One of the greatest advances many women have made is to find their voices. An increasing number of strong, smart women no longer need assertiveness training. This is definitely a cause for celebration as we honor International Women's Day.
We have been taught to be strong and overcome our fears about vocalizing our desires and needs. We were not necessarily taught the best ways to do this. Many of the women I coach are looking for ways to better communicate because they don't always get the results they want. They love sharing their opinions. Yet they struggle getting agreement and support for their ideas.
There are specific communication techniques that are helpful. I've listed a few at the end of this post. But first you have to look at "who you think you are" before you will actually remember what brilliant technique to use. If you think you have to be a Fighter, Warrior, or Heroine, you might miss the opportunity to be an Inspirer, Collaborator or Negotiator. Whereas a Rebel fights for a cause, a Revolutionary inspires people to achieve a vision. You have been taught to be strong but not necessarily powerful.
I learned this lesson from my boss in my first a senior management position. I was complaining about a colleague's lack of support for my idea when he took my hand, patted it and said, "Dear, you can quit fighting now. You've made it." I yanked my hand away. He added, "I know fighting helped you get where you are today. Now it's time you learn how to truly persuade others to see your point of view." Though I disliked his condescending behavior, the truth of his words hit me square between the eyes. That's when I learned the difference between being a strong woman and a woman of strength and influence.
Many high-achieving women take the "pit bull" approach to be heard, to right the wrongs and to earn recognition. Yet as a "woman of strength," you speak to be heard in a different way. You can still draw your lines in the sand. You can still speak with passion. Yet you will focus on presenting the merits of your ideas instead of bashing someone else's. You will even look where your ideas intersect with an opposing approach to create alignment instead of competition.
The opposite of weak is not brutish. If you want people to see you as a powerful, you need to cultivate your ability to listen and then speak your vision in a way that addresses their needs. Choose who you want to be before you speak. What would you say differently if you were an Inspirer, Collaborator, Leader, Visionary or Healer?
A Strong Woman vs. a Woman of Strength
A strong woman shows her muscle ... a woman of strength shows her confidence.
A strong woman isn't afraid of anything ... a woman of strength admits her fears and then models the courage she wants others to carry.
A strong woman won't let anyone get the best of her ... a woman of strength freely gives away the best of what she knows.
A strong woman avoids making mistakes ... a woman of strength realizes life's mistakes are great lessons to learn from.
A strong woman looks forward to showing her prowess on the journey ... a woman of strength has faith that while on the journey, she will truly become powerful and wise.
The higher you move up in your career, the more important it is to inspire people to follow you. When you can evaluate a situation so that you see there are options in when to speak up, when to ask questions, and when to listen for more information, you are being a strategic communicator. It is important to choose your battles. It is also important to choose when to calmly absorb what is going on around you so you can speak more wisely in the future.
A common habit of strong, smart women is overselling ideas. Do you feel you need to explain everything to be understood? If you have to explain something more than once, then the person needs to hear something else. Try to discover what they aren't getting from you before you explain yourself for the third time.
Secondly, manage your emotions when speaking to others. If you get excited or frustrated, take a breath and count to three before responding. In the moment that you pause, look to see if there is a better way to connect with the people you are addressing. What do they care about? What pain can you help them alleviate? Be passionate about solving the problems that keep them up at night and you might open their minds.
Finally, to sustain any changes you want to make, you should create a 3-minute vision of yourself as an influential speaker to mentally review each morning for at least three weeks. Then reflect on your successes in a journal or with a friend at least twice a week. Your brain needs evidence that your new efforts will be successful or you will lapse back into your old behaviors.
Happy International Women's Day. We've come this far. Let's powerfully keep growing.