Why speaking up is so hard – And what you can do about it.

‘I find myself in meetings becoming conscious that I haven’t said anything. I know what I want to say but then a male colleague will utter what I was thinking and I miss my chance’ Lily confided in me during a coaching consultation. She was feeling frustrated with herself and I knew just how she felt.

During a team meeting (for an organisation I do work for) earlier that same week I had the exact same experience. I came away from the meeting conscious that I hadn’t contributed anything and my mental gremlins had a field day, questioning whether I ‘really should be there’ and whether I had ‘anything of any worth to share’.

The next day I attended a City Women’s networking event and heard the same thing from some very senior executive women.  So what is going on here and why do we high achieving women, with so much patent experience, knowledge and talent, still find it so hard to find our voice when we are seated at the table?

Fitting In

For me I believe part of the problem is my earlier former conditioning – that to be popular socially meant fitting in, saying the ‘right things’ and doing the ‘right thing’ to follow the in-crowd and be accepted. I find myself observing what others say and do in order to emulate their example – but by doing so I negate my own experience and my own voice – because I find it hard to be something I’m not.

In fact, this ‘Being Accepted’ piece is linked to our very biology as women. We have an innate need to belong the tribe….in reality for our primitive female ancestors and forebears they really needed to conform and fit in with the group as physical safety and their literal survival depended on numbers and being in with the group. If a female stepped out of line or got ‘too big for her boots’ she could be rejected from ‘the pack’ and her life would be seriously endangered. So as women we are socialised to conform.

Fortunately for those of us in the 21st Century our lives are no longer physically endangered by ‘not fitting in’ but psychologically we still become stressed if our sense of belonging is threatened – by potential or perceived social rejection.

So what can help us separate ourselves from the crowd and find our voice?

Our Differences are our Strengths

Once I was fortunate to have an amazing leadership mentor who’s mantra in the service we led was ‘our differences are our strengths’. In trying to mould ourselves to fit the group we overlook, and indeed negate, and underestimate the very thing that is our core strength – our difference, our unique experience and feminine way of seeing and doing things.

We know that organisations are waking up to the value that diversity brings in terms of overcoming ‘group think’ and silo thinking. Not to mention increasing profitability. The Credit Suisse Research Institute (2012) showed that companies with women on their boards perform better in challenging markets. Our cognitive diversity contributes positively to team performance.

In essence it is the combination of different minds that enables teams and organisations to be effective and resilient in challenging times. So next time you find yourself wanting to say something or question something don’t hold back – give full voice to your thoughts – and celebrate your difference as that is your unique value and inherent worth.

Over to you

In what situations do you find it hard to find your voice? What happens to your experience when you remind yourself of your unique value and perspective? I’d love to hear from you.

Need more help to find your voice and be heard?

Take a look at my Master Your Mindset Coaching Programme on my website here. Or fill in the form here to arrange a FREE, no obligation Clarity and Confidence Consultation to help you get some clarity on the situation you are facing and move forward with confidence.

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