Using Your Voice to Make An Impact
“If you see something, say something.” I often hear this as I’m traveling through airports. But how often do we hear this at work? If we know (or even feel) something that will reveal the elephant in the room, have an idea to propel the company forward or surface an issue we know can be solved, why don’t we speak up? Is it because we are unsure how others will react?
What is the cost of staying quiet as opposed to speaking up? What if the cost of not saying anything means a valued colleague leaves, a competitor brings their solution to market faster or your company stays stuck doing the same thing over and over again? Not to mention the cost of your own increased stress and frustration.
I promise you are not alone. I’ve been there, and it’s a painful and conflicting dilemma to be in. But I’m also able to say from experience that during those times when I felt safe and supported, I was able to speak up and have my voice heard. In doing so, I accomplished some of the best work of my life and felt the most highly engaged at my organization and with my team.
Using your voice to be an agent of change can help make work more equitable, inclusive and employee-centric. By definition, being a change agent requires you to be brave, have courage, speak up and create the change you want to see. Allow me to share a few tips and tricks on how you can find your voice to drive change.
1. Find an ally or mentor who ‘has your back.’
Finding and building authentic relationships with allies at work is invaluable for your personal and professional growth. Allies support you and your ideas and can help influence others on your behalf. An ally will step in and encourage you to be the voice of reason when you find yourself in a state of uncertainty.
Seek out and find the influencers in your organization. These are the people others go to for advice. They are typically thoughtful, open and optimistic. It doesn’t matter whether they have a title that indicates a level of authority or seniority. Their claim to fame is they have the ability to get things done and drive business outcomes.
Reach out, and open up about how you’re feeling and what you’re experiencing. Seek validation. Ask if they see things similarly or differently from you. Work to create an authentic, trusted relationship with them. Share your goals and ambitions, and tell them why their perspective is important to you. And be prepared to take the good and the bad.
Take a moment to think about the people who would appear on your personal Mount Rushmore. Each of mine came into my life at different stages in my career. Just knowing they always “have my back” gives me courage to speak up, share my thoughts and stretch outside my comfort zone into new opportunities.
2. Discover your community at work.
Surround yourself with people who empower you, are willing to be honest with you and provide a positive frame of reference. You want a community that will not judge you when you are vulnerable and need help stepping into your courage.
My community includes those who stood by me through tough times, serving as reminders of my value and the positive impact I have on others, especially when office politics were beating me down. If you are dealing with people who focus on tearing each other down, find a way to step away from them. Similarly, when you build a trusted network, trust them to give you feedback that will fuel your growth. It’s those people — the ones who have your best interests at heart and want to see you succeed — whose feedback should matter most to you.
3. Change the talk track.
We all have that little voice in our head that feeds us self-doubt. That negative talk track is just a story your ego makes up to protect you. You are likely your own worst critic, and your ego becomes very noisy when you feel fearful or anxious at work.
The most effective way to neutralize this inner critic is to embrace all you have accomplished to continuously affirm your confidence. Cy Wakeman, an industry influencer and someone whose teachings I greatly respect and admire, offers critical tools to challenge this inner critic. Her advice is simple. When we find ourselves in a state of stress at work, we need to ask:
• What do I know for sure?
• Am I creating a story that does not exist?
According to Cy, “If we want to excel and be team players, we must silence the ego, be open to learning, and use our energy to get results in the face of challenging circumstances. It might be painful at first, but a bad day for the ego is a great day for self-growth.”
4. Take the first step.
There is a reason the old adage “the first step is the hardest” rings true. Whether it’s a desire to learn to play guitar, run a 5K or attend a new networking group, that feeling of ambivalence in taking the first step is universal. I encourage you to take the first step in finding your voice: Identify your allies and your community and quiet the negative voice in your head. Change your inner dialogue. Remember, you were invited to the meeting. Grab a seat at the table, and share your wisdom.