The modern workplace comprises all sorts of individuals with varied backgrounds, personalities, and communication styles. These differences can make it difficult for you to communicate effectively by finding and owning your voice.
Add onto this challenge layers of difficulty based on positional hierarchy, experience, age, and gender that can affect your ability to communicate effectively with others in the workplace. As an employee, a woman, and a leader, the failure to communicate at work can allow your organization to miss critical information or overlook growing issues that need to be addressed. A failure in communication also can negatively affect you personally by impacting your performance, hampering your career aspirations, and impacting your mental health.
Without a doubt, finding and owning your voice is crucial to cultivating your professional success. An excellent place to start on the road to finding and owning your voice is to think of the people you admire with strong voices. How do they communicate? What do they do that you like and admire? Chances are they share many of these characteristics that are critical to finding and owning your voice.
Know When to Speak, Know When to Listen
We’re all familiar with the idea that, as a society, we should talk less and listen more. We don’t want to prove the adage, “that they talk most who have the least to say,” true. However, part of finding and owning your voice is developing your perception to know when to speak up and when to listen.
It can help to think of a discussion as a routine, and all the participants in the discussion serve different roles in that routine. Is your role in the discussion to intake the information, present the information, provide feedback or clarity, or make a decision? Each of those roles is very different in the volume and timing of when one speaks in the discussion.
When it is time for your role to listen, it’s important to remember that listening is not the absence of talking. When you aren’t talking, make sure you are engaged, listening is the only way to intake information in a discussion. Effective listening will give you the critical information you need to understand the topic, plus help you to know what gaps of knowledge you need to fill. In addition to intaking information, effectively listening enables you to develop an informed opinion on the subject while providing other participants the space to interject to fill in their knowledge gaps or provide clarification—practice finding and owning your voice by using active listening techniques to show your engagement.
Listening is only part of the discussion. Each role in a discussion has the potential need to speak as well, whether that’s clarifying your understanding, providing a correction or additional context, asking questions to make an informed decision, or you’re filling the role of the information presenter. It can feel intimidating when people look to you for input, or you need to interject before the subject changes. However, when it’s your time to speak, speak up, and don’t let it pass by.
Present your information, ask your questions, make your decisions, and strive for conciseness in your speech. Keep your message on target and as short and straightforward as possible while providing all the necessary information. It’s important not to let yourself be intimidated by the volume or force of other voices or eyes looking to you for your expertise or to make a big decision. Remember that you have worth and provide value; that’s why you are part of the discussion.
Stand Up for Your Worth & Value
As part of developing your professional career, you will nurture relationships with people who will support, promote, and advocate for you. But, the truth is you should never rely on someone else to stand up for your worth and value. Part of finding and owning your voice is to empower you to be your best advocate. That means not just self-worth, but by expressing your value and reinforcing to others your worth as a valuable member of the organization. As career women and female leaders, we often hold a precarious position in expressing our stance and worth. Still, you cannot be afraid to stand up for yourself and, when necessary, be loud to be heard.
As you grow and practice owning your voice, your value will be inherent to your communication. If you comport yourself well while communicating valuable insight, you impress on recipients you are someone worth listening to and will, over time, naturally become regarded as that person. It’s helpful to remember that even high-level communicators still get nervous; that sometimes they’re unprepared. And know that innovative ideas and value additions regularly originate from all organizational levels.
Being Assertive & Confident
In your career, you likely know someone who is assertive and confident. You probably know someone loud and overbearing as well. These identifiers are rarely used for the same person. That’s because being assertive and confident is often created by a strong belief backed by preparation. The other is often driven by emotion and defensiveness.
Being prepared can help you find and own your voice because it gives you concrete examples, statistics, and facts to frame and strengthens your communication. In addition, this preparation allows you the confidence to be well-put-together in making your points and remain unflustered when answering questions and defending your stance. The confidence and assertion you gain from preparing beforehand are especially helpful when using your voice to express beliefs and ideas contrary to the leading opinion or status quo.
Because you have the preparation and the belief in your point, be assertive. If you don’t believe it, don’t assert it. It’s likely to come off as inauthentic and damage the trust you’ve started to create with those around you. Take pride in what you say, be firm, but be polite. Avoid raising your voice, interrupting others, or using confrontational language. If things start to get heated, take a break to re-center instead of throwing gas on the fire. Losing your head isn’t going to help get your points across or persuade anyone to your point of view.
One of the best ways to improve your ability to exude confidence and be more assertive is to ask for help. You can grow these skills by coordinating with your peers, mentors, or an outside group of leaders like EWF International’s Executive Peer Advisory Forum. They can help review your communication style to provide insight and identify areas for improvement. They can also help you gain a better bird’s-eye understanding of your situation, which can help you adjust your communication to ensure it matches expectations and addresses the correct issues to be effective and influential.
Effective Expression & Building Influence
There are concrete, physical skills you can improve upon to help you find your voice and use it to full effect. Foremost, the point of finding and owning your voice is that you can effectively express yourself. Effective expression comes down to three parts: what you say, how you say it, and your non-verbal communication or body language.
In addition to being polite and respectful, the easiest way to improve the quality of what you say is to refine your language. One area where you can show immediate improvement is by working to reduce the number of filler words (like, um, basically) you use to fill pauses in your speech. Another is to reduce the use of weasel words (sometimes, might, probably) that create ambiguity and weaken what you’re saying.
When it comes to how you speak, think of your words’ pitch, volume, and rhythm. A high-pitched answer that’s hurriedly spoken at a too loud/quiet volume sounds very nervous. A monotone voice sounds like the speaker’s uninterested. Speaking with a lower pitch, with enough volume for everyone to hear, at a steady or even slightly slower voice inspires attention and exudes the aura that you are measure in thought and confident in what you’re saying.
For non-verbal communication, proper posture is a key foundation. For example, sitting or standing tall with your head up and forward and keeping your shoulders back. On top of that, keep your body “open” by not crossing your lower legs or arms, keeping your hands open, turning away from who you’re communicating with, or pointing your toes inward. Also, try mirroring the posture and body language of the person you’re speaking.
Mirroring a person’s body language is a way to help create a connection with the person and build your influence. Finding your voice and adjusting it to meet your audience is key to building influence. You need to understand your audience and their concerns so your words and view can resonate with them. Often this means meeting them where they are and then working them back to your position.
A large part of finding your voice and developing your influence is building a level of trust with those around you. You can help build the relationship by being willing to step outside your comfort zone, being vulnerable, owning up to your mistakes, and learning from them. Showing that you are willing to own your mistakes and spend the time to grow from the experience engenders a lot of trust from those who witness you go through the experience. It also helps by showing you believe in pursuing excellence, not being perfect. As a result, you become relatable to people, making them want to listen to you more.
Continue down the path, and you will even start inspiring them.
As discussed, knowing and showing your value through self-advocacy is an integral part of finding and owning your voice. But, it’s also important you use your position and powers of communication and influence for good. It’s crucial to find a balance of self-promotion without drowning out the voices of those around you. Use your voice to enhance collaboration by providing space for others and amplify the less-developed or overlooked voices around you.
People communicate very differently. For example, some people need to express their opinions and ask questions as soon as they come up, or they will forget them. Others won’t have any questions until trying to implement it themselves. Some may have questions but don’t want to interrupt, so they save them to ask later. Make an effort to be approachable and provide space and time for people to bring things to you in their own way.
Of course, you need to balance this opportunity for communication and feedback while ensuring things get accomplished. You need to be clear about how and when people can best communicate with you. And, always be sure to express appreciation for those you communicate and collaborate with, their contributions, and the difference they’ve made.
Continuing to Own and Refine Your Voice
Which of the traits do you see reflected in the leaders with strong voices you admire? Few career women are starting from a blank canvas when it comes to finding and refining their voice. You may have worked on it through formal training or just developed some critical insights from experience in your career.
What traits are strengths for you, on which of your strengths do people praise? If you don’t know, ask. Peers, colleagues, and bosses can help you identify the strengths and weaknesses of your personal voice and provide areas where you still need to develop your voice. In addition, early- to mid-career women can find formal training on owning their voice and more key areas essential to becoming a great leader in the workplace through EWF International’s Emerging Leaders programs. And, for executive women leaders, EWF’s Executive Forum is perfect for providing a safe, confidential, and non-compete environment where you can address the challenges you and your organization face.