How To Get Your Voice Heard When Leadership Doesn’t Listen

July 20th, 2014 by LaRae Quy

Dean had a tendency to dominate every meeting or briefing he attended. As a supervisor, he surrounded himself with other like-minded male FBI agents who frequently ignored, dismissed, or interrupted others whose opinion they did not respect.

Woman with bullhorn

As a woman I was tired of not getting my voice heard in meetings where louder voices drowned out what I had to say. How could I change the behavior of leadership?

When I looked around the room, I saw that Dean and others of his ilk were also ignoring some of the other male agents who did not stand out as exceptional performers or leaders. While being a female agent may have had some impact on their behavior toward me, it clearly was also a matter of who was perceived to have anything important to say.  Here is how I used mental toughness to get my voice heard:


I had my list of complaints about Dean, but now was the time to focus on the positive aspects of his leadership style, not his faults. For every 1 negative trait, I looked for and found, 5 positive traits about him. As a former U.S. Marine, he was:

  1. Disciplined and conscientious
  2. Possessed clarity of purpose
  3. Used humor to defray tension
  4. Relied upon a high standard of integrity to guide his decisions.
  5. Loyal to his friends


Emotional intelligence is being savvy about the what is important to not only ourselves, but others as well. Awareness is being alert and honest about my feelings of frustration and disappointment that I felt when ignored by Dean and others like him.

Mental toughness is letting go of our ego after we’ve acknowledged our feelings and focusing our attention on someone else instead of ourselves.

When I focused on Dean, I identified one characteristic that seemed to dominate every decision he ever made—integrity. If I wanted to get my voice heard, I needed to appeal to his sense of integrity, not his sense of equal opportunity.


There is a saying: if you can’t beat them, join them. While collaboration is increasingly important, the silo mentality has arisen for a reason: people naturally tend to form safe tribes with colleagues and avoid those they don’t know well. This is because collaboration with people they don’t know is a threat to their brain. 

The emotional limbic brain is survival-driven, and it tends to trust those with whom we’ve developed close ties or have shared experiences. 

I intentionally sought out Dean, and his buddies, to ask for advice about my cases. I buried my pride and made them partners in the direction I took my investigations. Since Dean and his friends had developed deep relationships, I suspected they would talk about me in my absence, and I wanted those conversations to be complimentary and positive.


Our emotional limbic brain system leaks all sorts of information through body languageWhen I approached Dean, his eyebrows arched, indicating a genuine feeling of warmth at seeing me. Few people notice this, but an “eyebrow flash” is an automatic reaction when you see someone you like.

Smiling is a sign of submission, which is why many dominant individuals don’t smile. If the smile is genuine there will crow’s feet and the cheeks will push up.

Smiling activates our mirror neurons; our brain sees a reaction in someone else and it wants to mirror those same emotions. I always approached Dean with a smile, and he naturally wanted to smile back.

Dean and his band of buddies laughed and joked around with each other but never smiled at anyone else. So, I began to smile at Dean every time I saw him. I’d smile and say, “How’s it going?” After a few weeks, he only smiled back but also stopped to tell me how it was going!


Dean was a busy guy and very quick witted. I didn’t dawdle when chatting about a case—I came straight to the point with pithy, strong statements. I didn’t waste his time by trying to ingratiate myself in a way that he would not appreciate. 

In our next meeting, the discussion circled around to a topic that Dean and I had previously discussed. He knew he could rely on me to be succinct and make an impact, so he asked for my opinion. I didn’t let him down—I made my statement and then shut up, not using this opportunity to make sure everyone else in the room knew how competent I was. 

That day was a turning point. While I have never developed a loud voice, I have developed a strong one.

That is something you can do as well. Use it well.


© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.”

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6 Responses to “How To Get Your Voice Heard When Leadership Doesn’t Listen”

  1. Alli Polin says:

    Another exceptional post from you, LaRae, with actionable insights!

    One thing that stood out to me is that you worked to meet Dean where he is instead of bemoaning the fact that he was not listening to you. Strong leaders flex their styles to connect with others and build relationships. You saw his value of integrity and his need for direct, pithy statements and crossed an important bridge.

    Too often, I see people trying to build bridges with others based on their needs and preferences forgoing the other person in the mix. Not everyone loves or needs small talk and others will never hear a word you say without it!

    By not painting Dean as a demon but focusing on his positive qualities too you also took the critical step as seeing him as a human with strengths and failings… kinda like all of us.

    Thanks for another great piece!

    • LaRae Quy says:

      Thanks for your kind words, Alli!

      Learning how to work with the personalities of different team members is difficult, and it’s much easier to place them into a category that is stamped “prejudice” or “loud mouthed” and leave it at that. In truth, most people have good qualities are they wouldn’t be in the organization to begin with. That doesn’t mean they couldn’t use improvement, but then so could we…

  2. Great points LaRae and I especially love network strategically!

    When I work with clients who have a difficult time listening I try to find things we have in common to launch conversations. Sometimes being heard can happen when people feel we have something in common. I try to pull out any experiences we both have had that may relate. We need to speak the other person’s language, not literally, but how they see things.

    Thanks LaRa for a great story and article!

    • LaRae Quy says:

      Terri, networking strategically is essential for success. Too often, we ignore or marginalize those we think/believe are not on our side. My career was based on recruiting foreign spies to work for the FBI, so recruiting fellow colleagues was all in days’ work!

  3. Karin Hurt says:

    i really like the idea of looking for a one to one match of positive qualities. Sometimes when someone annoys us, it can be a downward spiral… as we send of negative vibes to them of which we may not even be aware. Changing your attitude may help to change his. Beautiful

    • LaRae Quy says:

      Keeping a positive attitude about someone is important if we need to find ways to work with them, Karin. The 5 positive thoughts for every one negative thought is science based and works, especially when we take the time to personalize them.

      Negativity is a real downward spiral, I agree. We need to nip it in the bud…though it’s hard when we’re not being treated fairly.

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