I mentor and coach a lot of women. Sometimes these are formal, ongoing relationships, other times it might be a quick cup of coffee, and then there are the “fly by” bits of encouragement doled out in quick tips during panel sessions or workshops. I was thinking about the questions I’ve gotten most frequently since the beginning of the year and realized they all centered on ways to speak up.
So here are five tips for having a stronger voice.
1. Raise a Ruckus
Make a statement, express an opinion. If your points are sound, let them fly!
Too often women sit back and stifle their own viewpoints in the name of peacekeeping. Remember, this isn’t about you, this is about getting to the best decision. Contrary viewpoints are essential to challenging group think. Play it out. You raise an opposing perspective. The group debates and discusses. At the end, they stick with the original idea. Now everyone, including you, is more comfortable with the decision. Good outcome. Alternatively, the group debates and discusses and decides to change course. Again, good outcome.
2. Say No & Multiply the Impact of Your “Yes”
Stop saying yes to everything! You are not superwoman. Both inside and outside of work, get better at saying no. There are a host of strategies you might try in this Washington Post article. Pick and choose where you spend your time. And do it thoughtfully.
And when you do say yes, ask yourself, “Can I multiply the impact of this yes and accomplish more than one goal through this single activity?” You might be surprised how easy that actually is. Listen to Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker talk about multipliers and how we can all rethink time.
3. Stop Using Submissive Language
To be most impactful, keep your language strong. Two words in particular often creep into women’s speech, and they aren’t particularly useful. The two words? “Sorry” and “just”. Think about these two sentences:
“I just need this one piece of information.”
“Sorry, but I need to find out where we are on that project.”
Compare that to, “Hey Dave, I need one piece of information to finish up my presentation.”
Or, “Mary, I’m calling to find out where we are on that project.”
Without the modifiers, both sentences are stronger. Which means the speaker will be perceived as stronger.
We’ve all done it. Last week I said “sorry” twice in a meeting. And there was nothing to apologize for! We lessen ourselves without even realizing it. You can read about these words in the New York Times, Fast Company and the Business Insider. Amy Schumer has done an entire skit on the word sorry (there is a link in the Times article). It would be funnier if it wasn’t so true.
4. Demand Feedback
I met with a talented young woman recently and discovered that none of her male leaders were giving her candid feedback. And she was giving them a pass on it because she didn’t want to create a kerfluffle.
Let’s be clear. No matter who you are, no matter how uncomfortable it might be for them, leaders are there to help you grow. It is their JOB to give you constructive criticism. If they aren’t, demand it from them. Ask about competencies, and then run down the litany of things they might be unwilling to bring up themselves. Appearance, manner of dress, vocal tone, speaking style, body language and the list goes on. If they’re uncomfortable, make it clear that you aren’t.
5. Fill Your Own Well
I know many women who take care of everyone else around them, at work, at home, in their community and never take care of themselves. Whether it is time to exercise, read, connect with others, a hobby or a passion, take time to invest in yourself.
Hopefully, you already know what fills your well, the things that replenish you when you’re drained. For me, it is writing and hiking, kayaking if I happen to be near water. They’re what I turn to over and over again when I am in most need of peace and recharging. And I don’t apologize to anyone for needing the time away. Why? Because I know I’ll be a better version of me, both at work and at home, when I return. In short, if I don’t do #5, numbers 1 through 4 get a lot harder.
So speak up ladies! We need to hear your voice. The world will be better for it.