Being heard above the herd

Anyone who has spent time around cattle knows the sound.  The herd lets out quiet moos as they move along in order to reassure each other.  The constant lowing serves as an affirmation to the group that things are going fine and there’s nothing to be alarmed about.

Next time you’re in a functional meeting at work, listen to the tone of the team.  Chances are you’ll hear the same monotonous stream of affirmation, only in the human tongue.

“Great idea.  Still making progress.  Should have those numbers by Friday.  Got the room booked and the speaker set.  That’s a great message, let’s get the slides finished.  Mooooo.”

How do you make yourself heard above the herd?

First, unless you want to start a stampede, it’s best not to be an alarmist.  To be clear, there might be times when a good, old-fashioned scream is called for, but those times are few and far between.  It’s much more likely that a carefully reasoned appeal to the group will result in action more appropriate than getting everyone overturning their chairs and clawing for the exit.

As with most forms of communication, content is king.  Don’t talk just to be heard; have something useful to add when you speak out.  Give careful thought to your contributions and frame them in a logical way.  Present your comments in a complementary way.  Affirm progress while providing legitimate incremental value.

And here’s an important but often overlooked point.  Always attempt to provide the group a way forward — don’t just toss out objections, no matter how valid.  Trapped cattle react unpredictably and you don’t want to get trampled.  My boss used to say, “Don’t come to me with a problem unless you have a suggestion to solve it.”  Good advice.

Collaborators move in herds.  Figure out how to keep your contributions positive and valuable and you will raise not only your collaborative quotient, but that of the entire team.

And you might just win a blue ribbon at the state fair to boot.

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