Teen Breathe

How to get people to listen and pay attention to your ideas

Do you have lots of ideas but feel frustrated because no one seems to listen to them? Or are you too nervous to voice your opinions because you think you won’t be taken seriously, particularly if the person you need to talk to is someone in a position of authority? If so, there are ways to take positive action. Your viewpoints and ideas are important and, by learning a few skills, you’ll be able to get them heard by people with power, whether it’s your headmaster, a local politician or another adult.
WORDS: Donna Findlay
ILLUSTRATION: Shutterstock

Why getting involved in school or college politics can give you a voice

Most schools and colleges have a council, where becoming a member often involves campaigning for people’s votes. So, if you’re keen on making a difference and have good ideas, give it a go. Don’t worry if you’re not elected or too late to join this year – speak to current members or the leader about how you can get involved. They’re your representatives and always need help. 

Why a written message can help you put your thoughts across

If something concerns you or you have a good idea but are too nervous to talk about it in person, write a letter so you can get all your ideas down in a polite, constructive, balanced way. Be positive, non-judgmental and, where appropriate, offer solutions. You can write or type it, or even email it if that feels right, but spend time planning it first. Who’s the best person to write to? What points do you want to get across? What do you want to achieve? 

Why doing research can help give you the confidence to speak out

Back up your arguments and ideas with facts. You could carry out a survey to see what other pupils think or spend a few weeks making notes about a situation.

It might be a personal story that will give your ideas more weight. For example, if the uniform is uncomfortable or the material isn’t good enough, prove it. If the canteen sandwiches have had the same fillings for three weeks in a row, provide a list. If you think there’s a need for a change in your town, gather examples that explain why.

Why politeness makes your ideas and arguments more persuasive

Good manners, honesty, politeness and consideration of others’ viewpoints will earn you respect, whether you discuss your ideas in person or by letter. It’s also important to stay calm and not to tell the person in authority that they’re wrong.

For example, if you write to your headteacher to suggest a change to uniform, you’ll have to show an understanding of why the school has a uniform because the head is in charge of it. Rather than saying you hate it, be specific about what needs to change and why. If your issue is with canteen food, don’t just say it’s all disgusting – give details about what could be improved and ideas for getting more students to buy the food. Describe the ways a situation could be made better for the benefit of many people. Accept that it may only happen gradually at first, but small changes that you instigate could have a big impact.

Why joining an organisation can help you to realise your aims

If you’re particularly interested in something, join a club or association dedicated to your cause. For example, it might be something to do with changing the environment, recycling plastic, or animal or gender rights. And if you can’t find one, consider starting one, with the permission of your headteacher or parents.

Being with other people who have the same opinions will only strengthen your arguments. Another good way of improving your persuasive skills is to join your school’s debating club, if it has one. Who knows – your ideas may lead to the changes you want.

Why it’s important not to take the outcome personally

When you’ve got your ideas across, you might be successful and see positive changes as a result. However, it might be that despite your best efforts, the person you speak to won’t listen, or does listen but can’t or won’t change anything. Take time to reflect on the decision. You can come back to the issue, but you’ll probably need time to consider how else to get your ideas across – or whether the situation has to be accepted for now.

Read more about volunteering and achieving your ambitions in Teen Breathe issue 44.