When it comes to life and work, it can be challenging for some of us to speak up. For some, it’s a struggle to be heard. Speaking up and being heard is a form of nourishment or connection—it’s a basic human need required for survival. It shows us that people respect and love us for who we are at our core. It’s our way of expressing our perspective to the world and what makes us unique!
For years, speaking up in my own life was a constant challenge. Pit in stomach, foot in mouth, carefully filtering my words and, more frequently, choosing silence, were routine for me. Over time, this resulted in suffering from extreme anxiety, feeling lost and burned out in corporate America. The hamster wheel of life had caught me and it felt like there was no stopping until I said, “Enough of this, there has to be better!”
Fast forward seven years from what I call my lowest point, and oh my, “better” is incredible! I now help people to conquer these challenges for a living and am proud that I can now freely share what’s on my mind. It’s exciting for me to do this important work, and I’ve come a long way, but I will say that I’m a work in progress. We’re all human and we are challenged in new ways every day. So please, enter this journey with a large dose of self-compassion; it’s so important to not beat ourselves up.
With all that being said, you might be asking yourself, “Why do I have trouble speaking up? Why do I sit in my meetings, contemplate ideas in my head, rarely say anything out loud and then leave feeling defeated?”
There are a lot of reasons for this, but they’re all rooted in our human need for connection. We are innately tribal creatures who want to feel close to and be seen by other people; we want to feel love and acceptance. Saying what’s on your mind, especially when it may not be a popular opinion (or you’re in a culture where no one looks like you), challenges that basic human need for connection.
What does this mean, practically speaking? It means you may be worried that sharing your idea, opinion, etc. —what I call “Your Truth” — will cause conflict. Someone may disagree with you, talk over you, steal your idea, call you dumb (or think it), say you’re wrong, or call you “too much.” Too much means you’re worried about appearing to be too driven, aggressive, direct, opinionated, loud, bossy, emotional, sensitive or confrontational. Conflict, for many of us, equals isolation whether we are aware of it or not.
The next question we ask ourselves is, “Why do I care what others think of me and why am I silencing my own voice to please them?”
What I find in my work (and my own life) is that at some point in life it became easier or less painful to not speak up. Someone in your life, whether a friend, family member or a mean girl in middle school really got under your skin. The pain caused by that experience (or more likely, many experiences) created a wound in you that I call the “gray cloud” or “protector”. Anytime you spoke up and got rejected, that cloud grew bigger and you became very selective about sharing your voice because who wants to be rejected? Every time you think about speaking up, the protector inside of you says, “Don’t do that!” She gives you a seemingly compelling reason for it, usually “you don’t know what you’re talking about,” and as a result, you remain quiet or filtered.
Now what’s ironic is that Your Truth doesn’t get heard and this results in you feeling lost and isolated, the very thing you were trying to avoid in the first place.
Catch 22? No! Let’s discuss how we can change things in a few easy steps, because we all have the power to change our lives, be heard and feel deep, meaningful connection! But it does take work.
Step 1 is building awareness of your voice
Identify when you find yourself holding back your truth. Are you at work? At home? With your friends or partner? For example, let’s say you go to your work happy hours every week and you rarely want to. This week, you’re feeling extra crappy about going, but you go anyway.
Step 2 is identifying the protective voice
This is all about asking yourself why you’re not honoring your truth; you don’t want to go, but won’t say no. In regards to happy hour, you may be feeling FOMO. Maybe your boss will tell the team something that could help your career and you’ll miss it; your coworkers may bond and you’ll feel left out at work the next day; you’re worried about being perceived as “not a team player;” etc… All of these reasons back into your fear of being isolated and left out.
Step 3 is asking yourself whether the protective voice is true
Most likely, the statements are not true, but you have to do some digging within yourself to prove it. I encourage you to journal about this. You are probably focused heavily on what you’re not doing vs. what you are doing and need to shift your perspective to look at all of the contributions you make to the team. If you are seriously having trouble seeing your team contributions, it may be a sign you really don’t like what you do or who you’re surrounded by, and need to ask yourself a bigger question of, “Do I need a change?” Get curious.
Step 4 is asking for what you want with conviction
Now that you have identified your positive contributions to the situation, you can see that you don’t want your gray cloud to grow bigger. So you ask for what you want and you ask for it with conviction. Stand your ground with confidence (check out this awesome list of tips). The team may give you a hard time at first, but you need to stand your ground. You are going to be a stronger, happier person and better team player for creating this boundary that’s important for your well-being! And don’t you dare let yourself feel guilty sitting at home relaxing; give yourself full permission to unwind.
Step 5 is recognizing how much better you feel
Now that you’ve honored Your Truth, how do you feel? Liberated? Free? There may be a little (or sometimes a lot of) guilt at first, but the more frequently you do this, you will start to see how much stronger and confident you feel. Reflecting on that feeling will make voicing your opinion so much easier going forward.
Speak up, be you and love your life. Lots of love. Want my free e-book or tips sent to your inbox each week? Grab it all here.