THE BLOG
04/19/2013 07:55 am ET

How To Use Your Voice To Get What You Want

Alamy

"Would you like to stop for coffee?" the wife asks her husband on a road trip.

"No, thanks," he answers.

The car ride continues. The husband drives along happily. The wife becomes increasingly angry. "Why couldn't we have just stopped for coffee?" she thinks to herself. Her husband senses her anger and becomes frustrated. "Why couldn't she just ask for what she wanted?"

This scenario appeared in renowned gender linguist Deborah Tannen's book, You Just Don't Understand in 2001. I read it then, and reread it recently. My thinking was that it was an antiquated story. I reasoned that women have come a long way since then. But have they?
In a recent study conducted by iVillage.com in April 2013, only 35 percent of women actually spoke up at work to ask for a raise, and only 19 percent asked for a promotion. Sure, Sheryl Sandberg may be criticized for encouraging women to speak up in her book Lean In, but I think she's onto something. I've coached hundreds of intelligent, well-educated women in the workplace, who still have trouble "leaning in" and speaking up in meetings, or approaching their bosses on matters of importance.

And it's not just the boardroom. Women aren't speaking up in the bedroom, either. A recent worldwide study by Pfizer showed that women are less satisfied with their sex lives than men. In an unscientific survey of my friends, I've found that there's a reason why many of them aren't getting what they want in bed -- they're simply not asking for it.

So, how do you speak up for what you want in the boardroom and the bedroom?

Here are some tips:

1. Practice in a Restaurant
When you put in your order at a restaurant, do you say, "Could I have the grilled chicken?" If so, then next time, try saying, "I'd like the grilled chicken." What's the difference? The first way of asking is demure and unsure; it's as if you're asking for permission. The second way is more assertive and direct. In the future, if you want something -- whether it's a raise at work or to have more sex at home -- then say it with confidence!

2. Speak Up -- But Don't Engage in "Upspeak"
Upspeak is a rising intonation at the end of a sentence that essentially turns every sentence into a question. Popularized by California teenage girls (a.k.a. "Valley Girls") in the 1980s, this cutesy yet annoying way of speaking still exists today. Surprisingly, it has made its way into an older generation of women. Just last week I was on a conference call with a group of high-powered executive women in their 40s and 50s, who, unbeknownst to them, were engaging in upspeak. They were making good, solid points, but their upspeak made them sound uncertain. So, next time you're making a strong point, listen to yourself. Make sure your voice is reflecting your inner strength.

3. Grow a Pair!
Whether we're talking about testicles or breasts, you've got to grow a pair! Use assertive language and stand up for yourself. I recently spoke with a female senior executive who told me that she "put her penis on the table" the last time she spoke in front of a group of male executives. Surely, this may not be the feminists' solution to this problem, but hey, if that's what gives you the strength and courage to ask for what you want, then why not?

Channel your inner goddess, your inner Thor or whatever it takes to access your core strength so that you can advocate for yourself. Take out words that connote inferiority such as "just" or "only" (i.e. "It's just an idea" or "I'm only an assistant") and use more assertive language (i.e. "I have a great idea" or "I'm a well-qualified assistant"). Pay attention to the volume of your voice. Are you talking in a low tone so that others can't hear you and don't take you seriously? Raise your volume. Make your points loudly and clearly.

4. Don't Beat Around the Bush
Bushes are for landscaping (or waxing!), but when it comes to conversations, women tend to beat around them more often than men. In an attempt to protect others' feelings, women often come across as being indirect. They add on qualifiers at the beginning of sentences i.e. "I know you've probably thought of this idea before, but..." or "I was wondering if maybe you might have time to..."

Why do women do this? Because many fear that they will come across as being too aggressive or bitchy if they are direct. I often coach female executives on how to get to the point more quickly. If they're concerned that they'll come across as being bossy, then I coach them on voice tone. By adopting a tone of voice that is serious yet not defensive or punitive, then you will be heard.

5. Stop Apologizing So Much
I'm sorry I have to tell you this (wink, wink), but women do apologize more than men. Sure, a heartfelt apology is great when there is something that you are truly sorry about, but many women have gotten into the habit of apologizing. They apologize when they are trying to move past someone on the sidewalk (instead of saying, "Excuse me"), and even apologize when someone bumps into them. They apologize for making a point in a meeting that is not in agreement with another point ("I'm sorry, but I just don't agree!"), or asking for something they want ("I'm sorry, but could you please tell me the time?").

This habit of over-apologizing undermines a woman's credibility and confidence. The next time you want something, don't apologize for it -- just ask!

The bottom line is this: In the words of Maya Angelou, "Ask for what you want and be prepared to get it!" Whether it's in the boardroom or the bedroom, use your voice to help you get what you want.