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Finding The Courage To Speak Up When It Matters Most

Pop quiz: Who among us has experienced Imposter Syndrome? I’ll go first: I have. Over and over… and over. Now, to those leaders reading this and shuddering in horror over my choice to share my vulnerability: Relax. My humility has always served me well. And to those who know me who find it hard to […]

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Pop quiz: Who among us has experienced Imposter Syndrome?

I’ll go first: I have. Over and over… and over.

Now, to those leaders reading this and shuddering in horror over my choice to share my vulnerability: Relax. My humility has always served me well. And to those who know me who find it hard to believe that I’ve ever felt like a fraud – surprise! 

According to the Harvard Business Review, Imposter Syndrome at work “… can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success … that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.”

Jonathan Berent, a psychotherapist and business performance consultant, worked with over 10,000 professionals and found that such anxiety, ranging from mild to intense, on the job “ … is an epidemic.” 

He noted that symptoms could range from obsessive worry and racing thoughts to fears of appearing nervous and avoidant behavior – and that those who suffer may go to incredible lengths. Berent noted that a few of his clients had been so wracked with embarrassment about their tendencies to blush in the office that they had medical procedures to cut out those nerves.

Yes. You read that correctly. 

But beyond the extreme makeover edition of workplace anxiety, the fear of speaking up can prove to be a serious professional handicap.

Your Voice At Work: By-The-Numbers

A study discovered that not only is fight-or-flight workplace anxiety commonplace, but it can – unsurprisingly – also be detrimental to employee morale and productivity. 

Among the findings … 

  • Only about half of respondents said their conversations with colleagues or managers were “excellent” or “great.” The other half rated their conversations as “less than great.”
  • About half of employees don’t regularly speak their minds at work, whether to colleagues or managers.
  • The top reason given for not speaking up during team meetings was because people interpreted messages and goals differently. The second reason given was because people didn’t feel comfortable voicing their opinions.

The impact?

  • A 10-percent impairment on wages
  • A 15-percent impairment on promotion to management

Taking A Cue From Nike’s Playbook

When it comes to speaking up at work, my advice? Just do it.

Now, I realize that this will intimidate some people. I also know that you may be grumbling, ‘Easier said than done, Tricia.’

And you’re right.

But I also know – firsthand – that you have so much more to lose by not speaking up than by sharing your voice. 

How can I be so sure? Because I didn’t go from being an executive assistant – BELAY’s first, I might add – to its CEO by playing it safe and staying quiet.

But take it from this CEO: if you’ve committed yourself to being a lifelong learner and come with a servant’s heart, your voice will matter. It will carry weight as you will have established yourself as a team player committed to the organization’s greater good.

So have an opinion – appropriately – and come educated. Come with data and analysis and be that voice. Be part of the conversation at your organization and with your leadership. Continually add great value to your organization and team – regardless of the role you occupy.

Now, all that said, I know that perception is reality so while I mentioned earlier that I, too, had experienced Imposter Syndrome, it’s often met with quizzical looks. Why? Because the optics present a woman who is confident, prepared, comfortable, and at ease speaking, even publicly.

And while that’s true, here’s a little secret: Everyone has to work to get there, even me. So here are a few tricks and tips that help you do the work to get there, too.

1. Address The Jitters. Shaky hands, shaky voice, shaky stomach, shaky heart rate. The worst. It’s normal to experience anticipatory stress but instead of interpreting your jitters as a sign that you’re inadequate or unprepared, befriend your stress response and reframe it as a sign you’re ready for action and prepared to bring your best.

2. Ease Into It. Instead of arriving to meetings right on time to avoid small talk and awkwardness, give yourself some time to settle in and familiarize yourself with the space and the other participants. 

3. Speak Early. It typically gets more difficult to enter a conversation as a meeting progresses. And the longer you wait, the more your anxiety will build so push yourself to speak up early, whether it’s to present your main point, ask a question, or offer an opinion to ensure you contribute.

4. Use Your Strengths. Maybe you’re not the loudest in the room or the most commanding. No matter. Maybe you’re really good at positive reinforcement – “That’s a great idea!” – or maybe you’re observant and therefore great at asking probing questions, paving the way for those more extroverted to speak. 

5. Take Action. Did you discover that something could use more research? Consider committing to conducting that research and sharing it to demonstrate initiative through actions and not necessarily (spoken) words.

A Seat For You At The (Conference) Table

You were hired for a reason – probably several reasons – so when in doubt, remind yourself that you rightfully earned your seat at the table. Someone – probably several people – saw your skills, experience, potential and personality and thought, ‘This is The One.’

Know this. Believe this. And repeat it to yourself ad nauseam until you believe it and accept it as truth.

Another thing to repeat to yourself? People are rarely inspired by perfection. We all know, deep down, that perfection is a lie that’s been served up to us white-hot.

The bottom line is that we’re all pack animals who just want to belong. We seek tribes; we need tribes. And we will seek out connection points at every opportunity as a means of survival. Recognize that imperfections provide just such a profound connection, a common ground.

So bring your new ideas, authenticity and voice to the conversation to solidify your personal brand in your organization – and beyond. 

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