Can you speak up when you need to, or do you hold yourself back? Are you happy to ask for help when you need it? Can you hold your ground when challenged or do you find you become too eager to please?
Although there can be benefits to sitting back and allowing others to take the lead, if this becomes too much of a habit, we can feel disempowered and struggle to have a meaningful influence even over our own lives.
If you habitually struggle to speak up or stand up for yourself when you need, this practical article is for you. In this article we explore:
- What does it mean to find your voice?
- What might be preventing you from finding your voice?
- Some of the mindset and skills required to speak up and express yourself effectively
Finding Your Voice
For anyone struggling to find their voice, they will perceive more upsides to keeping quiet than speaking up. However, it is possible to change your behaviour if you can uncover the hidden benefits to keeping quiet. Here are a few possible benefits of not speaking up…..
- I can learn from others taking the conversational lead
- I can watch the strategies others are using and gather knowledge from what they are saying
- I can find out other people’s strengths and weaknesses easier by watching or listening to them
- I can please and fit in with others, which means that they will like me
- I can preserve my energy
- I don’t disrupt the status quo and encourage harmony rather than strife
- I have time and space to think, and prepare what I am going to say
- I have opportunities to gauge what others think and whether my views will fit in
- I don’t have to give my opinion and so cannot be attacked or become isolated
If you struggle to find your voice when you need or want it then take ten minutes right now extending this list. Ask yourself, what are the possible benefits of not speaking up, of keeping quiet? The more hidden benefits you find the more you will understand yourself and your behaviours.
You can extend this exercise by asking the reverse question: What are the possible downsides of speaking up?
For both of these exercises think of times when you didn’t speak up but wanted to and ask the above questions with that context in mind.
How do I use my voice right now?
We can also look at this from a different perspective by asking where I use my voice right now. When we look at the whole of our life, we will discover that we do use our voice, but we may express it in relatively narrow, inefficient or emotionally charged ways. We will inevitably express ourselves – just maybe not in the way or to the people we intended. For example, we may express ourselves with our partner at home about work things that anger us, but not with our work colleagues (or vice versa).
Consider for a few moments where you have spoken up and expressed yourself recently. What was the context and who was there? Consider in what ways were there more perceived benefits to you to speaking up at that time.
What are the benefits of finding your voice?
If you are finding yourself emotionally charged and without a voice in a certain context, make sure you carry out the first exercise identified in this article and understand some of the unconscious benefits you are getting from your behaviour of keeping quiet. Then take some time to uncover the benefits you will get from finding your voice in that context. Note that this exercise relies on you keep working until you uncover benefits that you weren’t even aware of.
Finally work through as many downsides as you can think of for not finding your voice in that context. Again, your aim should be to uncover as many reasons you were not previously aware of as possible. Get some help from friends to help you identify things you weren’t previously aware of.
You will be done when you feel the emotional charge on this issue drop significantly.
How to find your voice
Struggling to find your voice in any context is often a result of you seeing yourself as lower in value than the others around you. To find your voice, it can therefore help to change your sense of self-worth.
This can be done via changes to your skill level/level of knowledge or changes to the way you see yourself (your perspective). Skill and knowledge improvements can take time, but your perspective can be changed in an instant!
For example, if you are struggling to find your voice at work in front of colleagues, make a list of areas where you have more knowledge or skill than your colleagues. Start with areas outside of work (consider where you have skills or knowledge that others don’t have) and then include areas inside work. Remember to include people skills, organisational skills as well as technical skills. You can also ask other colleagues what your strengths are if you need some fresh ideas. Note that low self-esteem can lead to a natural lean towards overestimating the impact of other’s skills and underestimating the impact of your own. For this exercise, it can help to see your value by considering what would happen differently or what wouldn’t happen if you were not around.
How do you know when someone is listening to you? They respond to what you are saying. Normally this is demonstrated through conversation. Someone may ask you a question for clarity, expand on what you have been saying or they may give you their own opinion.
Interestingly, being willing to listen yourself and being open to other’s points of view rather than entrenching yourself or being overly stubborn can enhance your influence with others too.
If you struggle to get people to listen to you, then be aware that building your persuasion and influencing skills is likely to pay dividends. Notice that people won’t listen to you unless you speak in a way they understand. This means changing how you say things to reflect what is important to others. So, for example, (please excuse the stereotype!) if watching football is important to your husband and you want some help cleaning and tidying the house, show him how keeping the house clean and tidy will mean that he can spend more time watching his favourite team in peace!
Get clear on what you are saying
If you want people to listen, you will also need to be clear about what you are saying. Recognise that people do want to listen to those with genuine authority. In other words, people listen to those who are willing back themselves.
Consider for a moment how you would feel and how would you react in a debate if someone challenged you with the opposite opinion. If you have a “genuine authority” this will not phase you and you will be able to find your voice and respond. Genuine authority takes self-worth and knowledge.
Making the most of your voice!
It can pay dividends to consider the most effective ways for getting heard. Shouting out loud in the middle of a busy and noisy street may not be the most effective way of getting your voice heard.
In our Creating Balance in Your Life workshop at La Crisalida Retreats we cover the concept of your circle of influence. Your circle of influence is where you feel empowered and able to make a difference. There are three wise actions that we suggest for balance:
- Focus your energy within your circle of influence
- Let go of things outside of your circle of influence
- Work at expanding or adapting your circle of influence
Find out more about finding balance in our article
If you try and work outside your circle of influence first, you are likely to get frustrated and wear your voice out or lose it entirely. You expand your circle of influence most effectively through finding like-minded people.
If you follow these wise steps, you will quickly come to realise that building a team of like-minded people is one of the keys to building influence and making the most of your voice. You will then find it easier to develop a sense of genuine authority and therefore easier to get your message across as an individual or as a team.
Finally, to move you towards some action steps, we suggest you try the following exercise: If someone was going to hand you a microphone, and 5 minutes to say what you want, what would you say?
Very best of luck with working at finding your voice!