5 Ways We Can All Silence Our Inner Crow
In Addiction to Perfection, psychoanalyst Marion Woodman describes the inner voice that repeatedly criticized her while she was writing her book. She calls this negative inner voice “the crow.” As Woodman explains, “I have done battle with the black crow sitting on my left shoulder croaking, ‘It isn’t good enough. You haven’t anything new to say. You don’t say it well enough.’”
In short, this inner crow seeks to undermine Woodman's sense of self as a writer. And while we are not all writers, women (and some men) everywhere can share Woodman’s familiarity with the crow that sits on our shoulders and croaks at us with negative self-talk. Before any of us can speak up with confidence, we must confront this force -- a legacy of our socialization.
What the inner crow says
Like the obnoxious birds for which it's named, this voice has a loud, cawing sound that underscores the negativity of its messages. There are cultural associations here: The expression “eat crow” refers to a situation in which we've humiliated ourselves. Similarly, the crow in our minds does all it can to embarrass and undermine us. And it does so especially when we are putting ourselves forward or expressing ourselves in front of an audience. My colleagues and I have coached many women who have told us about their mental, cackling “crow.” Among the situations they have described:
A financial planner making a presentation to colleagues hears a voice in her mind saying, "You’re going to fail. Not everyone in the room wants you to do well. They’ll be thinking, ‘She’s done well up until now. Let’s see if she can handle this, or if she falls on her face.’"
A manager returning to work after a maternity leave thinks, “Everyone will be watching my every move, wondering if I am up to the challenge. They’ll be testing me, judging me and looking for signs of fatigue.”
An entrepreneur hears an inner voice saying to her, “What if you fail? Maybe you shouldn’t have given up that secure job. Are you crazy?”
A woman sitting at a meeting knows the answer to an issue being raised, but thinks, “What if they think I’m wrong? Maybe I should just keep quiet.”
Note that these examples are females. Do men have an inner crow? Sometimes they do, but it is not as loud or as constant as it is inside the heads of women. That’s because we women have been socialized not to stand out. . . so when we seek to do so, our inner voice challenges us.
How can we silence our inner crow? The good news is, we don’t have to live with that cackling sound; there are steps we can take to to silence or soften that negative voice. Here are five you can take right now:
1. Become aware of its presence.
When I asked an audience of 200 women, “Do you have an inner crow?” heads were nodding “yes” all over the room. We also ask participants in our women’s seminar to write down the things their inner crow says. Becoming aware of this inner voice is the first step in conquering the crow. It allows you to separate that voice from your own and realize it is not necessarily you talking.
2. Don’t give voice to your inner crow.
You can take away the crow’s power by refusing to repeat out loud what it says to you. After all, no one else hears its cawing. As one woman in our seminar said, ‘You may think you’re fat, or look in the mirror and say ‘Oh my god, look at that body!’ But what you see is not an image that the rest of the world sees. Don’t call attention to these negative self-perceptions.” This woman, a banker, continued, “I had a boss who told me, ‘The whole world doesn’t need to know every slip-up.’” So, keep the crow to yourself.
3. Bolster your confidence.
The crow feeds on our insecurities, so anything we do to bolster our confidence will diminish its power. Preparation is crucial here. As one woman explained, “I have weekly calls with my senior leadership team. I used to be nervous about them and went in cold, without preparing anything. But now I actually take time to think about what I want to say. This eliminates some of my self-doubt.”
4. Engage in positive self-talk.
Replace the crow’s voice with your own confident inner voice. As one woman who was about to make a presentation on a project she had overseen told me, “Throughout the whole morning, I kept repeating to myself, ‘I am the program manager. I am the program manager. I am the program manager.’ I just nailed that into my head and got rid of that crow by replacing its voice with my own positive thoughts.”
5. Defy the inner crow.
When we become more daring, the crow will fly away -- or at least become quieter. It realizes that its negative messages don’t fit your behavior anymore. Chances are that when you are sitting at a meeting, there are times when you feel afraid to put your hand up to speak. You may fear that what you say will not come out clearly. You may fear that others will disagree with you. But defy the crow and put your hand up anyway. The more you do this, the more the crow’s voice will fade. At my university I forced myself to put my hand up once in every class. It worked, and eventually I no longer felt reluctant to do so.
These five steps can help you silence your inner crow. We must all banish this negative voice if we want to communicate with confidence, strength and authority. So, stop the crow! And gain the confidence you need to come across as a leader.
Judith Humphrey, the Toronto-based founder of The Humphrey Group, a leadership communications firm, teaches executives and leaders how to influence and inspire their female employees to better communicate their office needs and professional goals. Humphrey’s clients include Deloitte, HSBC, IBM, Microsoft, TDBank and Walmart. Her message has been delivered to over 400,000 people worldwide, and her new book Taking the Stage: How Women Can Speak Up, Stand Out, and Succeed, provides step-by-step instructions, including practical advice and scenarios that help women learn to communicate assertively.