Speaking up in a way that others can hear, respect and relate is the single most important leadership factor for me in terms of self-empowerment and showing up in a way I feel good about.
And it’s the basis for successful relationships at home and effective relationships at work.
I know speaking up is not the easiest thing to do for most women. In fact, we’d rather avoid, suppress, go into self-doubt, and suffer through unworkable situations than risk speaking our truth. Sure there are some who go to the opposite extreme, but for the most part, holding back is more pervasive.
Women are more concerned about being “nice” (aka pleasing people) than being successful, not being viewed as a complainer, or worse – being thought of as a bitch. We’re constantly trying to fit in. Meanwhile, resentment builds and problems perpetuate.
For women in organizations, uncomfortable issues never get directly addressed, unfit candidates get promoted instead of fired, and their ideas never see the light of day.
For women entrepreneurs, underperforming employees or contractors are tolerated, client time and payment boundaries are compromised, and business opportunities slip away out of fear of asking for the business.
I get it. It’s scary to speak up, assert yourself, and speak your truth.
But let’s look at the alternative. When you don’t speak up, you default into victim mode. You are essentially saying something or someone else has power over you. You are allowing yourself to be a victim of circumstances.
To turn things around and regain control of YOU, you have to be willing to take responsibility for your own experience. To do that, you may find it helpful to consider a few principles I learned early on from Landmark Education, Conversant, The Work of Byron Katie, spiritual teachings, gobs of books and personal experience…
- There is a difference between my truth (perception) and someone else’s truth and rarely is there one absolute truth.
- What actually happens and what we make up about what happens are often two very different things.
- Owning our own experience rather than making someone else wrong is integral to authentic relating and solving problems.
To help you speak up effectively and authentically, I’d like to share a conversation template based on non-violent communication. Very simply, it goes like this:
- (check in)
Here is a story to illustrate how this works in conversation.
I remember a time in one of my college classes where more than half the class was women. It was a small class, maybe 20 students. The professor was a man, Dr. W., and he liked to engage with the students a lot. One day, after about 15 minutes of class had gone by, I became acutely aware of something that irked me. I noticed that when Dr. W. asked a question, hands raised or not, he would call on the men – a lot – so much so that I started keeping tic marks to track how many times he called on men vs. women. The final score: men 75%, women 25%! This is what researchers now call unconscious bias.
I had to speak up!
I stayed back after class and asked Dr. W. if I could have a private conversation with him to address a concern I had. (Give people the dignity of privacy.) He agreed. (Imagine, me a young female college student, speaking up to a male authority figure twice my age! Go Dinah!) Then, before I knew anything about non-violent communication, I lead a conversation with him that went something like this…
Me: “Dr. W., I noticed that more than half the class is women. I also noticed that you called on the men 75% of the time and women only 25% of the time. I actually kept track and counted.” (Go for the facts.)
“I’m guessing that wasn’t your intent and at the same time it made me think (interpretation) you don’t value the women in the class as much as the men.
And I felt left out, resentful and like I needed to stand up for the other women who didn’t notice.
(Ok, that last line is what I would have said if I knew then what I know now. What came out at the time was a bit of making him wrong.)
I’m curious…is there anything like that going on for you?” (Check-in)
Dr. W.: “Really? I had no idea I was doing that. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.”
(And what I would now add…)
Me: “I’m glad to hear that, because what I need is to feel seen, heard, included and valued.”
Would you be willing (request) to make a conscious effort to call on the women in balanced proportion to the men in the future?”
Dr. W.: “Absolutely.”
Me: “Thank you.”
When we women speak up and own our communication leadership, we get the resources and support we need, we get taken seriously, and our boundaries, ideas and requests are respected. So if we value the benefits of speaking up, not just once in a while, but as a fundamental leadership choice, it can be helpful to have this conversation framework and the courage to speak even if it is to an authority figure.