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1903 Professional Voice ;

Alumni Voices: top tips for finding your authentic professional voice

Matthew Littleford MBE (MA Politics and Contemporary History, 2019)

Chair of The Reading Agency

13 March 2023

Following an exclusive King’s How to… webinar, we share top tips from experienced career coach, Chair of The Reading Agency, former television producer and alumnus Matthew Littleford MBE (MA Politics and Contemporary History, 2019), on finding your authentic professional voice.

At the top of his talk, Matthew provided two key elements that will give you a ‘professional edge’. They are:

  1. Always be true to yourself ie. your values and your belief system
  1. Be professional in a professional environment

So how do we do this? Matthew outlined four areas for you to be your ‘true self’ in a professional setting:

Understand values 

It’s important to understand the values of the company you are working for or hope to work for. When doing your research on a company, be sure to check their website for information about their values, their mission or their vision. You need to find out: why do they do what they do?

At the same time, reflect on what your values are. Next, consider whether the company’s values and your values align. Are they in line with your ambition or long-term goals? If not, would you adapt to their way? You’ll want to make sure you feel well-supported in your place of work if something goes wrong. So doing this background research can tell you a lot about what a company values and help with your decision to apply or work there.

For yourself, it can be hard to identify your own values but Matthew suggested: being open to change and learning new things, seeking a professional coach or even going to therapy if you’d like further personal support.

Understand the people you’re working with  

Questions to think about here are: what do I know about the people I work with? How do they work? What winds them up? We all have to work with different personalities and Matthew shared some truths we should always remember. You can’t change someone else’s behaviour, you can only change your own but to help you along the way, you should:

  • Listen (active) and not just hear (passive)
  • Be slow and accurate, rather than fast and wrong
  • Over-communicate – tell people what you are doing  
  • Prioritise  
  • Be solution-focused  
  • Negotiate and be diplomatic  
  • Encourage people. Not everyone lives in your eco-chamber or shares your views
  • Recognise that your opinion isn’t always the most important 
  • Be humble – know when to back down 
  • Trust your instinct  

Communicate in a professional manner 

In addition to encouraging us to ‘listen’ and not just ‘hear’, Matthew suggested another technique we could use to evaluate ourselves - stop, start and carry on. He recommended a self-evaluation approach, that every time you have a conversation or an interaction with someone, reflect on what worked, what didn’t and what you should keep on doing. In other words, what should you stop doing, what should you start doing, and what should you carry on doing?

Be yourself and stand up for your values 

Your integrity and dignity are important at work. Consider what values and behaviours you display in your daily life, and how they fit into the professional world. Matthew maintained that it’s important to stand up for your beliefs and be passionate but understand that people think differently so learning how to negotiate that and find an agreement is key.

Treat others the way you’d like to be treated 

As cliché as it sounds, this point is very important. Think about how you’d like to be treated and practise that behaviour. For example, if you’d like colleagues to be more collaborative, showcasing that yourself can get you far. Or, if you’d prefer others to be direct with them, tell them, and exhibit the same behaviour too.

Coaching vs mentoring

If you’re looking to get support in these areas, Matthew recommends seeking professional guidance in either a coach or a mentor. Coaching and mentoring are different and both are worth exploring.

As an experienced coach, Matthew says his role is to empower the individual to ‘work it out’. That is, a coach will support you to gain the tools you need to figure things out for yourself. Be prepared to pay for a good coach – it’s a great investment for your personal and professional development.

Mentoring is where someone uses their experience to advise you. A mentor will help you look at things in a new way and support you to use your experiences to figure things out together, but not someone who will tell you what to do. When looking for a mentor, Matthew says, it’s about trust, liking and respect. He advises finding someone who does not give you the answer, who challenges you to see things in a new way and who is good at listening. You could even have multiple mentors depending on what you want to learn.

Get involved

Would you like to become a mentee? Join King’s Connect, our online professional development platform and your gateway to your King’s community for networking and mentoring opportunities.

On 28 March, sign up to the next King’s Connect Mentoring Meet Up, exclusively for students to kick start your mentoring journey.

Our King’s How to...series welcomes brilliant alumni to share their expertise with the next generation of King’s graduates.

Hear from experienced professionals and learn ‘how to’ prepare for life after King’s with advice, guidance and practical tools from those within our alumni community. 

If you would like to talk with Matthew about coaching, he can be reached via email.

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