Have you ever been told that you are “too emotional” or that as a leader in your workplace you need to lead more with your head and less with your heart? I have. And it’s frustrating because my natural inclination as a leader, as a parent, as a friend, is to create safety so others can find the courage to take risks and step into their own way of leading and learning.
So often, we (especially women) receive the message that we need to be louder, more assertive, more driven. As a naturally more introverted person who leads from a more quiet and gentler place, it can be difficult to navigate the workplace and make our voices heard. Often, society tells us that being emotional and leading with our hearts is a weakness, and that we should strive to be more outgoing, extraverted and sometimes even aggressive in order to succeed. But the truth is, our emotions and empathy are strengths, and they are valuable assets in the workplace and in our relationships. Unfortunately, many women have been silenced for showing emotion at work, and it can be hard to break that pattern and find our voices.
So how can we lead with a whisper instead of a shout? How do we tap into the wisdom that comes from connecting to our intuition and developing the capacity to listen, more than we speak, creating safety for others to step into the fullness of their humanity? How do we embrace our vulnerability as an asset, not a deficit, and generate confidence in our vision and ability from the people we serve and lead?
The first step is to believe in ourselves and our abilities. When we are told that our vulnerability is a liability and that strength is outgoing and loud, we can quickly lose confidence in our Self. We silence ourselves. We stop speaking up, believing that other people have more answers or are better qualified to lead. But we have something unique and valuable to offer, and we deserve to be heard. Often I have found myself sitting back and allowing others to determine the best course of action. And even more often, I have regretted not speaking up because I have left a good idea off the table. I am a person very in tune with people’s emotions and can read the silent messages which hide in body language or tone of voice. It’s important to remember that our emotions are not a weakness, they are a natural part of who we are, and they can be used to connect with others and build strong relationships.
Taking the time to build relationships, to really listen to the needs of others (and just as importantly, our own needs…that is another post for another time, but if you are anything like me, we silence the voice within us that tells us what we need, and ultimately shut down our own needs and desires for the sake of keeping others comfortable) allows us to understand our audience and tailor our communication style to meet their needs. For me, this is so important in my work and it has taken me years to appreciate that more often than not, I can best serve others by simply listening and then becoming aware of my tone, body language, and word choice, and adapting them to the situation. For example, if I am communicating with a more reserved and formal group, I will want to be more reserved and formal in my communication style. And if I am supporting a colleague or a friend or my child through a really challenging time, I want to adapt my body language, tone and word choice to create an open and welcoming space. This is not manipulative or forced. It is simply ensuring that how we present ourselves reflects the way we want to communicate.
Another important step is to build confidence. As I said earlier, this has always been a challenge for me. I am very confident in my knowledge and belief that I am a good leader, a supportive mom, a trusted friend. But sometimes I can lose my confidence when I get stuck in my head, and start believing that I need to present differently in order to be heard or valued. But this is simply not true. And when I speak confidently, but not loudly, I know I can gain the attention and respect of others. I am currently in a season of life when I am no longer willing to accept that respect comes from being the loudest or by claiming to have all the answers. My stance is to speak with quiet confidence, with clarity, and always ALWAYS staying open to learn. When I am vulnerable and admit I don’t know something, or when I learn that I have hurt someone with my words or actions, and can admit my wrong and commit to learning and doing better, I gain far more respect. I remain open to receiving feedback from others, even (especially) when it is uncomfortable. Remember that confidence is not about being perfect, it’s about being willing to take risks and learn from our mistakes.
It’s also important to seek out allies and mentors who can support you in finding your voice. This one can be difficult, especially if you are sensitive to criticism. Which I am. But I am learning and becoming more open to receiving constructive feedback. Find friends and colleagues who will listen to your ideas, give you constructive feedback, and help you see where you may need to reconsider what you thought you knew. This is such an important part of becoming an ally, examining your privilege and changing your practice. The wisdom we gain from people who have a very different lived experience than we do can dramatically change the way we see our place in the world. And that is both uncomfortable and beautiful.
Learning to use our voice from a place of quiet confidence, and whispering wisdom into a world that is insistent on hearing only the loudest voices is a journey and a practice. It takes time and patience. It is messy and magical and sometimes we will not be sure which it is. But, every time we speak up, when we trust our intuition and our ability to share it, we take a step forward.
The world needs your empathy and compassion. The world needs your quiet confidence. The world needs more of your heart. The world needs you to become comfortable being wrong and finding courage when you know your are right. The world needs more people willing to see where they fall short and to seek knowledge from those who know more so we can do and be better. The world needs us to access all of our humanity, to connect, to create safe spaces, to be allies, to mentor others and to be patient with ourselves.
Let’s stop being silenced and let our voices be heard. This is the whisper of wisdom and I believe it can change everything.