Finding Your Voice
November 8, 2017
Note: While this post will focus primarily on women finding their voices in the workplace, much of the advice is applicable to men who are also struggling to be heard.
I have written a fair amount about the Pennsylvania Conference for Women – it was a great day. Michelle Obama said, as did others, something that has stuck with me, and I’m paraphrasing here, but if you aren’t going to use your spot at the table then move over. So, what happens if a spot at the table opens up, but you haven’t quite found your voice?
Well, I’m not going to sugar coat anything – it’s time to step up.
Before you can make yourself heard, you need to find your voice. This will require some self-reflection. Take the time to understand what you are passionate about, know your strengths and your weaknesses, and begin to think about how you can bring your interests to the table for the betterment of the company. This should then shape your work habits, your decision-making, and projects you volunteer to take on. For example, if you work in a large bank as a financial analyst, and you have a passion for the education, then work to be assigned to companies that advocate for education or are actively involved in education. Your interests do not need to socially aligned; for example, you may be passionate about professional training and know you are a good teacher, then step up and take advantage of opportunities to teach your peers and those below you.
Once you have determined your goals and how those can align in the workplace, then it is time to use your voice and make sure it’s heard. But how? Recently, Forbes looked at this topic in two different articles (see the links below). Let’s break this down into two components: pre-meeting and meeting.
- Master the pre-meeting – by this Forbes author, Lisa Rabasca Roepe recommends you look through the agenda and find something you care about and come prepared with a few thoughts or ideas related to that agenda item. She also recommends you arrive early, so you can talk with other participants and get comfortable.
At the Meeting:
- Language is key
- Shelley Zalis warns us to avoid negativity. “This may be a stupid/silly question, but…” demonstrates a lack of confidence.
- Roepe points out using “power language” will help you be clear. She relies on Tracey Adams, PhD, the owner of ThriveOn, which offers seminars for women on emotional intelligence belief that words like “maybe” and “what if” should be banished. Adams has a few optimal phrases for expressing your opinion clearly:
I strongly suggest instead of How about
This is absolutely right versus I tend to agree
My strong advice is instead of I think maybe
Here is I my plan versus Maybe we can
I recommend versus What if
- Tone is important
- Zalis points out that your tone of voice is critical in a meeting. “Even if you are worried about what people may be thinking, speak with a steady voice and an even tone. If you speak confidently, you come across as more prepared and diligent.”
- Force Yourself to Speak
- For the more reserved or shy, it is not easy to speak up, to express your opinion in a confident manner, but you must! Begin small. Speak up in smaller meetings where you know everyone, and as you get more and more comfortable, express your opinions are larger meetings where more influential people have a seat at the table.
- If you voiced your opinion at the meeting and folks are buying into your ideas, suggest to the meeting planner that you’ll follow-up with him/her via email to put your ideas on paper. This will give your thoughts and ideas legs.
- Make sure you follow through on anything you commit to, when you don’t you have sacrificed your voice.
You don’t wake up one morning having developed your voice. This is a process that evolves over time. It begins with a deep thought process, it takes practice, and it requires follow through. If you are not ready or up to the task, then step away from the table and let others have the opportunity, this is especially true to the women at the table. In reality, women hold few spots, so don’t waste one, but don’t give up either – continue to work at it, so when the next spot at the table opens up, you are ready to fill it!
Anne Converse Willkomm
Director of Graduate Studies