How to Manage Your Risk So You Can Speak Up

Photo on    VisualHunt

Photo on VisualHunt

This is one of my biggest pet peeves. 

A woman makes a point in a meeting, and no one seems to hear it. Then a man makes the exact same point, and suddenly it’s the most brilliant thing anyone has ever heard. 

There was a time when I thought I was the only one who’d ever experienced anything like this, but I’ve since learned it comes up a lot for women and people of color. 

And when it does, it feels like being caught between a rock and a hard place. Because it seems that any path you take from here carries significant risk. 

  • Because it can feel risky to say something like, “Actually, that’s what I just said.” Will they think I’m being too sensitive? And what if that lump in my throat makes my voice quiver? What if my frustration is obvious? What if I start crying?!

    And all these risks weigh heavier on women and people of color, because of stereotypes like the “hysterical woman,” or the “angry minority.” 

  • And there are risks to NOT saying something, too. Short-term: Suffering in silence is a morale killer, and repressed resentment can leak out and sabotage your working relationships in myriad ways. And long-term: There are material consequences to a person’s career when they are routinely overlooked as leaders.

    And again, all these risks weigh heavier on women and people of color, who don’t fit our deeply ingrained cultural templates for leadership, based on the model of a “distinguished” white man. 

Having said that, I find that most of us tend to emphasize the risks of speaking up, while glossing over the risks of staying silent. 

This uncomfortable can’t-win place is what’s often known as a double-bind. And I spoke with Rebecca Aced-Molina -- a dear friend and fellow nonprofit coach and facilitator -- about double-binds on episode 10 of the Dialogue Lab podcast. 

The good news: there are a few things you can do to get out of this rock and a hard place. 

The challenge? It takes truly committing to the value of your voice. That is the game changer. 

Here are a few steps you can take. 

>> 1. Stop second-guessing yourself by recognizing the double-bind for what it is.

There are a few common ways people second-guess themselves when they are in an environment that makes it hard to assert themselves. Does any of this sound familiar to you?

  • Doubting your perceptions: “Am I being over-sensitive? No one else even seems to notice this is happening."

  • Minimizing your experience in favor of consideration for others: “I don’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill, or offend anyone by bringing this up. I should just be happy that the point was made and the team benefitted from it.”

  • Wondering if it's your fault: “I probably didn’t express myself very clearly. And after all, people listen to Rob because Rob has so much more experience than I do.”

  • Basing the value of your presence in the room on the validity of a single comment: “It doesn’t really matter that they didn’t hear me, I wasn’t sure about what I said anyway.” 

Of course, there is nothing wrong with having consideration for other people. And it’s often reasonable to do a gut-check on our perceptions. But the problem is when we get stuck there, and turn consideration for others and self-doubt into reasons to put up with a problematic dynamic.

After all, this isn’t about whether any individual comment you make is right, wrong, average, or in anyway “good enough to be heard.” This is about YOU, in your seat, truly taking your place at the table, sharing your brilliance and learning from your mistakes along with everyone else. 

What I’ve found helpful for myself and with clients is first to name the dynamic. To say: 

  • This feels hard because it is hard, and it would be for just about anyone.

  • You aren’t alone in this, because many people have been right where you are.

  • And while others may be well-intentioned, there is a dynamic at play that is bigger than any individual, that it is counterproductive, and deserves to be addressed.

If you are having a hard time with this step, it can really help to do a gut check with someone you trust: a coach, a colleague, or a friend. 

>> 2. Create alliances at work to take action.

Start talking to colleagues about how you can have each others’ backs. 

For instance, you can adopt the strategy of “amplification,” that was created by women who worked in President Obama’s White House.

Here’s how it worked: if one woman in a meeting made a key point, another woman would repeat it, giving the original speaker the credit. And they would keep doing that until -- as described in two articles in the Washington Post -- “this forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own.”

This tactic is brilliant not just for the effect it had on these particular White House meetings. The key was that the individuals who had trouble being heard saw the dynamic for what it was. They didn’t second-guess the value of their own perspectives. Instead, they worked together to address the dynamic. 

And I have witnessed firsthand that those kinds of alliances can be empowering -- not just in meetings where everyone is present -- but in meeting a variety of challenges. 

>> 3. Start building a practice of speaking up

Many people avoid speaking up until those repressed emotions start to leak out, eventually boiling over. And it’s an emotionally exhausting and disempowering cycle, swinging between repression and rupture.

Instead, build your self-expression muscles by actively seeking opportunities to stretch yourself. And it’s ok to take baby steps.

It’s smart, actually. Babies are great at learning, after all!

Think about it like having 3 zones: your comfort zone, your stretch zone, and your red zone.

The practice is to look for opportunities to speak up that provide you with enough risk to be a stretch, but don't put you in the red zone. 

For instance, maybe it’s: 

  • Setting a boundary: saying that no, you don’t have time to talk right now, but you can schedule something for later.

  • Being more emotionally vulnerable: This can include telling a friend how much you admire her, and how much her friendship means to you.

  • Asking for what you want: For instance, if there is a project you’d like to lead, say so, even if it means you have to negotiate with someone else who has also expressed interest.

Engage in this as an experiment. 

  • Each time you stretch, ask yourself, “what am I most afraid might happen if I do this?”

  • Then do it anyway

  • Then check and see, did your worst fear come true as a result of your actions?

  • If so, was it as bad as you feared it would be?

  • What lesson did you learn that you can apply going forward?

Keep practicing those skills, and I promise you that the next time you feel overlooked and unheard, you will be more ready and able to speak up.

-- So those are my 3 tips to be heard even when it’s hard. -- 

I’d love to hear from you: Do you ever have a hard time raising your voice? When was a time you did speak up, and what supported you in doing that?  

And if you want more one-on-one support in building your capacity to advocate for yourself, as well as for the communities you care for, just reply to this email and we can schedule a no pressure, free consult. 

3 Steps to Move from Self-Doubt to Confidence

Photo via    Pixabay

Photo via Pixabay

I had a great conversation with Daisy Ozim, founder of Resilient Wellness, a nonprofit that builds community-based solutions to address intergenerational trauma. 

We talked about how people who don’t fit traditional straight, white, cis-male templates for leadership often have to build the kind of resilience that allows us to transcend the limiting cultural messages we get about who we are.

Keep reading for 3 tips on becoming resilient in the face of self-doubt, inspired by this week’s episode of the Dialogue Lab podcast

3 Steps to Move from Self-Doubt to Confidence 

Daisy talked about being excluded and bullied at a young age, and how ultimately, she didn’t let any of that stop her from doing her thing. 

When I asked her where she found that strength, she said she didn’t have role models or a supportive home environment. What she did have was this:

“I think my ancestors are really strong. I feel protected. I think that there's always been an energy around me that has been able to guide me and lead me different places and keep me out of certain troubles. I think that's what I was able to rely on.”

As leaders, we often face self-doubt. And some of us (myself included) also deal with imposter syndrome -- particularly those of us who have a marginalized identity. 

Imposter syndrome is just what it sounds like: a persistent inner narrative that can sound something like this:

“I don’t really belong here. Everyone else here is so on top of it. I’m just skating by until someone figures out I don’t know what I’m doing, and that I haven’t earned my spot here the way everyone else has. I’m on borrowed time.” 

And if you haven’t had a lot of role models that look like you, and you can relate to, you are even more likely to develop a case of imposter syndrome. 

And it can hobble us as leaders. 

The good news is that there are ways we can develop an emotional immune system that helps us bounce back when self-doubt strikes. 

Here a few steps to take to do that:

>> LESSON 1: Recognize how self-doubt shows up for you <<

Take stock using the following questions as a guide. It’s normal to not be sure how to answer all of these. If that’s the case, just start where you are, and reflect on these questions over the next few days. 

1. What emotions do I feel when I doubt myself? Anxious? Sad? Angry? Detached? Frustrated? 

2. How does self-doubt feel in my body?

For instance, I’ve noticed that when I’m doubting myself, I feel small, and I get very still, like I’m hoping no one notices me. 

I had one client describe it as feeling contracted and tight. Another said she felt edgy (like she was ready to run out the door). Another compared it to walking a tightrope. These are just examples, and it might feel totally different for you. 

3. What am I telling myself, about myself, when I feel self-doubt? 

For instance, in those times when I feel small, if I listen to my internal dialogue, I might notice that I’m comparing myself (unfavorably, of course) to people that I admire and envy. 

I’ve had clients find that they’ve been dismissing their dreams as naive. Another who dismissed her concerns as too petty to bring up. All of these are examples of common ways that our internal dialogue can fuel a sense of being small, insignificant, and not good enough. 

>> LESSON 2: Practice "catching yourself in the moment" of self-doubt <<

You might start by journaling for 10 minutes every night for a few days, to reflect back on your day and see when it came up. Over time, you will start noticing it more quickly, until eventually, you will be saying, “oh look! I’m experiencing self-doubt right now.” 

And that kind of in-the-moment, mindful self-awareness is pure, unadulterated power. 

Here’s the difference it makes. 

When you don’t realize you are experiencing self-doubt, all those thoughts, feelings, and emotions that come up with it just feel like reality.

For example, when I feel self-doubt, it really, truly does feel like I am small and insignificant, that my ideas are dumb, and my best move is to go hide under my bed. It feels real because my anxiety tells me it’s real. 

This is akin to watching a scary movie. The sounds and images are so overpowering that we really feel like we're being chased by a dinosaur. We get lost in the experience of the movie, which on a certain level, convinces our nervous system that we are in danger. 

And when you catch yourself experiencing self-doubt, it’s like saying, “oh! I’m watching a movie!” Which then gives you a moment to take a deep breath, step back, and take a fresh and more compassionate perspective on yourself.

>> LESSON 3: Reframe self-doubt towards connection rather than isolation, and reach out for support <<

In our interview, Daisy talks about how her healing journey began when she took a psychology class. The class rang a bell of recognition within her, and helped her to understand her experiences within a larger context. 

I had a very similar experience, and I know others who have as well. 

One of the reasons I’ve always felt drawn to studying human development and systems of marginalization is that everytime I learn something new, it helps me put my own struggles within the context of a larger human experience. 

And so it has been with my sense of not being good enough. It’s not just about me. It’s an experience that so many others share, and I feel connected to them through that. 

And whatever particular form your self-doubt takes, I can guarantee that you are not the only person out here feeling that way, and saying those things to yourself. 

Self-doubt is just human. It is an experience of vulnerability that we all share. 

But we forget that when we feel it. When you are in the middle of it, it really can feel like you are the only one who feels that particular, broken way. 

And that is often what is most difficult about self-doubt. It’s isolating. It makes us feel like we are the only one. 

So turn it around. For instance:

1. Reach out to a trusted friend and share what you are going through, and ask them for what you want. 

Maybe you just want them to lend an ear. Or you might ask them if they’ve ever felt this way. Or (as I’ve done on more than one occasion) you can even ask them for a pep talk.

2. Don't fall into the trap of assuming everyone else has it together. Instead, take a moment to wonder about the unique ways other people struggle, and connect with a sense of empathy for them, and all people like them. 

Because the truth is that we all feel this way at times, and it helps to remember that because it connects us to others. 

We are not broken. We’re just human. And as Daisy shows us, wonderful things happen when we refuse to let self-doubt stop us.

What would help you feel more confident in your work for social impact? 

My clients are incredible people whose biggest challenge is often that they don't realize how awesome they are. I talk about imposter syndrome because I have seen how it pops up in social impact spaces. And I've struggled with it myself. 

If you can relate and would like to talk, I'd be happy to lend an ear and perhaps offer you a fresh perspective. Just shoot me an email and we'll set up a free consult.

Thank you for all you do,