It’s a charming notion, don’t you think? The idea that “Doing excellent work speaks for itself.”
Yet, every leader with real career experience knows this sentiment is usually untrue.
Simply doing great work — no matter how consistently — is rarely enough to gain you the credit, compensation, and growth opportunities you desire (and deserve).
Now, more than ever, leaders know they must be their own best champion and make sure their ideas are heard, their accomplishments are recognized, and their contributions are valued.
But how do you speak up without seeming self-centered? How do you assert your voice without sounding obnoxious or aggressive?
After all, the modern work world favors a “team” culture … one in which ideas get workshopped (laterally, and across multiple departments) and credit is shared. But, let’s be real: Raises and promotions aren’t given to ‘teams,’ they’re given to individuals.
Learning how to insert your voice and claim your moment in the spotlight without minimizing anyone else’s role (especially if bragging about yourself probably isn’t your nature) is an essential skill set to develop.
Only you know the true depth and breadth of effort that went into your individual contribution to a team’s successful outcome, so it’s imperative that you ensure an accurate representation of that effort is on the radar of key decision-makers in your company.
And, tactfully ‘tooting your own horn’ matters because research clearly shows that not only do women get less credit and recognition at work (especially working on teams), so do shy, quieter personality types and people from cultures who place more weight on values like humility and meritocracy..
So, it’s time to speak up and make sure people recognize your ideas and success as your own!
Here’s how to do so without stepping on anyone else’s toes:
1. Speak up often (This is a constant process, not a one-time deal)
If you only speak up when you want recognition for yourself, that will come across as entirely self-serving. So, start speaking up early and often about a variety of topics … whether that’s commenting constructively on a project idea being discussed, offering insights that would help other team members tackle their part of a project better, or simply acknowledging other people in the room when they speak up.
Reciprocity is the name of the game here. If you want to be heard and recognized, then first join the conversation when it’s not about you. Pay attention to everything said. As you do this more, fellow colleagues (and the executives you report to) begin to anticipate your contribution, and will already be primed to listen to you when it’s time for you to speak up specifically about your own ideas or accomplishments.
And (for those introverts out there), if the idea of speaking up or singing your own praises feels intimidating, just dip your toe in the water at first. A great technique is to ask a clarifying question about a point someone else has made. You insert your voice, everyone sees that you’re actively listening, and you also help to keep the conversation going.
2. Prepare your message
Speaking off the top of your head (especially in a high-stakes situation) is daunting to almost everyone. So, take time to think through your message before attempting to deliver it. Don’t prepare a formal speech, but do clarify a main point or two that you want people to walk away with. This will help you stay on track (and/or pull the conversation back on track should it derail).
Don’t just clarify your points as they will benefit you; identify the distinct value your idea adds to others (especially as they relate to forwarding company goals). Also, make sure you know who most needs to hear your message if you’re in a group meeting. Then, be sure to make eye contact with that person as you mention your key points.
3. Gauge the climate (and culture) of the room first
It takes nerve to speak up. But while wrestling with your internal nerves, don’t forget to gauge the climate of the external environment before you chime in. Pay attention to the conversation around you, as well as the mood of key stakeholders. Diving in with an idea about a brilliant but costly product change won’t go over well if the person speaking before you just delivered news that 4th quarter profits are down.
Likewise, be sensitive to the cultural differences of everyone at the table. I once witnessed an executive of Indian heritage interrupt a Chinese manager while discussing a critical project. For him, the interruption implied professional dedication to and enthusiasm for the project. But to his Chinese manager, the interruption was considered incredibly disrespectful. The executive did a great job speaking up, but his execution ended up alienating the person he most needed to hear him. A subtle adjustment in approach would have helped win his colleague over.
4. Recruit others to support you
Before the meeting, connect with a trusted colleague or two and let them know you’re trying to speak up more often and grow that area of your leadership skills. Ask them to lend some support when you speak up (by helping to ensure someone else in the room doesn’t hijack your idea) and after the fact (by offering some private feedback later on how well they thought you did and how you could improve next time).
Again, reciprocity matters here. If you want others to support you when you speak up, make sure you do the same for them. Even when you disagree with someone’s point, you can acknowledge their point with respect before offering a counter perspective.
Also, having an executive coach or professional mentor hold you accountable behind the scenes is a great way to summon the courage to speak up and keep speaking up.
5. Take credit and share credit … at the same time
Nothing breaks trust on a team faster than someone stealing all the credit. But an equally big mistake is passing credit on to others too quickly. A better approach is to recognize others AND share the personal successes you’re excited about at the same time.
Mention the positive impact of something you worked on for other people, remaining more project focused. People are smart, they know how to link the results to the person who made it happen. For example, if the impact of your role made a difference for a group of colleagues, talk about how pleased you are that your solution makes their lives (and jobs) easier.
After you mention the impact your work had and tie that impact to forwarding company or project goals, then mention others who likewise contributed to that success. Give them sincere praise and well-deserved credit. There is room for everyone to get the recognition they deserve.
This article originally published on LinkedIn.