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Barriers to Presenting Ideas

By Michelle Yozzo Drake

It's time for a little dose of Brutal Honesty here. I'm a big fan of Brutal Honesty: no matter how difficult it is to stomach, it can be just the kick in the rear you need to jumpstart positive changes in your life and in your career.

Today's Brutal Honesty topic: the innovation - or lack thereof - that you're contributing to your organization.

Ask yourself these questions, and remember: be completely honest with your answers.

Are you showing your bosses the best of everything you have, all of your talents, all of your skills, all of your value...every day?

If not, why the heck not?!  What barriers do you perceive to be holding you back?

Let's say that you have an amazing, brilliant idea that could increase your company's profits by an astounding percentage. You've been toying with the idea for weeks, running it through your head again and again, searching for its flaws and debating whether or not to present it at your next team meeting. The meeting day has arrived, and you sit there twiddling your thumbs and wondering if now...no, now...wait, now? Wondering when the right time will be to lay the idea out on the table. Or maybe you're thinking that you need to think about it just a little longer...

Suddenly, one of your colleagues clears her throat and leans forward to take the floor.

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She launches into her proposal for bringing in additional revenue for the company and is greeted with nodding heads, thumbs up and high praise from the team and the department head. Beneath the sound of the accolades, you hear the tiniest thud. It's the sound of your heart dropping into your stomach as you realize that this colleague has just pitched the very same idea you had been mulling over, and now SHE'S reaping all of the benefits.

Your first instinct is probably to get angry at her, pushing aside the logical voice in your head that says there's no way she could've stolen your idea. Then that burst of anger gives way to even more anger - at yourself for not having the guts to present the idea first.

Stop right there.

I know it's tough for us to give ourselves the breaks we deserve, but rather than wasting your time and energy on mentally berating yourself, I challenge you to see this situation as an opportunity to reflect on what's keeping you from bringing your ideas forward. There were obstacles standing in your way every time you thought about knocking on the boss's door for a quick proposal meeting or shooting her an e-mail with your idea, so what are they? Tell yourself you won't let this debacle happen again and then examine how and where you went wrong. Let me give you a hand.

Over the course of the last seventeen years I've been coaching executives (and people determined to reach the executive level), I think I've come across every reason in the book as to why someone would hesitate to bring forth their ideas at work. I've narrowed them down to these top four:

#1. Perfectionism. Raise your hand if in a job interview when you're asked to list your weaknesses, you've confidently said, "I'm a perfectionist. I just can't walk away from a project without making sure that everything is perfect, that it's done and done right. I can't help myself." [Cue winning smile] Well, guess what? Perfectionism IS a weakness when it comes to presenting new ideas because most perfectionists never believe that their idea is "perfect" enough to be presented. They obsess over every little detail, every "what if" scenario, every potential consequence...and usually wind up never pulling the trigger and pitching their ideas. What a shame.

If you're a perfectionist and you fear failure, wake up and smell reality! Aside from Haagen-Dazs ice cream, there is very little in reality that is perfect. Don't use "it's just not ready because it's not perfect yet" as an excuse to squirrel away your ideas. Aim to get your ideas to "excellent" rather than "perfect", let 'em fly, and then tweak them along the way.

#2. Fear of judgment/rejection. You're itching to blurt out the idea that's been rolling around in your head, but before you can, you're overcome with a case of the Rejection What Ifs: what if they say the idea is stupid? What if they say I'M stupid? What if they laugh at me? What if they stare at me like I'm a fool for even THINKING about offering out this idea? What if that annoying know-it-all in the office next to mine pokes holes in my idea (damn I hate that guy)...and so on.

Well, take another big whiff of reality: sometimes, that's going to happen. There are always going to be people who disagree, poke holes, doubt your intelligence, etc. And in times like those, I recall an old song lyric: "If you can't please everyone, you've got please yourself." Are you committed to this idea? Do YOU think it's an excellent (not perfect) one? Are you prepared to stand by it? Then go for it! Think about some of the obvious objections that might be raised and prepare for them. And if other objections come to light, use them as opportunities to refine your plan and make it even better.

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#3. "I'm just too shy." Does the thought of "all eyes on you" make you feel slightly nauseous? You're not alone! I've worked with a lot of introverts in my time, and I know how difficult it can be for you to put the spotlight on yourselves. The most obvious solution is to try to work through your shyness by practicing and taking baby steps at every meeting. Start by asking a simple question or by making a brief comment or two, and then work yourself up to offering your opinion and eventually pitching those brilliant ideas.

If you've accepted the fact that you're an introvert and don't think this is the right solution for you, try this: partner with someone who has no problem piping up during meetings. Talk to them about your idea and offer to share the credit with them in exchange for them actually voicing the concept. They might even be able to offer their thoughts and better your idea! When the next meeting rolls around, your partner can pitch your suggestion, and most introverts I've worked with find that this is the catalyst they need to jump into the conversation, fielding questions and offering clarification.

If this solution doesn't jive with you either, how about e-mail? Some introverts - like my assistant - are far more comfortable with the written word rather than the spoken one. Write out your proposed plan in an e-mail and send it to all of your team members for review, offering to answer their questions and starting an online chat about the concept. This will enable you to get your idea out there, hold on to the credit, and avoid all those pairs of eyes staring at you!

#4. Risk aversion. Some people are simply just uncomfortable with risk. They just can't bring themselves to take a leap unless what they're leaping towards is an absolute sure thing. I can understand that: we all have our limits. I could probably never jump out of a plane with a parachute or invest every penny of my life savings in the stock market. But when it comes to taking the risk and throwing out my ideas for the world to see, I don't let fear paralyze me...and I don't let it paralyze my risk-averse clients either! There is a certain element of risk in every decision that we make, and you can either obsess over it (and RISK missing out on some amazing opportunities) or your can take note of it, weigh it against the potential gains, and move forward.

The next time you have an excellent (not perfect) idea to offer your organization, break down the barriers that might be standing in the way of presenting it and let it rip!  

For more FREE tips on advancing your career and navigating the workplace, sign up for my FREE e-zine "Lipstick Leadership" at LipstickLeadership.com today! And check out the products I've developed to guide you toward the success you deserve!

�Strong reasons make strong actions.� � William Shakespeare