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Shifts are hard (four)

This is part 4 of a series on sharing methods to cope with five simultaneous career and life shifts. Feel free to read part 1, part 2, and part 3. This post shares my personal experiences using emotional agility practices to help with multiple shifts. This exercise focuses on your inner critic, which is a choice to be the learner or judger. 

I’ve procrastinated. I avoided writing this post because I did not want to rehash the emotions of this experience. Being heard is essential to me. After two years, I’m in a better place both personally and professionally, my words following flow easily.

Being heard is a feeling

Being heard is the feeling that someone is interested in our views, thoughts, feelings, emotions, and efforts behind our point of view that is acknowledged. We don’t want our perspectives to be loved but at least heard. That doesn’t mean we are yelling out loud but that our verbal or written actions influence the stakeholders, teams, projects, and/or outcomes.

Is my voice heard at Shopify?

After 8 months, I started to recognize several barriers to the influence and impact I desired.

So, as guided by my coach:
Anytime a challenge comes up that you want to bring to your next session, note it.”

So, I did just that and wrote the following:

This week the alignment with my trifecta is beginning to be a challenge. I’d love to get some coaching around being heard, balancing different opinions, and driving a decision. 

  • One of my functional peer leaders is focused on the reactive and near-term impact. 
  • My other functional peer leader is forecasting and opportunistic. This person speaks on behalf of the future without connecting to the details or with the team. Therefore as a functional peer leadership team to our org, we often communicated to our senior leadership team (SLT) different things. We often appeared misaligned and disorganized as a leadership team.
  • This person saw gaps either in my abilities or my other functional leader’s abilities. They would fill our roles or take action on our behalf without informing us of our gaps. Therefore without permission.
  • I often found myself sitting in between two opposing views. I try to facilitate each functional leader’s polarizing views to converge to a single point of view. However, we needed to make decisions. I’m also willing to be open and patient. They are simply not budging; therefore, we are not aligned.
  • It is our role to be strong leaders who are aligned but even in our individual 1:1s direction becomes challenging and misalignment even more apparent. 
  • In my own journey at Shopify, I am starting to find purpose. The challenges in my current role were becoming more apparent, and I’m now motivated. I don’t want this feeling of motivation and accountability to go away.
  • I’d like to understand how I can use other techniques aside from critical feedback as a motivator.

Are you going through a similar experience?

You might have a new role, or be in a new group, or have a new project, be in a new country, and so on, but in the end, you are hired to help with a business problem through your knowledge. There can be huge hurdles when taking on a new or even existing role in each of the following scenarios.

How to step into a conversation with your peers (triads, trifectas, or squads).  

Many software and or technical companies based their organizations on triads, trifectas, teams, or squads. Each member is critical in these orchestrations and contributes through their craft because their voice is crucial as they represent a product development perspective. In triads or trifectas, each member represents the customer (design = desirability), business (product management = viability), and tech (engineering = feasibility) perspectives; these three functions are to balance trade-offs and make decisions. In some roles, I’ve filled a gap that has been left open, and no one has been able to fill it. This made it easier for me to make decisions, voice a direction, and step into my role. Other times the gap has been supplied by another functional leader such as design or engineering. For example, at Shopify, the design leader and engineering leader working together can move the org forward.

In this case, one of my functional peers stepped in and made decisions for me. In the beginning, this was okay as I was onboarding and gaining my bearings. Later it was not. When onboarding, the roles and responsibilities were unclear at Shopify. Sometimes I noticed that product managers like myself would take on more design accountabilities and/or vice versa. The design leaders would take on product accountabilities. Based on my observations from other PMs, Design leaders, and triads, I assumed I should let it go and fill other gaps. My instincts would nudge me to step up, but I dismissed it because my functional peer had over 8 years of context at Shopify.

I assumed my functional peer’s context of the existing operating model, acting role responsibilities, and domain knowledge were correct. I remember many times where I hesitated and chose to be quiet. About 8 months later, as I did gain context, I realized I wanted and needed to voice different decisions, but there seemed to be no room for me. I had a 1:1 with the design functional peer who filled the product management gaps and provided feedback. We were able to clarify my role, and that person relinquished their gap back to me. As I mentioned above, my triad conflicted in fundamental polarizing points of view. One was in the future and the other reactive. I highlighted the concerns to each of them and attempted to create a shared sense of understanding and alignment. There was a standstill. I was not able to break the misalignment. I also involved career coaches in facilitating our communication. I escalated to my lead, who told me it was my job to fix it. I also escalated to my functional peers’ leads, who tried to spar with me to improve the alignment. However, these misalignments in triads often create a laddering of misalignments, which was also becoming evident. Our triad was the result of the misalignment in our senior leadership. In retrospect, my voice was heard for operational improvements but not in the products we shipped. Many actions and feedback I provided helped unblock us, but it wasn’t enough. In my journal at the end of this article, you will read my inability to gain a voice of the product due to the circumstances. At Shopify, operational excellence isn’t valued, but product delivery outcomes are. I felt similar and judged myself on my inability to deliver outcomes.

In hindsight, it’s essential to ask questions and question what can appear as the norm—question from a place of knowing from your experiences. There were many times that my experience informed my instincts that this wasn’t right. I wished I had voiced my perspective, decisions, and actions sooner.

How to be heard in senior leadership team (SLT) meetings?

You are rarely your own boss. If that’s the case, “Good for you!” I’m not. I’m the middle management or the person who is accountable to report to a leadership team. This can be the Board, the CEO, the C-level leadership team, or a senior leadership team. In any case, your voice is critical as you are responsible for reporting your team’s vision, strategy, mission, objectives, and so on. (VSMO) As shared in my journey, you will see that my triad was misaligned and often made us sound like misfits. In weekly syncs with SLT, we would share updates on our team, each functional leader sharing their perspective.

One leader would share the future; the other would share reactive tactics while rolling their eyes at the other. While I would colorfully try to stitch together our message sometimes, I would say nothing and feel my lead staring at me. Other times, I would interrupt leaders to correct a tangent that often occurred via one of our SLT members. They would rathole amongst themselves. At the end of every session, it felt like an embarrassing version of our voices being heard. Surprisingly, we worked on our VSMO together, which should have prevented our incoherence, but our weekly reporting continued to be misaligned. To fix this, I created a reference page for reporting a few days before we spoke and shared it with my peers in a slack channel. We assigned each other speaking parts, asked for further async clarifications, and reviewed the overall message together. This allowed us to begin operating at the right altitude and remedy our misaligned voices. In the following four weeks, we started becoming coherent as a leadership team.

In hindsight, we should have done this sooner. Perhaps as a PM, I should have spoken on behalf of all of us sooner, as my lead has told me before, “It’s my fault or my responsibility.” But in the attributes of successful teams, it’s a partnership and should be one voice. It didn’t fix the relationships, but it did help align us as a team and drive decisions. Unfortunately, our triad above us was not aligned, which we learned later that we often were guided differently through our craft leaders. Engineering was told to focus on the future, the design was told to focus on the near term, and product management was told to mitigate. 

How to be heard when your team has more tenure and you are new.

This one is a relatively easy one at the beginning and sometimes wears off as you gain tenure. At the beginning of a new role, you can ask questions, and there is no such thing as stupid questions. In every meeting, you can be heard by using questions such as: What does this mean? Why did you make these decisions? How do you measure success? What is working well and or not? Have you tried it this way? What results were you hoping for? You are expected to learn and, at the same time, reflect on your experience by conducting an audit. As time passed, I’d developed my own context and perspective. My lead told me to gain trust and context. As context was king at Shopify, driving change and directional efforts was difficult, everyone else around you had more context, and buy-in was increasingly challenging. I’d recommend an effort from a place of experience, and I would get more questions than support. I wanted to gain a voice through impact and influence through my actions. I spent time working with my functional peers, answering questions, then following up with why and relating to outcomes from gaining context. Only then was I heard and able to continue. If you follow my journal below, you see that one effort to create an org-level narrative was critical. However, one of my functional peers struggled in what, how, and why we needed to do this. I spent several hours in 1:1s understanding and explaining. 

In hindsight, I should have moved with more confidence. I knew what needed to be done, such as a narrative, but I spent too much time listening to others. This only increased my self-doubt and anxieties. Balancing the right level of listening and being heard was critical.

How to be heard when your manager is inexperienced and has expert domain knowledge.

I have more experience than my lead. I have been in more senior roles. I have been in software development for over 20 years. I have been a pioneer in many software products, BUT none of this mattered because I lacked my lead’s domain experience and tenure. My lead is incredibly talented. I sincerely joined this company to learn from them. I thought that my tenure in leadership and their tenure in domain expertise was a perfect balance. We could learn from each other—almost the best of both of us. However, I was often intimidated by their domain knowledge. This only made me anxious and nervous. Sometimes, I believe it was their actions that would trigger my reactions. I’m not sure what they did. I never could put my finger on it. But I could only focus on my own actions. My voice was not heard with them. I tried 1:1s, parroting, managing up, and working with my coach. 

In all honesty, I should have just had enough confidence and drove. In retrospect, I should have been a devil’s advocate with my lead. I didn’t disagree enough in 1:1s, and I didn’t push hard on my hypothesis in group meetings. My lead would diminish my voice, and I would let it happen. Sometimes they spoke on behalf of me. They even apologized on several occasions after the fact, but it happened often. I could have said things such as “Actually we are doing this…” or No, this is what we should be doing and why… But this requires energy. At some point, I ran out of energy.

How to feel while trying speak up. 

It is exhausting to speak up. Having your voice heard takes so much energy. I’m not sure it is because of the time spent preparing “how” or maybe the time spent on “why” you need to speak up. Or maybe it’s the emotions of stress: fear, anxiety, nervousness, worries, and more. Or, if you are like me, I spend energy creating potential outcomes. SO MANY OUTCOMES on how this could play out. Having your voice heard can feel like a time warp, too. Speaking up for that 1 sentence for 1 minute can feel like 30 mins. Your heart starts racing. When you finally speak up, there is a rush of blood to your head/body. Then it dissipates, and you bust out in an exhausting sigh of relief. Still shaking from speaking up, but IT’S done.

In all honesty, with experience, the above usually fades, but in my experience at Shopify, that all flooded back. I had several signals that my voice was not heard in the environment I was in. There comes the point when you have to decide if it’s worth your time and experience. 🙂

How to develop your voice?

I wrote this post to share my experience so that you can find ways to be heard. I want you to follow your instincts, share your perspectives, and speak up!

You have an essential role to play. Your voice is crucial as it will help you and your peers get work done better! There are infinite reasons why a person’s perspective and voice are essential to moving the business forward. Such as seeing a problem no one else sees that might increase the speed. Seeing a similar situation from your previous job from previous mistakes. Your perspective creates a diverse view that others may not see. You voicing a perspective can help others see more broadly. Or the opposite, where you confirm a stand and help harden a decision. In any of the examples above, your voice is essential. 

My voice was not heard at Shopify.

Perhaps the exercise below provided by my coach is the moment I realized I was not heard. If you work with me closely, you know I can make lemonade out of anything. I may also be still making lemonade in my reflection. Just note that a few months later, I hit an all-time low in my career. Below is the exercise I used guided by my coach on the topic of my voice. It’s raw but with the names removed. Because my inner critic tends to choose the path of the judger, I share all the emotions from insecurity, sadness, nervousness, and anxieties. In my previous exercise, my emotions were more conservative than the “inner judger.” 

Ironically, while I felt this way, this does not mean we didn’t deliver a large amount to our customers during my time there. Actually, we shipped AR/VR capabilities, new, improved discounts API, react conversion of most of our core components, and several other incremental improvements. Many of these also accompanied large marketing campaigns for our yearly conference. Also, this is by no means a representation of Shopify’s experience, but my own experience of how my inner judger got the best of me.

Try It

If you are curious about what I took away, re-visit my site to discover what I learned about me in the next session. I’ll also share the next practice in emotional agility. Why not try this exercise and see if your inner voice is on overdrive? Feel free to use this voice is heard practice template to journal as I did. 


Emotional Agility Practice #3: Voice is Heard

WHAT: Notice when you are attempting to make your voice heard

WHY: Notice if you’re moving into judger mode in attempting to be heard and how that affects you before deciding to stay there or switch lanes (in your chosen path from learner to judger or vice versa).

HOW: At the end of the day, note one situation in which your voice was heard.

What factors contributed to your being heard? Separate your contribution from others. Consider your inner resources, like mindset, your emotional/physical state, etc.


Day 1: February 25

At the end of the day, note one situation in which your voice was heard: Hearing alignment from the Senior Leadership Team (SLT)

What factors contributed to your being heard? (Separate your contribution from others. Consider your inner resources, like mindset, your emotional/physical state, etc.)

Even if I didn’t message our group leader, my manager, somehow we were aligned. 

What was your mindset? (e.g., beliefs you had)

This is good. I’m unsure I was heard? or Do I take note that I feel aligned?
How do I message that we confirm the alignment? I did and was heard.

Was your judger present – and what was that voice?

Wow, our scope grew. My insecurities around confidence and trust as the feedback is lingering. What can I do to modify change this self-perception and SLT perception?


Day 2: February 26

At the end of the day, note one situation in which your voice was heard:

Chatting with my lead about our group’s narrative, breadth versus depth of scope, and pm alignment. Also confirmed what leadership wants to hear. 

What factors contributed to your being heard? (Separate your contribution from others. Consider your inner resources, like mindset, your emotional/physical state, etc.)

My lead took the time to dive deeper and listen to certain areas I shared. This was a strong signal that I was being heard. I also heard them digesting this information and reflecting. 
I did also notice my posture, more confident and relaxed in listening mode.
My inner resource understands we see and think differently.

What was your mindset? (e.g., beliefs you had)

I need to listen more to my lead. What are they saying? What is their point of view or mental model? Wow, we are so different. 
I have grown, and I can have more effective conversations about products with my lead.

Was your judger present – and what was that voice?

Yes, there are whispers of that voice. But, that voice is always directed towards my own capabilities. Why do I not get my leads’ framework? Does that make me a lousy PM? Because I can’t think and or talk like other Shopify PMs. I still can’t talk about the product with my lead effectively. I have a long way to go. I could be better, etc.
I still have concerns about whether I’m doing good enough, meeting expectations, and my calibration is still off. However, I do reposition that and try not to over-index on what I’m not doing well enough and focusing on what I can do!


Day 3: February 27

At the end of the day, note one situation in which your voice was heard:

My lead talked through a product area we wanted to deliver, such as rich video and boldness. 

What factors contributed to your being heard? (Separate your contribution from others. Consider your inner resources, like mindset, your emotional/physical state, etc.)

My lead said things verbatim about what was written in the document we created. 
I leaned in and listened to my lead. Seeing what they did with this information. How they pushed.

What was your mindset? (e.g., beliefs you had)

I need to be more like my lead. How can I be bold yet have influence? 
How did they wrangle this? 

Was your judger present – and what was that voice?

Yes. Why am I not good enough? I could be better. Am I doing a good job?
I have no facts on whether I’m doing a good job or not.


Day 4: February 28

No Entry


Day 5: March 1

No Entry


Week 1: Reflection Questions:

What came out of this meeting? What are your next steps?

We had an SLT standup and several conversations around our group’s biggest investment for the year. Of course, we needed to make some ruthless cuts to enable it. But, we also needed to have a strong narrative on what we are doing today and why that leads to next year’s POV and the year after that.

What happens when you focus on identifying the moves you make towards a successful outcome, in this case, being heard?

Getting alignment much faster or trying. Coming from a place where I know how to do this. We have a brain dump of our group’s narrative. We need clarity. I took ownership of this effort and found several members on the team who will deliver on the narrative. 


Day 6: March 4

At the end of the day, note one situation in which your voice was heard:

I met with a content strategist and my functional peer, giving context to take on our group’s narrative.

What factors contributed to your being heard? (Separate your contribution from others. Consider your inner resources, like mindset, your emotional/physical state, etc.)

I was heard, The content strategist is taking on the narrative effort. But I also heard signals that my functional peer didn’t listen to me.

What was your mindset? (e.g., beliefs you had)

Achiever mode: I want to get aligned and want to communicate now clearly. I’m hearing solid signals that my functional peer isn’t listening. They repeated a question assuming we aren’t aligned and then jumped into needing alignment. I need to work on this relationship but also my communication.

Was your judger present – and what was that voice?

My inner judger came out. Questioning why they didn’t understand? What happened? Did she not hear me? We have a meeting, and we will clarify. This also plays back to a conversation I had with them. They also insisted they didn’t understand pricing, a core area in our org. I offered to walk them through it. They claimed I didn’t know it. I followed up later today. I do know it, and I know it well. What are the signs that show I don’t understand the space that she claims? It must be communication!!! 


Day 7: March 5

At the end of the day, note one situation in which your voice was heard:

In a meeting with my functional peer, we worked together to understand our org merchandising’s narrative.

What factors contributed to your being heard? (Separate your contribution from others. Consider your inner resources, like mindset, your emotional/physical state, etc.)

I know this space a lot more than I thought. This is great because we understand each other. I know how to build and listen. Stop to ask questions, not to debate but understand.

What was your mindset? (e.g., beliefs you had)

Learner mode. Understanding another and building on it. Working towards completion.

Was your judger present – and what was that voice?

Unsure of two concepts, they seem like unknowns.


Day 8: March 6

At the end of the day, note one situation in which your voice was heard:

Working with my functional peer on closing the timeline and focus for the next 6 months. 

What factors contributed to your being heard? (Separate your contribution from others. Consider your inner resources, like mindset, your emotional/physical state, etc.)

We aligned, and we both got heard. Felt good and accomplished.

What was your mindset? (e.g., beliefs you had)

Positive, get it done attitude. I’m a bit exhausted.

Was your judger present – and what was that voice?

No. it Felt great. 


Day 9: March 7

At the end of the day, note one situation in which your voice was heard:

In the meeting with my lead in a 1:1 and again in a metrics meeting. 

What factors contributed to your being heard? (Separate your contribution from others. Consider your inner resources, like mindset, your emotional/physical state, etc.)

I shared my thoughts on merchandising. What we were doing and why. My lead agreed, echoed back what I said, which confirmed. Felt great and was energized. (granted I was exhausted cause of long working hours)

What was your mindset? (e.g., beliefs you had)

Focused, need to make an impact. Get decisions closed.

Was your judger present – and what was that voice?

That was a good moment. In the metric meeting, I felt good to have been more proactive and faster. But it was a good one. I feel as if we are the group that is lagging behind a bit. We could be better, etc.


Day 10: March 8

No Entry


Week 2: Reflection Questions:

What came out of this meeting? What are your next steps?

So far, I have realized that in a meeting with my functional peer that they are often not hearing our opportunities. Instead, they provide more intense questioning and end in the assumptions.

What happens when you focus on identifying the moves you make towards a successful outcome, in this case, being heard?

I need to focus on improved communications everywhere! A product of not being heard means I need to be able to communicate better.



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