You find yourself in yet another meeting and feel the desire to speak up. Perhaps you're not sure about something that was discussed and have a burning question to ask. Or maybe you have a comment itching to come out. You want to speak up but, yet again, the "what if" questions rear their ugly heads...
What if I waste other people's time by sharing my voice?
What if my question or comment is regarded as irrelevant? Or it has already been discussed and I missed it?
What if I say something that I might regret?
It's common for leaders to hold back when they want to share their voice. This is often driven by a fear of being judged. Going down the road of worst-case scenario is easy in these situations. Exploring all the potential what-if's often silence leaders when they may want to speak up. How often I hear leaders say, "I had my chance but I froze and I missed it. I wish now I'd taken it."
Finding your voice is essential for effective leadership. Here are some strategies to help you overcome your fear of speaking up and find your voice as a leader:
Know the Value of Your Voice
You're in your role as a leader because you're good and you deserve it. Own this. Why should others have their voices heard and you not? Reframe your perspective. When you hear others speak up, do you judge or criticize them for doing so? Or do you appreciate the value they provide? Perhaps, you might even think - "that question was exactly what I was thinking; I wish I'd asked it". Your voice is your right. Use it and share your value with others. Your colleagues and company will appreciate it.
Small Steps Create Change
When it comes to creating a change, it's often better to take a step across a crevice than a leap across a canyon. If you hesitate to speak up, use low-stakes situations, such as team meetings or with other trusted colleagues to share your voice more. If you fear speaking up in executive levels discussions, create opportunities to meet with execs or other senior leaders one on one and share your voice there. Take small steps and recognize your successes when you do. This is one area where setting a SMART goal can be very helpful. For example, commit yourself to finding just 1 opportunity weekly where you share your voice in more uncomfortable situations. Reflect on how this went and what you learned from it. What went well? What would you do differently next time? How did it feel to speak up?
Gain Confidence Through Preparation
If you're nervous about speaking up, prepare in advance. Think through and practice what you want to say, how you want to say it and anticipate potential objections so you can be prepared to respond to them. By preparing in advance, you can feel more confident and less anxious about speaking up. A word of caution here though. Over-preparation or overthinking can pull you even further into your head. Prepare, but know when enough is enough. Play with this to find the right level for you.
Pay Attention to your Body
The next time you want to speak up but hold back, pay attention to what's happening with your body. Are you feeling tense? Are you breathing quickly, shallowly and high in your chest? To calm your nerves and feel more grounded, focus on your breathing. Take slow, deep breaths from your abdomen, and exhale slowly. This will help you feel more relaxed and present in the moment. It will also re-route your mental processes from the fight-or-flight response to the executive reasoning portion of your brain, helping you to feel calmer and more in control.
Practice Active Listening
Active listening refers to the process of actively focusing on the speaker both verbally and non-verbally. It has a role to play in strengthening confidence to speak up through helping you stay out of your head and in the moment with others. It's in our heads that we breathe life into all those scary "what if" outcomes we conjure up that get in the way of sharing our voice. Active Listening helps you to stay present. Common verbal Active Listening techniques include paraphrasing what you're hearing, asking for clarification and summarizing your understanding.
Remember What Gets You Out of Bed in the Morning
You have become a leader for a reason. What do you stand for? What puts fire in your belly? What sustains you when the going gets tough? When you're afraid to speak up, remind yourself of why you do what you do. Whether it's the privilege of impacting the lives of others, the opportunity to make your company's culture better, or some other important value or mission, use this to find the empowerment to share your voice as a leader.
Find a Coach or Mentor
Working with a mentor or coach can be helpful for leaders who are struggling to find their voice. A mentor or coach can provide guidance, support, and feedback on your communication style and help you to reframe your thinking. They can help you identify areas for improvement and provide strategies for overcoming your fear of speaking up.
If you find sharing your voice as a leader a challenge, know that you are not alone. However, reframing your thinking by focusing on the value of your authentic voice and taking small steps forward will help you grow your confidence in speaking up.
Glenn Case is a Leadership and Executive Coach in Vancouver, Canada.