Did you know that almost half of women don’t feel heard by their employers? This comes at a time when the average working-age woman in the UK earns 40% less than her male counterpart. Ladies, it’s time to stop accepting the status quo and start being powerful and confident in the workplace. If you are a woman experiencing challenges in a male-dominated environment then read this blog for four ways to find your voice at work.
1. What goes up, must come down
Do you ever find yourself raising the pitch of their voice at the end of every clause in your sentence, when you’re not 100% certain about something? What you are doing is called upward inflection, or upspeak. This should be used sparingly because it can, in some situations, reduce the value of what you are saying, make the speaker appear less authoritative and even less intelligent. In fact, there are only two occasions you should be using upward inflection: lists and questions. To sound more authoritative at work, try using downward inflection. This is when your voice comes down at the end of your sentence. If your idea has weight and importance, then it needs to come down at the end. The end is the bit where you hand the idea over to the person you are speaking to. To help you do this, imagine your idea is a jewel that you are handing to your listener.
2. Deal with manterruptions
Dominant personalities can derail even the best ideas, just by interrupting – certain people will always interrupt, no matter what. The good news is that you don’t have to fight fire with fire – there is another option. Let’s imagine someone has just interrupted you. We often build narratives around the events that happen around us, in an attempt to make sense of things – ‘I’m always being interrupted’ or ‘they don’t think I’m worth listening to’ or ‘they must be annoyed because of what I said the other day’. Now is not the time to brood on those impostering voices – it’s a surefire way to back away and lose confidence. Instead, think of the interruption as something that simply happened, not as evidence to back up a familiar narrative. This will drain the negative emotion out of the experience. You then have a clearer head with which to deal with the interruption.
You’ll always have to deal with interruptions in some capacity. But the good news is that you don’t have to be belittled by them. Follow these steps to help you:
1. Let them talk for a bit
Interrupting involves an adrenalin hit and you need to let that release before jumping to take the baton back.
2. Address them directly
After a few seconds, you want to stop them. The most powerful device is saying their name. Avoid tentative disclaimers such as ‘I just want to say’, ‘how about?’ or ‘I’m just thinking out loud…’.
The pause takes back ownership of the space. Everyone’s attention and energy will settle back on you.
4. Be clear
By making a request you turn this from a public shaming into an adult exchange – a clear request which they’ll find hard to refuse. Give them an endorsement such as, “You’re making a really good point. I’m really interested, but I was in the middle of a point. I’d really like to finish, is that ok with you?” or “Thanks for raising that point. I hadn’t quite finished. Would you mind if I carry on?”. Once you’ve got the baton back, keep talking calmly and confidently – you have the conversational ‘right of way’.
3. Stop self-sabotaging
When a woman voices a point – but is ignored – and then a man makes the same point in the same meeting, and all heads nod in agreement – the frustration can feel overwhelming. It’s worth considering whether you’re subconsciously communicating in a way that doesn’t do yourself justice. Lots of women tend to start their sentences with self-deprecating language, disclaimers and apologies, even when they’re about to make a valid, insightful point. This can make you sound tentative, unsure or unqualified. It’s often well intentioned – we don’t want to claim our idea is the best. But when we do this, the listener tends to hear the disclaimer rather than the idea, so we end up underselling and waiting for someone else to vouch for us. Paradoxically, if we don’t wait for someone else to vouch for an idea, it’s more likely to attract support.
That’s not to say you need to be rude and blunt – it’s about being polite but firm, making sure your ideas get the space they deserve, rather than not being taken seriously. Try switching the way you start your sentences, and see what kind of impact it has. Here are some ideas…
● Instead of saying “I wonder if maybe we should…” – try saying “I recommend that we…”
● “Sorry to be a pain, but would you mind…” – try saying “Please can you get this to me by the end of play tomorrow.”
● “I’m no expert, but…” – try saying “My research shows that… and therefore…”
● “At my old company we did X” – try saying “I was in charge of X and I achieved Y.”
4. Use your body
The way you enter the room (or virtual call) shapes the way you’ll stay in the room. Simply by smiling and greeting people, you’re making a statement of your presence, in just a few moments. Even paying attention to your posture – shoulders back – can make a difference here. This is when people take note of you – and how you act now affects how they will listen later. Plus, our body language affects not only how others see us, but how we see ourselves. There’s a region of your brain called the Broca’s area, which helps formulate speech, and it lights up when you gesture. So when you start freeing your body, you are encouraging your brain to think of the right words, so you can form your next sentence without freezing. Next time you’re about to give a presentation or speak in an important meeting, start with your hands poised, in line with your navel, rather than by your sides. This will make the nonverbal communication feel more natural and comfortable from the word go.
So there you have it, a few simple tricks to find your voice at work. If you’d like to invest in yourself and become a powerful communicator by learning simple but effective tools like this, why not look into an effective communication course? When your communication starts becoming more powerful, you’ll find that your team members benefit from their contribution, and other women will be encouraged to be more authentic and powerful too. The system needs to change, and you can be part of this!