You’re in a team meeting, hashing out how to resolve an issue that everybody has been repeatedly battling with.
“What if we changed the process so that the sales team saw the report first?” you suggest, “That way the design team could step in with all of the information there—without having to re-format graphics later.”
Perhaps a few somewhat courteous colleagues mutter a “maybe” or a nonchalant “that could work,” but then the conversation quickly moves on to something different. You’re annoyed, but you decide to let it go for now.
The next week you’re in that regular team-wide meeting, and the same problem is on the table for discussion. One of your co-workers chimes in with, “You know, I was thinking about this—what if we changed the process so that the sales team saw the report first?”
You can hardly believe what you’re hearing. Not only is he speaking up with the exact suggestion you pitched last week, but everyone’s nodding along as if that’s the greatest idea since the lightbulb.
I’ve been there, so I know how frustrating this is. Knowing that your voice isn’t heard is enough to make you ball up your fists and clench your jaw, and it’s made even worse by the feeling that you’re totally helpless. What can you do—aside from apparently try to speak louder?
Well, here’s the good news: There are a couple of things you can try when nobody listens to you at work.
The Moment You Feel Ignored: Advocate for Yourself
When everybody just breezes by your contribution without so much as a second glance, what’s your first reaction? If you’re anything like me, it involves rolling your eyes and making a strongly-worded mental note to vent about that situation later.
But, what does that actually accomplish for you? Nothing.
The moment that you feel like your idea isn’t being given the consideration it deserves, don’t be afraid to gently push for a continued conversation. Meet those noncommittal “maybes” with some thoughtful questions, such as:
Do you think that could work?
Do you see any issues with that approach?
What would be our next step in getting that implemented?
It’ll be a lot harder for people to leave your idea in the dust if you’re forcing them (respectfully, of course) to consider it.
If you do that and you’re still stuck in that Twilight Zone scenario in which a colleague spits out your same suggestion and gets a totally different reaction?
Go ahead—speak up and ask something like, “Can you explain how that’s different from what I suggested in last week’s meeting?”
Your co-worker will likely be slack-jawed in response, and—while it’s not your goal to embarrass him or come off as condescending—that’s an effective way to remind people that you actually do have some valuable thoughts to share.
After You Speak Up: Approach Your Supervisor
When you’re used to having your ideas steamrolled or forgotten, I know that speaking up in that way can feel a little aggressive—and, your team members might even be a little taken aback by the fact that you’re suddenly standing up for yourself.
Afterwards, it’s smart to approach your boss for a brief one-on-one conversation. During that chat, you can explain that you hope you didn’t come off as too forward, but that you want to make sure that you’re heard and able to make a valuable contribution to your team.
You can also ask your boss something like, “Is there something else I should be doing to ensure that my voice is heard in these meetings?”
Not only does this soften the blow by placing at least a little of the responsibility back on your shoulders, but it can also open your eyes to any team norms you might not be aware of.
For example, if you’re new to the company, perhaps you’re not in the loop on the fact that they have a brainstorming session at the end when you could chime in—because they prefer to not have other people jumping in while others are talking.
You don’t always want to assume malicious intent when you feel you aren’t being heard. So, make sure you have these important conversations and cover your bases before you jump to conclusions.
When Nothing Is Changing: Start Your Hunt
You’ve done everything you can think of. You’ve spoken up and advocated for your ideas in team meetings. You’ve sat down with your boss (a couple of times, actually) to explain to her that you feel like your contributions aren’t being given equal weight.
And yet, absolutely nothing is improving. You still feel just as ignored and unheard.
Now what? Well, my friend, here’s the brutal truth: It’s probably time for you to start looking for a workplace where both you and your ideas are valued. You deserve that much.
Does that mean you’re entitled to a team in which every single one of your suggestions is met with applause and then implemented immediately? Absolutely not—every idea you have won’t be a good one. However, you are justified in expecting a certain amount of respect and acknowledgement.
So, if you truly do feel like you’ll continue to go unnoticed in the office—despite your best efforts to change that—it could be a sign of a larger problem within the organization, as opposed to something to do with you specifically.
I know firsthand how discouraging it can be to feel like absolutely nobody listens to what you have to say in the office. And, it’s a tricky situation to navigate.
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to make it a little less easy to ignore you. Give these suggestions a go, and you’ll hopefully feel supported—rather than steamrolled.