Amplify Your Ideas: Speaking with Confidence

Imagine: you’re at a meeting where you present an idea, and no one comments on it—you only hear “crickets” . . . until a few minutes later when someone else restates the same idea as if it were his own, and everyone chimes in about this other person’s great idea. How often have you witnessed this? Has this happened to you?

How do you break this pattern to get your ideas heard?

When a coaching client is looking for help in finding his or her voice, I start by digging for more information: Does this happen only to you? Does silence only follow the ideas floated by women? What is the gender make-up of the team, the corporate culture? Does anyone ever comment on this pattern during the meeting or afterward? Does it happen to some of the men as well, but you just haven’t noticed?

Before we can begin to solve any problem, we need to make sure we are solving the right one. In the scenario above, I would guide you to reflect on whether this was only happening to you, and ask you to notice what your colleagues are doing differently. We’d then look at what you are doing and thinking in the meetings. I’d prompt you to consider ways you might shift your behavior—your tone of voice, your body language. You might then reflect on the story you’re telling yourself about this pattern, and your assumptions around this story. We might look back at other times in your life when you noticed this pattern.

It is so important to tease out the conditions under which this happens, and to notice what you are thinking before you present your idea. Are you assuming that your idea will be knocked down or that others will judge your idea harshly? Are you presenting it with confidence? How loud is your inner critic?

We would then design ways for you to quiet your inner critic and change the narrative around presenting your ideas.

On the other hand, if the pattern happens only to the women in the room, or only to members of one department, then we would need to look at the broader system. Are there other examples of bias in this organization? Assuming this pattern is ongoing, and no one has spoken out about it, the first thing to do is name the problem, and then gather allies to craft a solution.

One effective strategy that targets this pattern is called “amplification”, a tactic deployed by the women in President Obama’s administration. Amplification was designed to get the women’s ideas noticed: “When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own. We just started doing it, and made a purpose of doing it. . . . Obama noticed . . . and began calling more often on women and junior aides.”

Amplification made headlines nine months ago, and is now finding its way into practice outside of politics, empowering women at all levels. A client who is a middle manager at a biotech company has encouraged her team to practice this strategy, and she’s noticed a shift in the number of women speaking up and seeing their ideas take hold. She’s even drafted some men to help amplify their female colleagues’ ideas.

Amplification can work to solve this type of problem where any group is not being heard. It works because it targets the heart of the problem: the unconscious bias around that group’s contributions. You can identify the presence of unconscious bias when a person’s stated beliefs do not match their behavior. If you were to ask the people in your meeting if they valued all their colleagues’ ideas equally, and many of them replied “Yes, of course”, yet their behavior did not mirror their stated belief, then you are facing bias of some kind. The reason unconscious bias is so hard to shake—and so insidious—is because we’re not aware of it and we may even deny it exists. But to the individuals who are silenced, whether they are women, or junior members on a team, or colleagues of different ethnic or racial backgrounds—the negative impact is very real.

Unconscious bias exists in all of us. By acknowledging the bias, which elevates it to a conscious level, we can make choices on how to change our behavior. This is where a coach can help you see what you might otherwise be missing.

If you notice a dysfunctional pattern such as this in your meetings, it might be time to get a coach. By partnering with your coach, you will isolate the conditions under which it is occurring, and how you might be contributing to the problem. Organizational issues are tricky and bias does exist. Working with a coach will ensure you learn to advocate for yourself and feel empowered to assert your ideas with confidence; you don’t have to go it alone.

Why Most Performance Reviews Aren’t Effective, and What to Do About It

As it stands, annual employee performance reviews are about as fun as an annual visit to the dentist. In most offices, performance reviews are a rushed process that revolves more around fear than recognition. As a manager, being tasked with conducting a review can be daunting, intimidating and sometimes just outright awkward.

But, reviews should be seen as an exciting time to look back on what your team has done, as well as an opportunity to plan goals out for the next year. Below, we’ll pinpoint some common problems for reviewers and the possible solutions to make your next round of reviews successful.

Problem: They’re rushed.

Starting the process right is essential to creating an efficient performance review. When companies decide they want to start giving performance reviews, the timeline is often compressed, both the reviewer and the reviewee aim to get things done as quickly as possible.

This puts stress on you as the reviewer to complete the task without a structure in place. This makes it unlikely you’ll be able to consistently replicate it. But doing one performance review, then never doing another one, is as productive as never doing one at all.

Instead, stress to your team that the performance review is an ongoing process, and needs to be treated as such. Set up a timeline with enough lead time to inform reviewees. Create metrics that both sides understand. It might sound obvious, but set up meetings for performance reviews well in advance to give the reviewee ample time to prepare. Companies often think performance reviews must be done at the end of the year, but take a look at your team’s annual workload. This could be busiest time of year, and therefore not the best time to reflect.

As a reviewer, you have the luxury of creating the timeline. Make sure you’re giving ample time and understanding to make the review itself a success.

Problem: There’s no system or structure.

So, you’ve got a proper timeline in place, but do you have a system to base the performance reviews off of? Often, the performance review is so anxiety-inducing for all parties because there’s no expectation of what will occur. When you give your team ample lead time (see above), you can work together to build a system that meets your need.

Structure can mean different things for each company. If your company has a flat structure, it might mean considering who reviews whom. If you oversee a team with a multitude of different roles, it might mean reviewing each role by different metrics.

If you can, meet with your reviewee(s) to discuss what they want the review process to look like. Do they want feedback from multiple parties? Do they want to do peer reviews in addition to your review? When your team, or single reviewee has a hand in setting up the process, they are much more likely to find the performance review effective when it takes place. Based on those brainstorming conversations, you can create a feedback form that engages the team.

A meeting before the performance review also sets up systems of accountability. You can let your reviewee know what you expect them to prepare. This way, no one comes into the performance review blind sighted.

Problem: They don’t feel productive.

Depending on your relationship, you can often expect sweaty palms and a disengaged employee when the performance review begins. As a reviewer, you need to do your best to alleviate that stress.

As noted above, make it clear to the reviewee, before the meeting, what you expect of him or her. What can the reviewee have prepared beforehand? As the reviewer, you’ll be expected to have feedback, but often the expectations of the reviewee are unknown until the formal process begins. If you want the meeting to be productive, you’ll have to convey the level of participation you need from the reviewee.

Employee performance reviews are a time to be critical, to be sure, but they should also be a time for reflection and praise. Criticism is essential, but to be productive, you need to move on from that. Allow the reviewee to take your feedback and build off of it, creating goals and a performance improvement plan for the next quarter.

While we tend to see performance reviews as critical or negative, they can also be used as an excellent tool to expand the way teams communicate and work with each other. By setting the correct expectations and understanding the system for both critical and positive feedback, you can ensure that the process is effective.