The final in a series of video and written conversations between creative coach Auriel Majumdar and journalist Nell Block discussing the challenges of managing up and internal agency.
Auriel and Nell discuss how to get your message across, emphasise that whatever your role in the organisation you have equal worth and give useful tips on how to make meaningful contributions.
Well, here we are at the end of this short series and I’ve been thinking about how we speak up and get our voices heard - making our point at meetings, pitching ideas, telling our stories.
As with everything else that we’ve already talked about there are plenty of reasons that we stay silent and, in my experience, these usually come back to that old chestnut lack of confidence. In the early days of my own career I know that I had plenty of ideas and opinions (some might say too many!) but I typically didn’t speak in meetings or didn’t volunteer my opinion because I feared that other people would judge me. Feeling uncertain about the reaction I would get stopped me making the contribution that I should have and held me back in my career.
Looking back, I suspect the reality was that a good proportion of my ideas would have been received well if I’d just had the courage to speak up. What changed? Well in the end I just got frustrated with seeing other people being heard in a way I really wanted to be. Essentially, I felt the fear and did it anyway. It didn’t always work and I’m sure everyone knows that being talked over, shouted down or disagreed with can sting. But deciding to say what I wanted to even if I got it wrong sometimes definitely helped me gain confidence. So, here’s what worked for me:
- Do your homework – good ideas deserve to be supported by facts and evidence. If you have researched your position, you’ll feel instantly more confident in being able to talk about it. And don’t forget the soft data – stories and anecdotes are just as valid as survey results and spreadsheets;
- Practice beforehand – if you know you want to say something at a particular meeting or pitch to a particular audience (even if its an informal corridor conversation), do yourself a favour and rehearse beforehand. Saying the words out loud to yourself or a trusted friend will definitely help when you come to do it for real;
- Take a deep breath – banish the butterflies and racing heartbeat by consciously taking a couple of slow deep breaths as you are about to speak. Before any serious meeting, doing a the power pose will boost your confidence (check out this great Ted Talk by Amy Cuddyfor the science behind this)
- Realise your own worth – this is possibly the most important point. Believe me, you are in the room for a reason. Whatever your role in the organisation you have equal worth and equal value to everyone else and you deserve to make a useful contribution. This has been my biggest learning and once I truly understood this then suddenly, I was able to speak whenever I chose to.
Speaking up is hard to do but as with most professional activities, practice make perfect so I urge everyone who is struggling with this part of their work to start small, experiment, learn from your mistakes and keep going!
It has been such a pleasure speaking up and sharing experiences with you as we’ve collaborated on these blogs Nell. You speak so powerfully and I’m fascinated to hear what helps you get your own voice heard in your work.
Firstly, I want to say what a pleasure it has been to work with you on these blogs. While the subject matter we’re discussing is of a professional nature, the topics we’re touching on require an immense about of vulnerability but being able to reflect on our own experiences can be as enjoyable as it can be hard.
On this last subject, on getting your voice heard, I think I’m slightly conflicted. I have at times been too scared to speak up but then at other times I have pushed too hard to be heard—by that I mean I think I’ve spoken over others, believing that was the best way to be heard. There is a delicate balance to be had. I absolutely agree with all the points you make about feeling not worthy and therefore understanding your worth is imperative to be able speak about your ideas. I also think it is vital to have those facts to back up a pitch or an idea. But I also want to touch on how much we listen to others. This skill, I have found, can be a really cornerstone for getting others to hear your voice.
In a work setting, there are those who have quite literally loud voices and those who are more softly spoken. In the media and creative industries, it’s easy to fall into the trap that if you’re not forceful in getting your voice heard then you’re not seen to be ambitious. In the past, I have often been keen to jump in as soon as I have an idea. It’s not that it hasn’t been thought through but that I’m so desperate to have my idea heard, I’d bulldoze others out the way. It may or may not have come across that way but I know at times I’ve questioned how I’ve put across the idea, at the expense of others.
With time comes experience and with that means I’ve slowed down and really made the effort to listen to what people are saying. Just because a colleague hasn’t had exactly the same experience as you, doesn’t mean that their words aren’t worth hearing.
Not only that, listening to others can inform you and then transform your ideas into something better and more polished. I’ve found then that, as a result, people are more willing to listen to you.
You give them the respect of really engaging and listening to their ideas, they’ll do the same for you.
“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” – Dalai Lama
As we come to the end of our blog series, we suddenly all find ourselves in the midst of an unprecedented public health crisis. It seems to me that these ideas of human agency, of confidence and valuing ourselves that Nell and I have been talking about will be increasingly more important as the situation develops.
We will all be called on to step up in our lives, both personally and professionally. We will all need to be in control of our own emotions and habits so that we can support ourselves and others and keep going.
When we started our conversations, we had no idea that this situation was waiting for us but here it is so we’ll keep on talking together, sharing ideas and encouraging each other. Because it really helps us and we hope that it will help you too.