I love the subject of self-expression. If you do it well, you’ll thrive and go far, but if you do it badly, you’ll struggle and go nowhere!
Speaking up and speaking well is one of the best forms of self-expression. When I say speak well, it isn’t a matter of being well spoken, it is about speaking in a calm and eloquent manner. In other words using appropriate words and actions. It isn’t always about she who shouts the loudest gets heard, it is more about what you say, how you say it and the impact you make!
The best example of this is when I ran a workshop a couple of years ago for a group of Family Practitioners around Motivational Interviewing. There were 6 women, and all but one of them were quite vocal and expressive about the work they were undertaking with their clients as well as the challenges they had in moving them forward. Their clients were a mixed bag of people who were coping with mental health issues, addiction, homelessness and parenting.
The group took part in practical exercises then fed back about their experiences, while speaking with much passion and expression. It was the turn of the quiet lady, who was the least senior of the group and had only been in her role for a few months, to speak. She came across as quite shy and at one point I wondered if she had been out of her depth with the group of other women, who were quite strong and expressive with their opinions. This lady paused, took her time then spoke. When she delivered her feedback her voice was calm and measured and her words were appropriate for the situation. She stunned the room into silence and this was gold to me, because I was amazed too. I can’t remember word for word what she said, but what I can tell you is that what she said was incredibly thought provoking. In essence she was getting people to raise their empathy, a key component of emotional intelligence (EQ).
This woman stood out from the crowd and dared to think and be different from others. By the end of the workshop she had, in some way, influenced the way other practitioners, including a senior practitioner, thought about the way they worked with their clients and how to better understand them. Speaking and expressing yourself well is just one way of speaking up, being heard and influencing. Here are three more:
- Put your hand up and keep it there until you say your piece and others sit up and listen. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, mentions, in a TED talk, a time when she gave a talk at a conference. After she spoke a woman came up to her and gave her some negative feedback, which had upset her a little. The woman fed back that Sheryl had only taken questions from the men in the room. She then asked the woman why she didn’t put her hand up and the woman said she did, but as Sheryl said she wanted one more question the woman put her hand down. What Sheryl said she got from this was that if you have your hand up, keep it there until that person comes to you. I would add that you could be helping someone else in the room to get the answer to the question they may be too afraid to ask. Has this ever happened to you?
- Be calm and measured when you speak, because people who appear to be in rant mode eventually become white noise after a while then get ignored. If you have something to say, say it and make sure people can hear you clearly and understand your words. You’ll be much more respected that way, like the lady I mentioned earlier.
- If you don’t like something say so then offer a solution. I can remember earlier in my career complaining about something and really going on about it. My boss, at the time, very calmly said to me “If you don’t have a solution, be quiet.” It was an important lesson for me and one I remember every time I want to see change. We live in a world where change happens on a regular basis and we have the power to make things easier or harder for ourselves or others. When you offer a solution, where others a running around like headless chickens, you are in a much better position to be listened to and influence.
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