely seek out patterns or experiences intentionality. Instead choosing to let time provide us with the experiences we need. Imagine if there was a way to fast track this process! You could gather up years and years of experience and have them right now!

Here’s the thing. You can.

We see the world through the many veils of our previous experiences. Every time you feel something, see something, do something, or even hear something you add another layer to your view. That means that every book, article, even tweet you read is contributing something to your world outlook. Instead of needing to actually experience every single problem or situation you can take a lot of someone else’s experience and layer them in with your own.

“The only true voyage would be not to travel through a hundred different lands with the same pair of eyes, but to see the same land through a hundred different pairs of eyes.”
— Marcel Proust

So if you want to be better at your job then you need to intentionally seek out more experience. Some of it will come with time but most will come by actively learning about other people’s opinions and experiences and using them to enhance your own thinking.

Rather than aspire to be the person with the most years experience we should all be aspiring to be the person with the richest world view.

Eight reasons why no one’s listening to you

One of the most frustrating things about working with other people is trying to convince them of something you really believe in, only to have them dismiss it as unimportant. You tell them once, you repeat yourself, nothing happens. You get frustrated and wonder why they don’t take you seriously. Eventually you give up, annoyed. But it doesn’t have to end this way.

It is possible that the people you’re trying to convince are ignorant fools. But it’s far more likely that you’re falling into one of the following traps:

1. You’re saying it in the wrong way

When you try to convince someone of something, or to change someone’s mind about something, you need empathy. Understand what their world looks like, what made them reach the conclusion they reached? The more you can understand their position the easier it will be to try and move them.

If you’ve explained something to someone and they still don’t get it, try explaining it differently. Or drawing them a diagram or picture to illustrate. Maybe they need to see some code or numbers to understand. Explore different approaches until you hit on one that works.

2. You’re saying it to the wrong person

Sometimes you push and push. You use words, images, brilliant examples and still nothing seems to be changing. Take a step back and consider if you’re talking to the right person. Are they really empowered to change this? Even someone with the “Boss” job title might be the wrong person if they don’t hold the implicit power to make the change. if you suspect that the person you’ve been talking to is onboard but unable to help ask them “is there anyone else you think would be interested in talking about this?”. Give them an opening to pull in other people without losing face.

3. You’re saying it to someone who is actively blocking you (and they may not realise it)

As a general rule people don’t like change and they will actively block anything that makes them feel vulnerable. You’re missing the trust; they need to trust that you’re doing something for the right reasons, and you need to trust that their reaction is fair. Unfortunately not all relationships are made equal and there will certainly be times when you’re proposing change to someone who doesn’t trust you, or someone who might actually want you to fail for some reason. Even more trickily they might not even realise that they feel this way about you.

The only way to get around this, aside from maybe sidestepping them and working with someone else which incidentally reduces the trust relationship further, is to invest in the relationship. If they seem resistant to your suggestion trying working with them, talking to them, or just generally getting to know them without pushing your change proposal on them. If you’re lucky you might build enough of a relationship to allow you to successfully bring your suggestion to life.

4. You’re saying it at the wrong time

Sometimes you’re saying the right thing to the right person but you’ll have chosen the wrong time. Don’t grab your manager when they’re stressed out and expect them to care about something trivial in your life. Similarly, managers, don’t grab a stressed out report and expect them to receive career coaching well. Don’t wait for the hour before a big release to tell everyone that you think the whole idea of the product is wrong. People won’t care. They can’t afford to care. Pick a time when they can care.

5. You’re still saying it in the wrong place

The method of communicating is just as important as what you are communicating. Trying to explain a new, and complex concept to a novice who is sat in a meeting room with experts probably won’t work. They’ll be defensive and embarrassed. Consider when an email might be more appropriate than face-to-face. Is Slack the way to go? Whatever your method look at who else is listening in, are they helping or hindering?
Think about how you would feel if the tables were turned. Does your idea or advice still feel constructive? If not, change it.

6. You don’t have the bigger picture

Maybe you would be right if you had more context, but you don’t, so you’re wrong. If you’re lucky the person you’re trying to convince will fill you in on the missing context and explain why it matters. Unfortunately there are times when things are happening that you can’t know about, big company things, personal things, things involving peers. You might have success in explicitly asking if “there’s anything you’ve overlooked” to learn more about these things. Maybe talking to more people will help you build up a better picture of how things look. Unfortunately there will be times when you don’t have the context and you don’t know it, but no one fills you in. That’s tough, and probably hard to plan for.

7. You’re wrong

In a fair world being wrong wouldn’t be enough to make you ignored but the world is not fair. Sometimes when you say something to someone who thinks, or knows, you’re wrong they take the lazy route and simply ignore you. A debate or conversation with a patient and considerate person would explore why you believe something. Maybe you’d discuss case studies or data to back up your argument. In the course of the discussion holes in your argument would become apparent. Luckily rubber ducking can help you out. Before making any argument think through what you’re arguing for and why. What data do you have to back it up? If people have given you feedback before then apply it. Nothing is more likely to get you ignored than earning yourself a reputation for repeatedly making weak or impractical suggestions.

8. You’re making people feel vulnerable

When you say something that seem so obvious to you and it is met with silence, or opposition, remember this quote from Seth Godin “If you’re seeking to create positive change in your community, it’s almost certain you’ll be creating discomfort as well.”. Take change slowly and make it easy for people to be wrong.


Next time you find yourself being ignored take a step back and try to understand why. Empathise with the person who’s ignoring you, what are they feeling? Are you making them vulnerable or confused? Is your suggestion too trivial, or too political to be acknowledged? Use this information to build a bigger and better argument and then try again. Maybe you’ll need to bring in more people, or choose your time more carefully, maybe it is simply a case of changing your approach. Whatever it takes persist. Being ignored is not an excuse to avoid change.