For many of us working women, speaking up and expressing our opinions in the workplace is a challenge. From doubting our own abilities to fearing what others may think about us, we tend to refrain from expressing ourselves fully in the workplace. As a result, many women run the risk of not being considered management or leadership material, be passed over for promotions, or flat-out ignored at work.
I, like so many other working women, would know. Through countless conversations with fellow colleagues and friends, it was apparent that one common fear among us is to speak up at work. I would literally get paralyzed at the thought of raising my voice in a meeting or conference. The false anticipation that I may be ridiculed, laughed at, or that my ideas may not be valid or discounted, would keep me from sharing my otherwise valuable insights. I believe I missed many opportunities because of my silence. I know I’m not the only one…
Hindsight being 20/20, I now realize there are many things I could have done to fight the fear of speaking up, even as a woman of color at work. Despite the difficulties or opposition you may face as a woman at work, you can train yourself to muster the courage to speak up. Here are a few ways to do so:
Understand the source of your fear of speaking
For many, if not most of us, the fear of speaking up at work stems from our own feelings of unworthiness or inadequacy. We may fear sounding ridicule, or that our contributions may be mocked. Instead of taking what we perceive to be a risk, we shrink, letting others take the credit for our work and claiming ideas we thought of first.
Understanding the source of your fear can help you tackle it in a more effective way. Are you feeling inadequate because you’re the only woman in the room? Do large meetings make you uncomfortable or nervous? Did you grow up with a sense of inadequacy? Ask yourself the hard questions, and get to the root of your fear.
Change your internal dialogue
Once you’ve understood the source of your fear, it’s time to work on your internal dialogue. Track the negative thoughts such as “I am not smart enough”, “I am not qualified enough”, “I’m too young”, “I’m too old”. Instead of replaying this negative dialogue in your head, consider replacing these thoughts by positive ones, such as: “I am capable”, “I am qualified”, “I can do all things”.
The more you hear yourself say positive things about yourself, the more you tend to believe it. It unfortunately also works in the reverse.
Prepare ahead of time
Preparing ahead of time and rehearsing before a meeting, presentation or other event you may have to speak up at, can go a long way. Before every meeting you are to attend, consider brainstorming and jotting down at least three (3) ideas you can contribute to the conversation. If you have the time, practice sharing these ideas by recording yourself, until you are satisfied with the way you sound. You may also do the same if you have an upcoming presentation.
The more you prepare yourself and get in the habit of speaking up, the more comfortable you’ll feel. Don’t hesitate to take your time so you can actually overcome your fear of speaking up.
Join public speaking organizations or groups
Public speaking organizations such as Toastmasters International can be a tremendous help when it comes to speaking up at work. By providing a supportive and positive learning experience for you to develop your communication and leadership skills, they help you hone in on your speech and public speaking skills.
Within your own company, there may be other communication and leadership groups that can also assist you with this. Keep your eye open for events and opportunities teaching public speaking skills as well.
Don’t be too proud not to ask for support if you’re struggling with speaking up at work. You can get an accountability partner to encourage and support you as you work on developing your public speaking skills. Similarly, you may decide to add speaking up at work, as one of your goals on your performance review.
In any case, don’t shy away from getting the support you need to improve this area of your performance.
Last but not least, don’t forget to reward yourself for overcoming your fear of speaking up. I used to treat myself to a new book every time I would make a significant contribution to a meeting. For an introvert like myself, mustering the courage to speak up was always encouraging.
How do you muster the courage to speak up at work?
To Your Success,
The Corporate Sis.