There is no coming to consciousness without pain.
Last week I had an email from Michelle (name changed), a potential client who wants to learn how to speak-up in meetings and conversations. Here’s some of what she wrote:
I’ve been trying to work on “finding my voice.” Often, I don’t express my own opinion or defend my point or I simply don’t insert myself in the conversation enough, preferring to take a back seat and let other people enjoy the spotlight.
As convenient as this can be, in that I don’t have to put myself at risk of arguing with others, spending time and energy elaborating a certain point or defending my position, I realize it’s also a source of dissatisfaction and confusion. I feel better once I’ve made myself heard, but it’s still a “work-in-progress” because I tend to slip towards old patterns of passively letting other people expose themselves to the “public eye” while I remain passive and silent.
Michelle is like many of my clients who hold back in conversations and end up frustrating themselves and others.
Why are people hesitant or afraid to enter into the fray of a conversation?
For some it’s a habit that developed in childhood.
Some are perfectionists obsessed with speaking perfectly formed and correct thoughts.
For others, they’re afraid that if they say the “wrong” thing people will judge them stupid and withhold approval.
For still others, they’re more comfortable formulating their thoughts in their heads before sharing them.
The problem with this approach is that by the time they’ve processed what they want to say, the conversation has moved on!
By holding back, you’re denying others the benefit of your perspective.
Even if your perspective is askew, it can move the conversation along in a productive way.
In addition, you’re confusing people because they don’t know if you’re uninterested or if you’re simply uninteresting!
Most disturbing, your silence gives others power over you. You let them determine what you’re thinking and feeling.
What to do?
First, understand why you’re quiet.
What are you telling yourself that is keeping you quiet? And really, what is the worst-case scenario?
Second, commit to making one-to-three comments during a conversation.
Use phrases like, “let me jump in here” or “just to backtrack on what was said earlier” to help you ease into the conversation.
Third, don’t dismiss your ideas by beginning with, “this is probably going to sound stupid.” Just say it!
Fourth, be non-verbally active.
Look at a person when they’re speaking. Make sure your face is not blank (yes, beware of RBF!). Let your eyes be animated so that you are making a “connection” with people.
What’s the point of being at a meeting if you’re not going to contribute
to the overall tone and substance of the gathering?
You don’t have to dominate.
You don’t have to be the expert.
You can enjoy “listening” and still contribute.
Wallflowers are for the bedroom – not the meeting table!
Do you want to break through the negative thinking that is preventing you from being influential and heard?
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