The real reason you’re struggling to speak up at work

Speaking up is critical to meaningful career development. Yet, for some of us, it's not something we can just do.

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Speaking up at work is incredibly important for career development. It is critical for establishing your credibility, claiming recognition for knowledge and ideas, and building relationships with clients and colleagues. Speaking up is about sharing who you are and all the great things you bring to a situation or a conversation. 

Speaking up can also be incredibly difficult

It’s single-handedly the most difficult challenge I faced in my professional and personal life.  

How many times in your career have you heard feedback like “You need to speak up more” or “You need to be more confident”? I’ve heard it so many times. What no one seemed to understand was that this wasn’t a switch I could just turn on. I wanted to be confident, to be able to freely share my thoughts and ideas with others. I had no problem delivering prepared presentations and demonstrations – those things I excelled at, because I could plan exactly what I was going to say. But no matter how hard I tried, when it came to meetings where it was important to share my ideas or opinions, I got nervous, panicked, and kept my mouth shut. 

I couldn’t understand why I had this problem. It made me feel terrible and bad at my job. Why couldn’t I improve it? 

Eventually, the Universe guided me to an answer. As I learned more about psychology and spiritually, I started to realize that my inability to speak up was rooted in shame I still carried from my childhood.

Shame stems from the belief that there is something inherently wrong with you, that you are not good enough. We all are shaped by experiences we’ve had in our past. When these experiences are negative, or even traumatic in some cases, we form limiting beliefs that guide the way we act and the way we live. 

Shame can result from many different situations. It can be rejection or abandonment by a parent. It can be getting laughed at or bullied in school. It can be getting made fun of or ridiculed in a very public way.  It can be getting told you’re stupid or not good enough repeatedly by someone you love. 

Shame can cumulate and grow over your lifetime, especially when you hide it and pretend it’s not there. For me, my shame prevented me from speaking up. Not speaking up caused me more shame. It was a never-ending cycle. 

Shame makes us want to stay small, and hide who we truly are. Which is exactly why I had such a difficult time sharing my thoughts and opinions. I subconsciously believed my thoughts and opinions were not good enough. 

The good news is, there are ways to overcome shame and build confidence. But it is not the quick switch so many people seem to think it is. It is a process of acknowledging your past and accepting yourself exactly as you are, strengths and weaknesses and all. When you approve of who you are, when you love yourself, you will be glad to share your authentic self with other people. It takes strength and courage to shine light on the shame that you carry, to look at what’s happened to you in your life, and to ask for help when you need it. In the end, shame is an emotion we feel that stems from thoughts we think. We all have the power to change the way we think.

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