How to Find Your Voice -- When You Feel Like You've Lost It
A woman is safely back at her desk, sitting in her not-quite-comfortable-enough office chair and fuming. “What just happened back there?" she wonders. "And how could it have happened again?”
Her co-worker, whose superpower seems to be getting firmly and quickly under her skin, has done it again. He or she seems hell-bent on nixing every idea she has, and somehow simultaneously gets the credit and love of their boss. The woman lets it happen over and over, losing her voice in the moment.
“I need to talk to her. Or do I? Maybe I could just keep avoiding it. Maybe it will all get better on its own. Maybe pigs will fly.”
You know what she's talking about. You’ve been there, too. I bet there’s a conversation you are avoiding right this minute, one that makes your stomach feel queasy just thinking about it. It could be something that needs to be discussed with a co-worker, your boss or a family member.
We avoid or postpone these talks because we think that what we want is wrong. We believe something like:
- I shouldn’t stir things up.
- It’s selfish to ask for what I want.
- It’s rude to say "no."
These conversations could be further complicated because:
- Stakes are high.
- Emotions run strong.
- Opinions are opposing.
We think, “If I have this conversation, it could affect the relationship that I have with this person going forward. Things might become even worse. If I have this talk, I might say something that I will regret. If I discuss this, I could lose my job.”
With all of those what-ifs, it's no wonder we aren’t doing anything.
Here's the problem: These conversations are going to keep coming up for the rest of our lives. Particularly if you're a manager -- the higher up the ladder you move, the more of these will land in your lap. So, what do you do?
Luckily, there are experts who’ve thought this through for us. Some of the best wrote Crucial Conversations, a classic dedicated to this very issue. In short, there are two things we need to do before we have our dreaded talk.
Figure out your goals.
The first thing we have to do is get right with ourselves, and this may be the hardest part. The authors of Crucial Conversations call it "starting with the heart." We must decide what we really want from the conversation -- for ourselves, for the other person and for our relationship.
Do we want:
- To win?
- Peace at all costs?
If we want any of the above, we need to stop and not pass go. We have to get right with our intentions. We can’t enter into the conversation hoping to make the other person look bad or overly-fearful of rocking the boat.
Second, we must realize that the reason conversations go south is that someone does not feel safe. Once we don’t feel safe, we react badly by either shutting up or speaking out. We must vow to maintain safety at all costs; when we sense that we or the other party are not feeling safe, we have to step out of the conversation.
Two conditions make us feel unsafe: feeling like we have different goals and feeling disrespected. Get these conditions cleared up so the conversation can move forward.
Crucial Conversations goes into much more detail about exactly how to do this. For now, let's commit to planning time to have an actual talk, starting with the heart and maintaining safety -- all necessary steps for us to regain our precious voices.
( By Joanne Vitali. Vitali is the Geek Girl coach. A former nuclear engineer and NASA astronaut trainer, she coaches STEM women to attain and retain their rightful leadership roles.)