Coaching Corner - April 2016

Lately I’ve run into Asian colleagues that say they have obtained a “seat at the table” but they don’t feel heard or that no one is listening. It sounds like progress is being made and there is some visibility, but how can we become part of the conversation?

I feel your pain! Through my own experiences I've found that getting a seat at the table is great, but has absolutely nothing to do with being heard once you're there.  While it gave me a certain amount of satisfaction to place the blame on those others at the table who obviously didn't know who I was -- at least that's what I told myself (ha!) -- it's a lot more productive to start with a critical and honest self-evaluation. Here are a few things you might want to reflect on:

  • Have you positioned yourself as an active contributor or an observer, leader or supporter? You know where I'm going with this, right? If you're viewed as more of a silent observer -- which is one of our dominant Asian stereotypes -- who rarely speaks out, or speaks only when supporting the ideas of others, then people will tend to minimize or discount your voice at the table. You’re not seen as an active player with any kind of serious “cred.” Ouch!
  • Do you make it a point to be visible within the organization? This is kind of like running for elected office. The more people see, hear, and know your name in relationship to your successes or accomplishments, the more front of mind you’ll be for all the right reasons. And, the more people will seek you out to get your input. Don’t keep your wins a secret. Find appropriate ways to keep a high and positive profile. I know, that’s so un-Asian! Don’t worry. You won’t be asked to leave the village. As long as you’re known for the right reasons.
  • Have you built and nurtured meaningful relationships? This is important because sometimes it really is all about who you know, and not necessarily what you know. When people see that you’re aligned with those within the organization who are respected and held in high esteem, they’ll pay more attention to you and listen more seriously to what you have to say. It’s called “power through association.” Of course, if what you have to say is lacking in substance, or otherwise lame, then your reputation will quickly erode from perceived power broker to hollow suck-up. Then you will be asked to leave the village. Seriously.
  • Did you do your homework? In other words, have you worked to be a competent, knowledgeable, fully prepared source of information. Or, are you in the habit of “shooting from the hip” and hoping for the best?

If you think you’re doing all of the above and are still not being heard at the table, then it’s time to ask for feedback and guidance from a trusted and respected source who has had opportunities to observe you in action. That person could be your boss. Ask for honest feedback and advice on what you can do to become a voice of influence. Seek input from others who have cultivated a strong and respected voice. Not only can you benefit from their experience, but there’s a good chance you’ll win them over as allies who will help to make sure your voice gets heard. Whatever you do, don’t give up! You deserve to be heard. You were given a seat at the table for a reason. Don’t let it go to waste!

-Vanna Novak, Speak to Persuade