Many women at work I and other colleagues know across all sectors of industry still report a difficulty in feeling able to make themselves ‘heard’, in meetings and public arenas. They often have a feeling that you have to be a certain ’type’ of extrovert to get on. There is an interesting debate about the external and internal factors that hold women at work back, but my interest here is in what we can do ourselves to boost the possibility of having positive impact and to make people want to listen.
Women at Work. What is key is genuineness and presence and truly being present with ourselves and others?
This is not dependent on being a specific ‘type’ and more about overcoming diminishing habits and adapting effectively to others. Areas to explore in really developing your personal impact include:
1. Finding a strong vision of who you want to be, developing a task-plan with your coach and acting on it (your horizon will very likely expand as you achieve your goals).
2. Engaging in speaker coaching that gives you the skills to be confident in different arenas.
3. Developing a practice (like mindfulness meditation, for instance) that allows you to grow awarenesss without harmful reactive judgement clouding the issue.
4. Having an Insights Discovery profile done so that you can gain more awareness of your current preferences and influencing style, and how to adapt this where needed to more effectively influence others.
In the meantime, here are some immediate things to try:
All the tips in the ‘harnessing nerves’ and ‘actor-skill’ blogs are important here, so I encourage you to re-read – and practice – or take a first look after you’re done here. It is obvious that these tips are useful for both men and women, but in my experience, it is women at work who more often express worry about ‘taking up space’ and ‘interrupting’, – so I’m offering some thoughts about addressing those specifics.
Women at work – taking up space.
1. Centre yourself: the idea is that we are both relaxed and alert, ready for anything. This requires stability and balance. Practise standing with your feet directly under your hips, equally balanced on both feet, while keeping a sense of energy flowing up through your body. Women frequently have a distorted image of their hip width. This can either lead to taking a wide stance that will make you feel as though your feet are cemented in one place, or taking a narrow stance, creating an unstable base.
Your weight should be distributed about 40 per cent through your heels and 60 per cent throughout the ball of your foot and your toes. Rehearse this posture in front of a mirror and you may be surprised at what you see.
2. Relax your shoulders: tension makes you ‘shrink’, and the muscles in your shoulders directly support the larynx, so tension here has an immediate effect on the voice.
Roll out your shoulders. Imagine warm water pouring onto them, draining tensions down your arms, into your hands and out of your fingers. Imagine lengthening the back of your neck by tipping your nose slightly downwards but keeping your eye-line up and out. Beware of exaggerating the tilt though: don’t tuck in your chin.
3. Imagine your circle of energy expanding, and allow your muscles to release to fill a larger circle.
Women at work – speaking up in meetings (or ‘interrupting’).
1. Remember what you do know. Have a clear sense of what you can contribute, and don’t be fazed by not knowing everything (although perhaps you do!).
2. Ask genuine questions. Not only does this add to the debate, it shows engagement and curiosity, and probably helps all the others who were wondering the same thing.
3. Show appreciation of others’ contributions and use it to move the topic forward, adding another view and inviting others to share their thinking.
4. Take responsibility for your opinion: don’t make assumptions about what others are thinking, as this can invite disagreement or resentment.
5. Most importantly, don’t apologise!
There are more issues for some women at work about shaky voices and pitch control that I will follow up in another blog, but for any help with the above, we can help.
We are currently developing an action-learning programme to support women leaders: any thoughts on the topic welcomed!