I have three kids who are all in their twenties. I remember fondly when they were in their teens, though, and each of them at different points would say, “Why don’t you treat me like an adult?” My response to them was that no adult ever needs to be asked to be treated like an adult. They command that respect by virtue of who they are.
The same thing holds true for being taken seriously at work.
Early in your career, early in your tenure with a new organization, or early in your interactions with a new customer or client, you may feel like you have difficulty being taken seriously. Start by looking a bit at your own behavior to figure out whether you are doing anything that prevents people from engaging with your contributions the way you want.
Are you listening?
No matter how good your ideas are, nobody will pay attention to them if you cannot present them in a way that is on-point to the people you talk to. That means you need to provide a bridge between the knowledge and concerns of others and the idea you are presenting.
The only way to determine what other people know and what they care about is to listen to them. Ask a lot of questions. Listen to the language they use to discuss key issues. Listen for the pauses in what they say to get a sense of whether there are things people are uncomfortable discussing.
Then, mirror the language other people are using as you introduce your ideas. Go out of your way to help people see how the proposals you want to make connect with what they care about. And if you can’t find any bridge between what other people care about and your ideas, then you may need to wait for another time to lay out your plans.
Are you taking complexity seriously?
Another problem that can arise early on is that you may treat the problems people are grappling with too abstractly. When you first enter an organization or an engagement with a client, it is often easy to see things that are going wrong. It may seem obvious initially what the problems are and how to fix them.
Often, though, the systems that an organization has put in place reflect the need to make trade-offs among competing goals. These compromises may not allow the organization to do something optimally, but they may reflect a very good balance that resolves a number of conflicts.
Before throwing out suggestions for how to improve something, it is important to understand why things are done the way they are. If you make suggestions that don’t take the complexity of an issue into consideration, other people will assume you don’t really understand the problem (which is true). As a result, they will start to discount other things you say as well.
When you feel you have a good grasp on a situation, you can present your suggestions in a way that acknowledges the trade-offs that have to be made. Present your ideas in a way that helps people to see how they resolve conflicts in a different way that you believe to be better.
Do you follow through?
The best way to be taken seriously in any organization is to develop a reputation as someone who gets things done. That means that when you talk with people about plans for the future, you should take the lead on ensuring that the ideas move forward. Follow up with people to make sure that everyone knows their responsibilities. If you promised to do something by a particular time, then do it.
You don’t really need to broadcast your accomplishments. If you do what you say you are going to do, it will get noticed. Then, when you say something, people listen. They know that your words are followed by actions.
That also gains you allies around your organization. Much of what gets you taken seriously involves conversations that other people have outside of your presence in which you get mentioned. That reputation creates an orientation in other people where they already intend to take you seriously from the moment you engage with them.
It takes time to develop that reputation. You have to keep doing your work and doing it well. When you do that, though, you will find that it has been a while since you were concerned that people weren’t taking you seriously.