Have you ever worried about speaking up in meetings or held back supporting an idea because you were afraid of how people might react? If you have, chances are this is harming your career and your personal life. Why? Because if you hold back your ideas and thoughts and remain silent you are preventing those around you from seeing the ‘real you’. And worse – you’re denying yourself the opportunity to be heard with potential impacts to your wellbeing.
There’s lots of pressures in today’s society. The Wellbeing in Australia Survey (2015) found that anxiety symptoms were the highest they’ve been in the survey’s five-year history. While the causes of anxiety are multi-faceted, there’s no doubt that it’s heightened when people feel they don’t have a voice.
People shy away from speaking up for a variety of reasons:
- Their confidence has been eroded and so they worry about putting forward an idea that’s contrary to the prevailing view
- They worry about what people think of them
- They are concerned that people won’t like them if they question or challenge
- They’ve been told they shouldn’t be opinionated
Don’t give up your voice
By not speaking up you are walking away from your right to have a voice. You are stepping out of your power and effectively giving it to someone else. Having a voice is essential for a person to feel valued and important. It helps create their sense of identity and self-esteem. It is also important for a person’s career and personal life.
If you are not willing to put forward ideas, question, challenge and inquire it is very hard to advance in today’s ever-changing world. Ideas and opinions matter in organisations and you need to be able to formulate them and know how to rally people around them. While on the personal front, if you give up your voice you allow others around you to speak on your behalf or make decisions for you. And so your wants and needs go unheard and ignored. Neither of which lead to good outcomes.
Get comfortable with power
So, what’s the answer? It’s about getting comfortable with power – your personal power. This is power that is derived from within, and is consciously acquired. At its core is an inner sense of self-worth. When you know and like yourself, and understand your behavioural triggers you can be much more confident holding your own with peers and more senior stakeholders. This makes it easier to take a stand on things that matter and to challenge the status quo. It also means you are less likely to let people impose their views on you
Power as an equaliser
The challenge is that people often think of power as bad. It’s not that black and white. Power is bad when it is about “power over others”. By this I mean when a person is seeking power so as to control the ideas and actions of another person.
It’s not bad when it’s about a person finding their voice so that power in the system is more equalised. When power is equalised it is easier to speak with compassion, challenge assumptions, act collaboratively and to make more-informed and considered decisions. Ultimately leading to a better work environment. It also leads to people having more fulfilled personal and work life because their needs are heard.
So next time you think about being silent, remember the importance of standing out and having your voice heard. It’s good for you, and for those around you.
Michelle Gibbings is a change and leadership expert, founder of Change Meridian and the author of Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work.
This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.