Do you bite your tongue when someone says something you disagree with? How often do you just go along the crowd? Do you find it hard to express your opinions?
Avoiding difficult or slightly uncomfortable conversations is very common. In fact, in these volatile times, it’s often seen as a virtue to hold back. But speaking out doesn’t have to mean arguing and discord. And what is the true impact on your life of not being heard? How can you find your voice?
Open and honest conversations
A recurrent theme in my coaching is the difficulties people have with open and honest conversations. So many hold back what they’re really thinking. Not just with online strangers or a boss; it’s often with partners and family members, as well as close friends and colleagues.
And not speaking your mind doesn’t have to be just on the “big” issues. It often manifests as shyness – perhaps not having the confidence to ask for a glass of water or to go to the loo. Sometimes, even little things can feel like too much.
So what’s going on?
The reasons seem to vary. For many, it’s about avoiding conflict. They envisage huge arguments, endless rifts and discomfort. Another reason is lack of confidence. Your inner voice may tell you that your opinion doesn’t matter or isn’t as valid as that of others. Some may be “trapped” in what’s expected from them. Perhaps you’re the “sensible one” always expected to toe the line, or maybe you were a rebellious teenager and are still seen as erratic and incapable.
Overall, “it’s just not worth it” seems to come up repeatedly.
But what is the cost of keeping schtum?
It’s a bit of a buzz word at the moment but when we “put up and shut up”, we are not holding our space in the world. It might sound airy fairy but I truly believe that each time we do this, it erodes our sense of self, confidence and contentment. If we show up as who we are expected to be, rather than who we are, we don’t live an authentic life. That is hard work and takes a very real toll.
Health and Wellbeing
In many traditional approaches to medicine, living true to our authentic selves is the foundation of longevity and health. In these approaches, suppressing thoughts and feelings is linked with conditions of the throat, upper chest and voice.
Wasted Time, Energy and Resources
How much time, energy and money is wasted when we do something we think is wanted but, without an honest conversation, we don’t actually know if that’s true? So many misunderstandings are caused by a lack of clear communication.
Many people feel their opinion isn’t valued, particularly at work, so they stop contributing. If you’re someone who cares, and most of us do, that can be soul-destroying. Plus there’s the very real cost to organisations when they lose this experience and knowledge.
Growth and Development
Not hearing a range of opinions and potential solutions can lead to blinkered thinking. If no one is discussing and debating, the status quo is maintained and there is no development, learning and growth. The costs of that, both on a personal and societal level, may be huge.
Making Matters Worse
Avoiding tricky conversations can allow minor issues build into major ones, which have the potential to disrupt or destroy friendships and relationships. Ironically, trying to keep the peace may cause longer term conflict.
So how to change things?
There’s many coaching tools and techniques that can help. I see many of my clients become more confident in expressing their thoughts and opinions, and doing this without conflict. And that’s key – it’s possible to find your voice and to do this without causing fights and arguments. Here’s some tips:
7 steps to find your voice:
- The first step is awareness – notice if you’re not showing up as yourself and whether you want to challenge that. Be honest about the impact it could be having on you.
- Gently, and without judgement, notice when you are avoiding speaking out. How does the interaction make you feel? Who is involved? What could be making it difficult to be open and honest? Look for patterns or recurrent situations.
- Observe conversations between other people. What works well? What seems to cause issues? Try not to get drawn into specifics – it’s more about wording, body language, emotions and attitude.
- Practice sharing your opinions in a calm, coherent way. Start with minor things in “safe” spaces, like with a partner or friends who are aware and supportive of what you’re trying to do. This will help hone your skills.
- Prepare for the bigger discussions. Get clarity on what you want to say. Try and take a step back and revisit your message calmly. Are you being stern, critical, bossy, accusatory, defensive, sulky? Getting the opinion of a someone neutral may help. Most find it helpful to prepare key phrases rather than a full script so it can be a natural conversation.
- Take a deep breath and centre yourself. Be proactive rather than reactive. Listen, be flexible, remember the humanity of the others involved.
- Hold your nerve and stay calm – even if others aren’t. Not easy but if you can do it, sooner or later they will join you in your place of zen!
These are skills which improve with practice – give it a go and start playing with them. See how it feels to show up as your true self.