Speak Up!

Season #1

I recently gave a webinar and before the webinar I had my colleagues inside the company poll their internal women's group to see which of nine topics they'd prefer me to touch on. One of them was "speaking up with comfort and credibility and authority."

Reflecting on my own and the career journeys of other women I've realized that we don't actually go from not speaking up to confidently speaking up. It's not a digital process, it's an analog process.

I've also recognized multiple reasons for not speaking up.

So let's start there.

Why We Avoid Speaking Up

In my experience, women identify three reasons for not speaking up:

  1. Feeling internally unsure.
  2. Concern about the potential external reaction. That people will think poorly of them, will think poorly of what they have to say, etc.
  3. Having had actual concrete experience of external microaggressions being talked over, being patronized, being mansplained, etc.

Reasons number 1 and 2 is one that I'll discuss in today's blog.

Reason number three, well, we cannot change the conscious and unconscious bias of the people who are in meetings with us, but one thing we can do is be prepared for those situations. That will be the subject of another blog.

If we go back and consider the analog nature of the experience of speaking up, we can deal with our own internal feelings of unsureness, lack of confidence, feeling like an imposter; and fear that we'll be looked down at, or looked askance at, or have our ideas ridiculed or shot down.

So let me talk from my own personal experience. Decades later,it is vivid because there's a lot of emotion attached.

The Analog Journey*

Step 1: When I was starting out in my career and attending meetings, it struck me that occasionally someone else in the meeting would say what I was thinking. I used that as validation for the fact that I was on the right track. Of course people said things that I had no idea about and that was useful for learning how to stay on the right track.

Step 2: The next step in my journey - and you might resonate with this - was to begin to share thoughts, begin to speak up a little bit once I got to a comfort level with the team or the group that I was meeting with.

I had the good fortune of being In an organization where misogyny wasn't rampant and people were very respectful in general. So this wasn't for me what it has become for some women who begin to speak - up an opportunity for others to slap them down.

Step 3: A major step in my speaking up journey was to begin to speak up confidently from my professional platform. Oftentimes, I was in the room because my professional expertise was needed. My being there was an implied value add. And sometimes I was in the room with other professionals where there was a collegiality that made it relatively safe to speak up and share my ideas. Which again, isn't an experience that everyone has had.

Step 4: The final step in my speaking up journey - speaking up on a platform of business savvy - happened at the very end of my internal career. I'm so glad it did because I then went on to having conversations with CEOs and their C suite colleagues. If I hadn't gotten here, I would never have been able to grow the business that I eventually sold.

What I wish in hindsight is that I had that platform of business savvy to start with. It would have benefited me in two major ways: 

  • First, I would have been better able to analyze the comments and suggestions and disagreeing points made by others in the room. I would have been able to analyze them more intelligently.
  • Second, it would have given me a stronger platform for making my own comments and suggestions and points of disagreement

Speaking up with comfort credibility and confidence can't be a performative game. All of the advice about centering yourself, striking power poses and listing all the ways you add value are temporary fixes. And in some cases might not even help.

What will help is to build your platform of competence, both in terms of your profession and in terms of your business, financial and strategic acumen.

I've said it before, so I will say it again. It's never too early to begin to develop your business savvy, but it could end up being too late, if you get to the point where you have an entrenched reputation as a doer rather than as a partner in the business.

Let's Recap

So let's recap. There are three reasons why You might be hesitant to speak up. One is because of your unsureness.  The second is because you are concerned about how what you say will be received. And the third is because you've had actual experience of being minimized, talked over, mansplained, patronized, etc.

What I've covered in this blog will help you deal with the first two. One, by reinforcing the fact that you need a platform of competence, both professionally and as a business woman. in order to speak up with confidence, comfort, and credibility. And the second is, if you're speaking up from a platform of professional competence and business savvy while you still might get unexpected reactions to what you have to say, you will be grounded enough to not let them knock you off your game.

The journey toward speaking up with comfort, confidence, and credibility is an analog journey, not a digital one. So be kind to yourself. Don't expect to flip a switch and have 100 percent success or 100 percent comfort as you progress on your journey.

What's a Woman to Do?

I always advise that you start small and safe.  Test out your next level contributions in a meeting before the meeting, a one-on-one meeting before the meeting.

Try being bolder with your comments, suggestions and points of disagreement in teams where you feel mostly safe and are already respected, and then branch out from there.

Here's to your great continued career success.

Catch you next time!


Go Deeper Links

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Podcast produced* and original theme music by Megan Tuck www.megantuckaudio.com

*Megan creates a listenable pod from a truly imperfectly created original containing my walking huffs & puffs, footfalls, background noises - birds, waves, cars, dogs, roosters and more. Thank heavens for Megan!