This article was originally published on Guardian Careers.
When it comes to getting ahead at work, your ability to argue your corner and defend your ideas can be as important as the ideas themselves. Don’t let an inability to advocate for yourself be the reason your hard work and talent goes unappreciated. Here’s how to hold your own in any work scenario.
BUILD A BUSINESS CASE
Whether you’re suggesting a new social media strategy or hustling for a pay rise, put your commercial hat on and gather evidence that supports your point of view. This could range from effective strategies you have observed elsewhere or recent successes you’ve had at work. If you present an argument that’s backed up with relevant data – such as statistics or examples of quantifiable contributions you have made to the company – you will find it easier to convince people of your ideas.
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
Find out who the people you need to convince are and what their agendas might be. Put yourself in their shoes – is the person who has the final say in signing off on your idea trying to meet a target? Are they dealing with a sudden change in management? Or worried about the safety of their job? An obvious but often overlooked truth is that the success of your ideas will depend on your ability to understand other peoples’ needs. I started my career working in ad agencies, and every boss reiterated the importance of being aware of the environment in which our clients were operating.
On a related note: make sure you’re talking to the right person. If you are in a relatively junior position, there might be a few levels between you and the decision-makers in your company. If that’s the case, make it as easy as possible for whoever is acting as a go-between to sell your idea further up the chain. Put together a PowerPoint presentation or a case study, and try to pre-empt and address any pushback they might face. Make their life easier and they are more likely to look favourably on your idea.
MIND YOUR LANGUAGE
It’s all very well doing your homework and being prepared, but the way you present your ideas is almost as important as the ideas themselves. Whether you do it consciously or unwittingly, littering your sentences with caveats and apologies in an effort to seem more agreeable is a sure-fire way to undermine your credibility. Qualifiers like ‘I might be wrong on this but …’, or ‘… does that make sense?’ don’t scream confidence. The same goes for using the word “just” as a way to soften the impact of your words. Instead of saying ‘I just feel like’, say ‘I think’; instead of ‘I was just wondering …’ ask ‘Can you let me know?’. Notice the difference? Stop apologising for having the audacity to have an opinion.
A useful trick if you’re shy about speaking up in meetings is to “say something at the start, even if that’s simply a matter of joining in the pre-meeting small talk”, says Pilar Peace, creative director at ad agency Mother. Often, the longer a meeting goes on without you having said anything, the more pressure you feel to dazzle with whatever you do eventually say, which can make you clam up even more. So break the ice early on. It’s a figurative and literal throat-clearing, so the sound of your voice doesn’t come as a surprise, either to you or to the rest of the room. Try it – it’s a game-changer.