Why is it that we always want to learn more about our “mistakes” insatiably seeking ways to improve through outside advice (or shame)?
I realize that most business in coaching and training women in leadership and communication thrives upon telling women what they are doing is wrong and what to do instead. And I fall into this trap too.
This week, I have been working hard early every morning to redesign the handouts and the participant workbook for the new Women on Stage workshops. It’s both an exciting and daunting task. Why daunting? Well, because I am both a perfectionist and a procrastinator. For each workshop, I have the irresistible urge to redesign everything, bring a new exercise, some new examples, a new technique. Each time, I start afresh and I find new ways to facilitate the workshop, because I keep on learning and want to share my new approach with each new cohort. It’s a lot of work, a lot of time spent deconstructing what I have just done and re-creating it again, refining it endlessly. As a result, I have trouble completing any standalone document and get lost in my notes and countless updated versions of the handouts I provide for each participant. Sound familiar? Quite a perfect example of striving for perfection, seeking approval and avoiding mistakes at all cost.
I also realized that many of my handouts started with a list of “do’s and don’ts” and talked about the “ten mistakes” women most frequently make when speaking, the way they use their voice, stand in their body, their facial expressions, and of course, their words. It’s very tempting to do this. There’s so much out there about how women SHOULD speak, or rather, should NOT speak, from Valley Girl uptalk to vocal fry, hedging, smiling too much, resting bitch face, saying sorry, the list goes on ad nauseam.
Sure, it can be helpful to be aware of any of this. But these are just symptoms, or rather choices. And perhaps where our awareness needs to go is to the source: why we choose to do this. There are many good reasons. Hint: women’s fear of backlash comes first. Each of these behaviors has the ability to affect our credibility and impact. However, as in any awareness adventure, the idea is to be able to CHOOSE what behavior suits you best, given your context. It’s clear they are real payoff to each communication style, and what works for one would not work for the other.
What if I told you, as a speaking coach who has worked with hundreds of executive women, that it’s not worth your time worrying about how you are doing it wrong or feeling guilty about employing any of these so called ‘speaking sins’. We are all different. Our priority is to trust our voice, get clear on why we are speaking up and articulate why it matters for our audience.
Let’s ask an expert. Robin Lakoff is a professor emerita at the University of California, Berkeley, who pioneered the study of language and gender. I like how she elegantly articulates it:
“This stuff is just one more way of telling powerful women to shut up you bitch. It makes women self-conscious and makes women feel incompetent and unable to figure out the right way to talk.”
These paradoxical issues can take a lot of mental space. I have a morning meditation practice. In fact it was this morning meditation which gave me the insight to write this article.
This morning, when I opened my Headspace App before writing, instead of my usual meditation, I was tempted to click on the daily post that read: “Meditation Mistakes”. I couldn’t resist, I had to listen.
Here’s what Andy Puddicombe whispered in my ears:
There are no mistakes in meditation. There’s only the process of learning how to approach the practice. Discovering what habits or actions to let go of.
There are no mistakes in communication for women. What if, instead, we learned to quiet the Inner Critic voice within? (I will tell you more about this Inner Critic in future posts as I am taking the Facilitator’s Training of The Playing Big Journey. )
My message to you today is, we have everything we need to succeed already. And that doesn’t stop us from becoming aware of old speech habits or negative patterns that hold us back. This is where working with a coach can be deeply rewarding as a good one can help affirm strengths while stretching areas for growth.
I leave you with one of my favorite empowering’s quote from Glinda, the good witch in the Wizard of Oz.
Like Dorothy, we all have our own ruby slippers.
Meaning, we all have the power to do the incredible – and we always have. We just make things more complicated than they are; we look for external help, approval, fixing.
I believe there is no right way for women to talk. There are a thousand ways. There are as many ways as there are different voices of women in the world!
I hope we all DIS-COVER (or uncover) our ruby slippers and let go of all negative talk about our “mistakes”. We don’t need to be perfect before we speak up or take action. The time is now, and you are ready.
Now, back to creating this exciting guide to regain our ruby slippers for presentation skills!