[Coaching Tips] How to Show Up (and Not Be Invisible)

The reader responded simply to the post “How to be Discovered .”  “I just want,” she wrote, “to make myself visible.”

There are a few general things to consider and at least four things she might do based on what’s going on.

Here are the considerations that would run through my mind were I coaching her:

  1. It’s not a matter of being visible, but being visible and effective. Ripping your pants while giving a speech makes you visible. Presenting well while giving a speech makes you effective. The goal should be to make someone visible when they are effective.
  2. People show up – e.g. become visible – in different ways. I think women in business have a slightly trickier task then men, but they also have an advantage or two. The questions that would run through my mind is what’s the culture of the workplace like, what’s the behavior – including dress – of men and women who are viewed in a positive way as highly visible, as well as the converse: what’s the behavior, including dress, of people who are experienced as invisible?
  3. The basics of assessing behavior are simple: what are you doing, what’s the effect of that behavior, and what’s the qualitative judgment (good, bad, effective, not so effective, etc.) of that behavior. The question for this reader is when do people experience her as showing up, if they do, and the flip side: when is she seen as being invisible and not noticed?
  4. There are always prices to pay and benefits to be had with a shift of behavior. How much is this person willing to shift her behaviors to show up more?

Taken with a very big grain of salt – the reality of not knowing her role, work culture, presence, or physical size and style – here are four things that she should consider to become more visible:

1. Something as simple as the color of clothes can make people show up better. A male coaching client who, like me, has a pastier, paler complexion with black hair, fades when he wears gray shirts and dark slacks. One way to have him “show up” was to slightly more formal button down shirts in crisp white or Brooks Brother blue with khaki slacks. They help him stand out a little more and project an ever so slightly more professional look.

Women in this regard can get away with wearing brighter colors (red for example) than males provided the attire fits the setting. Women can also use color (a red scarf for example) as an accessory to stand out a little more. In both the case of my client, as well as the writer, the color choice needs to be appropriate to the person and the place. Just like not everyone looks great in red, a red scarf warn by a female telephone linesperson is not appropriate or effective.

2. Physical presence and position can help someone become visible, or make people invisible. At 6’ 4” I can almost always stand up if I want to be seen: it’s tough to ignore me in most crowds at that height. The writer is likely not that tall so there are other options that come to mind: she can stand to make a point, or alternately walk or position herself in a group or room so she can be seen.

I worked with a woman a few years ago who barely hit 5 feet tall: she was most visible when she positioned herself at the ends of a U shaped conference table and stood when she want to make her point. She was less visible when she sat in the middle of the U and never stood when she wanted to make a point.

3. Voice and vocal quality can make someone disappear, and alternately, make someone bigger than they are. And unlike something like height or size, voice can be altered by some training and practice. If it turns out that the reader shows up best when she speaks with poise, then working on voice would be part of the equation.

Sometimes though it’s not exactly vocal quality but the behaviors they use: someone can become less visible if their speech has mealy mouth or an understated quality to it. Turning up the crispness and adding greater gravitas to the actual words (“Would you think about” becomes “I’d like you to”) can cause people to show up more since there is more force behind their speech.

4. Part of showing up and being visible is the perception by others that you have important things to share and contribute. There are people who I’ve worked with on start-up biotech teams who are visible by the area of responsibility and the competence they possess. For the reader, it may mean working to know an area much better than anyone else and building that reputation over time as someone who should be asked, and someone whose words carry extra weight.

When I coach executives time is spent early in the engagement shadowing people and coupling what I see from shadowing with data gleaned from in-person 360 interviews. With that approach I get a full sense of what’s going on with a client and can get a client quickly moving on some shifted behaviors.

The results can be striking: little shifts in gesture and behavior can have big impacts because they leverage what works well to greater benefit, and can be used to compensate in areas where someone is less effective.

It all starts though by knowing what you do that has successful impact, and knowing what you do that plays away from your strong suits.

Coaching Tips is a series of posts on common challenges and opportunities that people face in jobs and careers and possible solutions to address those items. The tips are based on my 30+  years of experience coaching individuals, and leadership and start up teams. More about executive and team coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above.