Our voices are really important and a key way of expressing ourselves personally and professionally. The words we use, and our tone, make a difference to the way we are perceived by others, and our ability to have conversations that are respectful and collaborative. Sometimes, the thought of speaking up, whether this is face-to-face or in other ways, can be anxiety-provoking.
We all have internal voices – these are our thoughts. What are we saying about ourselves? If these thoughts are self-critical, suggesting that we are worthless, our self-esteem will suffer. When this happens our relationships will also be affected.
Some hinderances to finding your voice
If we are around other people who are dominant and seemingly more confident, we might think it is safer to keep quiet in case we are belittled. We may believe that we have nothing important to say, and that others know more than we do.
Groups – How do you know if a group is safe or not?
Humans are relational beings, but before we can relax in a group we need to discern whether it is safe or not. There are many ways of doing this – we may glance around the room to check if we know anyone and then head straight in their direction. Or we may see if anyone welcomes us with a friendly ‘hello‘ and introduces us to other people. Sometimes it’s just a gut feeling of ‘this feels alright – I will join in and speak‘ or ‘I don’t feel safe so I will try and be as small and inconspicuous as possible.’
Have you ever been in a group and wanted to ask a question, but refrained because you thought that everyone else would know the answer? Can you remember sitting there trying to summon up the courage to ask ‘Can I just……..‘ before someone else talks over you or the discussion moves on, leaving you partly embarrassed and partly relieved.
When you were at school how many people sat in the back of classrooms, hoping the teacher didn’t notice you were there because, whatever the question was, you didn’t know the answer. Oh the sense of shame……
Social media can be a great place to express yourself. However it is important to remember that sometimes you don’t know the people you are speaking with and that there are none of the nuances that we have when we know people well and have met them in person. It can be really difficult to express yourself well within the limits of characters and words – how often do we read ‘No – that’s not what I was trying to say…..’
Sometimes conversations are about contentious subjects and we don’t want conflict, so when we are asked what we think, we may squirm, change the subject or just agree with whatever the most dominant person is saying. We hide what it is that we actually think because it is easier, at least in the short-term, not to get drawn in.
If we don’t find and use our voice, we may find it difficult to know what it is that we want or need. People may cross our boundaries deliberately or otherwise. Internally, we may be becoming resentful, but fear speaking up because of the potential consequences on our personal and professional relationships.
When we have healthy self-esteem we are able to express ourselves in an assertive way that allows for other people’s thoughts and feelings. We are able to be boundaried and know when these boundaries are absolutely not to be crossed and when it is safe and indeed helpful to allow some flexibility. It is vital also to be able to listen to other people as this builds relationships and gives us a chance of slow down and consider what it is that we need to say rather than being impulsive and speaking without thinking about the potential impact of our words.
Words are a Creative Force
Let’s use our words wisely – they can make a difference to our hearers for better or worse. It is important for us to be our true selves and to be able to express our worldview whilst respecting the worldview of other people.
Finding your Voice – Begin with those you Trust
If you begin with those you trust and respect, you may find that your ability to speak up increases. That was certainly my experience when I did my Counselling Training. I remember being told – ‘when you are speaking or writing think about your audience and what it is you want to say and say it in a way that is appropriate for them.‘
Who do I write for and why do I do this?
I write for anyone who chooses to read my reflections. My hope is to share something of the importance of our mental health and the impact of this on ourselves and our relationships. I love to write and it is one of the ways that I express myself. I hope that something of my words will be helpful for you.