Patterns for Getting Your Ideas Heard – BrownBag

October 13, 2011

Here at SEP, we have some pretty awesome engineer-led sessions…book clubs, academy courses, and [brown bags]( (just to name a few).  Recently, I gave a brown bag on a topic that I am excited about – getting your ideas heard.  I wanted to give this brown bag for a few reasons- I heard a common theme when talking with others around the company – “I wish they would have listened to me earlier” – And for some semi-selfish reasons – I felt like it was time to start contributing, I wanted to help create change, and I really wanted to help people learn.

Here is my slide-deck.  Note that it’s not nearly as useful without being at the brown bag, but I have a recap below and hopefully we can talk in more detail about it.  I’m not going to list the examples that I gave during the brown bag to support these patterns, so if you have questions post them and I will be happy to give more details or specific examples.

What went well in the brown bag:

The information, discussions following, and using my phone as a PowerPoint remote all went well.  I would definitely do this type of brown bag again!  I also really enjoyed being able to share something that I’m excited about.

What didn’t go so well:

I didn’t engage everyone in the beginning, and I blitzed through the presentation.  In the future, I could definitely do a better job of asking questions up front, instead of waiting until the end.  And I need to practice leaving a small gap between my transitions to allow for others to have questions.  A 30 second gap might feel like an eternity, but the 5 second gaps I was leaving weren’t conducive to discussions.

Recap of presentation:

I started off by listing 2 rules that make these patterns work – “be curious”, and something I like to sum up as “Happy Spouse = Happy House”.

Being curious means that you will  try to do the following things at all times when working with others:

  • ask questions and/or restate the problem
  • don’t make any assumptions without confirming them
  • make sure you understand where the other person is coming from

“Happy Spouse = Happy House” basically comes from the fact that human interactions are relationships, and in relationships you get what you give.  Consider the following when working with your “spouse” (peer, manager, client, etc.):

  • pick your battles – don’t stand up against every “bad” idea, make sure it’s worth fighting for in the grand scheme
  • don’t become a downer that only points out flaws, you should also practice supporting good ideas as well
  • practice the principle of reciprocity – you get what you give
  • being a control freak isn’t automatically bad…it’s the out-of-control freaks that are bad

After talking about the rules, I talked about 6 patterns that make up a recipe for success…for me.  These are patterns that I’ve leaned from seeing others in action, read about, or just developed from my own experiences.  I like to refer to these patterns as Jedi Mind Tricks…because they are that powerful in my daily life.

It’s all about me users

  • Shift the focus off of MY ideas, and onto YOU, or the USERS, or the CUSTOMERS
  • By shifting the focus, arguments against the idea I’m bringing to the table have to be much stronger
  • Because you are talking about an idea, and not about roles/responsibilities of implementing an idea, it is not weasel-speak to remove the first person speech


  • If you are bringing ideas to the table, establish yourself as the figure of authority on that matter (even if you aren’t the “boss”)
  • Be confident, you want to be perceived as an expert of this matter
  • Remove the emotion – there is a fine line between having ownership and being emotionally attached
  • Be honest – it’s okay to say you don’t know, but let them know when you will know and follow through

Social Validation

  • It’s easy to adopt something that is already being used, or that people like
  • Use open source projects to confirm architectures, or designs
  • Refer to other projects (current or past) where something did or didn’t work
  • Reference professional studies and/or research that are applicable (I find myself referencing Nielsen’s group a lot)

Power of Because

  • The word “because” is the most powerful word in the English language, use it to your advantage
  • Our brains are wired to think in terms of cause and effect
  • Reduces fluff – adds concrete substance to an otherwise empty claim or opinion
  • Use this to accent goals or constraints

Lead the Blind

  • Ask questions you already know the answer to in order to guide them to come up with the idea themselves (and therefore makes it easier for them to buy into)
  • Ask questions that allow you to dig deeper and find out the root problem, higher goal, or something else entirely…which means we ultimately solve the correct problem.

Restate the Problem

  • If the other person knows that you understand their problem, then they are more likely to hear you and your ideas, instead of always trying to tell you their problem.