How to Get Permission to Be Heard

Have you ever been in a discussion and had an important and useful idea to share but found the audience shutting you down or ignoring you? Yet, a colleague next to you seemed to be getting more attention for his/her mediocre ideas. It can be frustrating, especially if you are communicating correctly and the benefits of your idea are very clear.

Many of you will buckle down and think of ways to explain your ideas more clearly, speak more confidently and articulately. You may even go off to develop a business case to convince the group.

Sometimes that helps, but often you just do not have permission to be heard, acknowledged and accepted.

In a simple example of permission, let’s assume you were in a meeting with a group of Ivy League MBAs and you were a community college graduate. Before the meeting even begins, many in the group have decided you do not have their permission to be heard because they do not think you could possibly have anything useful to say.

Every single time you speak, the default response of the group is to assume you are incorrect and they will search for reasons why you are incorrect. For anything THEY do not understand, YOU will receive no benefit of the doubt. They assume their lack of understanding is your fault.

In the inverse, when someone from Wharton, for example, speaks, the default response of the group is to assume they are correct. For anything THE GROUP does not understand, the WHARTON graduate will receive the benefit of the doubt. Every time the Wharton graduate speaks, the group will search for reasons why the idea makes sense. The default position is that the Wharton graduate must be saying something useful.

Permission is about who gets the benefit of the doubt. Two people with the same idea and approach, with different levels of permission, will be analyzed differently. Their actions will be interpreted differently. The tone and language to describe them will be different.

That is because, due to their level of permission, judgment has already been cast on them.

We see this all the time in newspapers and articles. We search for who wrote the article and if they have credentials we respect, we give them the benefit of the doubt. We give them permission to influence us. If the article does not make much sense or is not particularly useful, our default response is to look for reasons why the article is useful.

It never occurs to us that the idea may just be terrible.

If we do not respect their credentials, we simply shut our minds down. The author gains no benefit of the doubt and we give them no permission to influence us. In fact, we always assume anything in the article that does not make sense is a reason to discredit them.

We never say it, but we rarely judge people on the merits of their ideas. We judge them on credentials they earned decades ago. We usually miss incredible ideas because of this trait. The euphemism for our lack of critical thinking in evaluating an idea is someone does not make sense.

In life you are given permission for many things and you have permission taken away for many reasons. Your graduating school, nationality, your gender, your age, your dressing, your track record etc. are all symbols that signal to the audience what permission you will and will not have.

You will never have the permission you want. No matter what you study, where you go and how you speak, there will be situations where you lack permission.

The big mistake is to assume being smart is enough. If you are smart but lack the permission to be heard, your ideas are ignored.

We find this is to be a trap most clients fall into. They aspire to be like McKinsey consultants, and they forget that the best skill of a McKinsey consultant is not the most valuable skill in life and industry.

Would you rather be the most insightful person in the room who cannot implement or the least insightful person in the room who can implement and generate measurable benefits to your organization?

The person who implements well always moves ahead and that is how you gain permission. You get things done. You implement.

As you go through life, you will always face periods when you just do not have permission to be heard. You could go back and do an MBA or join McKinsey, and that will help a bit. But what happens in the future when even that is not enough.

Do you find another credential?

You will face a point very quickly where no credentials can overcome a lack of permission. This is because a credential is a promise that you may be able to deliver in the future. And in life, people in power respect people who deliver today.

So as you use our advanced programs, remember that you should not aspire to be like a McKinsey consultant. You should aspire to take their best skills but always understand what is important in your field. And that is getting results.

I often receive emails from clients who follow this philosophy we espouse. I recently received an email from a Chinese client who documented his enormous success being promoted at one of China’s preeminent technology companies. He did not let his lack of pedigree stand in his way. He just kept implementing even when no one gave him permission to be heard.

As you aspire for more than society intended for you, remember that society may not have been fair to you thus far, but society always respects the person who gets results. Society is brutally efficient at allocating resources to people who can generate great returns.

And results are not a fancy framework, theoretical business case or insights on a sheet of paper. That should not be what you take from our training.

Results are audited dollars that sit in a client’s bank account.

Results are the only thing that is guaranteed to give you permission. So if you feel a little blue that you may not have the right pedigree and credentials, you can still get the only credential that counts. That you are a person who gets results.

In your 20s and 30s this may be hard to yet see since your network is largely people focused on stacking up credentials and valuing those credentials. Your peers reinforce that this is the most important thing in life. Yet, always remember a credential / degree is a promise.

As you hit your late 30s and 40s the market will expect you to deliver on that promise. The bigger the credential, the bigger the promise and the bigger the expectations to deliver. And if you cannot deliver you will be one of the millions who made promises they failed to keep.

So I ask you, how are you using our advanced content to generate results?

If you found these thoughts useful, please share it with your friends, family or coworkers.

Training by ex-McK, BCG et al. Partners

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