This is the second post in the series. “Your voice matters-liberate it” is below. Here we continue to explore ways to bring your important views into the public square.
Finding your “authentic” ground
First let’s get clear about what “authenticity” means.
According to Dictionary.com, the first meaning of authentic is “not false or copied; genuine; real”.
We all have our own “genuine” point of view. It is shaped by our frame of reference―what we have learned through our experiences and it is shaped by our mindsets.
Our own ideas and opinions are unique to us. Our own point of view is entirely legitimate for what it is: our perspective, our voice.
This should not be mistaken for authoritative; “substantiated or supported by documentary evidence and accepted by most authorities in a field” (Dictionary.com). In the field of change management and strategy execution there are “authorities”: thought leaders who have built their opinions and recommendations on years of research and experience. These are actually rare.
In between “novices” struggling to gain knowledge and “authorities”, there are practitioners who have acquired a wide range of knowledge and capability through experience. In the second post of his blog series “Thought Leadership” Daryl Conner gives us a framework of five archetypes:
- “Eager Apprentices”
- “Solid Performers”
- “Adept Adventurers”
- “Periodic Contributors”
- “Thought Leaders”
Which of these is you? I argue that regardless of which of these we consider ourselves to be – we have something legitimate to add to most any conversation. It might be in asking smart questions. It might be in repeating for clarification. It might be in asking about other applications.
Be seen and heard
For most of our formative years we are conditioned for the opposite: be seen and not heard. Yet all along you’ve had something to say, haven’t you?
In your mind’s eye you can see yourself speaking in ways that people light up, in ways that make a difference. This is the way it should be.
You can make this a reality. It is about sharing your ideas and opinions, about knowing your stuff, about letting your authenticity show. It’s actually not about setting out to influence others―influence is a side effect of adding value by sharing your perspective.
First, what not to do
I am not talking here about knee jerk reactions or stream of consciousness thinking. The place for this is in structured brainstorming sessions where there is an explicit requirement to go beyond what we know or should have thought through.
Here I am talking about giving thoughtful analysis to an idea or point of view then expressing it. Do your homework, know your stuff and be prepared to discuss it. I am not suggesting that you have to have a speech prepared – no, far from it. Stilted, scripted commentary comes off awkward and usually lags behind the conversation flow.
When you know your stuff, as you probably do, you should jump in and trust yourself. You might want to have a few phrases at the ready like: “What I typically see is …”, “In x situation we found that …”, “Preliminary research suggests that …”, “Conventional thinking is x … here’s where I think our situation is different …”, “I have seen y succeed in similar situations.”
Begin by acknowledging others
When you are joining an existing team or a conversation or analysis in full swing, it is important to acknowledge the work already done. Actually, it is more than common courtesy―it signals respect and a willingness to collaborate. Be sure to be honest. Find some part of the discussion that you can appreciate or validate. You can do this with phrases like:
- “Thank you for sharing xyz”
- “Your explanation of xyz really resonated for me.”
Recognition does not need to signal blanket agreement rather one can still follow from that starting point with: “My experience is different in that abc …”
The key here is recognizing, genuinely respecting, that each person in the discussion has a legitimate opinion. Opinions may differ and this is what improves the quality of decision making.
It almost doesn’t matter what the first thing you say is but you must speak in the first quarter of a meeting. If you are catching up with new information perhaps ask a clarifying question.
“You have two ears and one mouth” – listening is a part of the voice
There is a tension in a conversation. A dialogue is about taking turns, listening and talking, about validating and expanding.
Listening is one of the most powerful ways to find your own voice. Really seeking first to understand the other party is the first obligation. Not listening only long enough what to say next; rather hearing, holding and acknowledging those points and then clarifying with your own.
We all crave to be heard. Never worry that you not saying enough rather worry that you are saying too much. Understanding, alignment and commitment cannot be talked into others but it can be listened out of them. Sometimes the most powerful contribution is actually a question “Can you tell me more about that?”, “How does that play out for you?”, “What do you see happening next?”, “Would you find xyz helpful?”
Dialogue vs debate
As much as we crave validation and acknowledgement (it makes us feel safe and appreciated), it’s a pretty safe bet that the other voice in the conversation does too. Giving this to the other “voice” establishes a tone of dialogue, rather than debate. Dialogue sets a precedent for building ideas and discussions together―a tone of collaboration.
This does not mean that we have to agree. The ability to disagree civilly and productively might be one of the most advanced communication skills we can aspire to.
Some of the most powerful dialogue I have witnessed included “opponents” validating each other (this is gapping chasm in politics and some academic circles – don’t look for it there) then building on each other’s ideas. The language looks like this:
- “Thank you for raising that important issue. I appreciated your point of view. Here is how I have experienced that …”
“I respectfully disagree …” Although this tee-up looks like debate (and it can be) great teams don’t waver from disagreement they roll up their sleeves and explore it.
- “If we factor in xyz where does that take us?” This is a more collaborative invitation.
All of these techniques work best when they come from deep inside, spontaneously. And yet, many of us are unpracticed in the art of dialogue. So, find a place to practice.
The discussions in LinkedIn Groups has been a great training ground for me. The dialogue is in bulletin board format so it is slower. You have time to draft up your thoughts and post them. Others will respond and you can look it over and get a feel for the flow of the “conversation”. Find a group that interests you and track along for a bit. Then jump in and give it a try.
I am not a fan of presenting to groups however over the past couple of years I have committed myself and delivered several presentations. I started with small community groups of professional associations and worked up to rooms of 500. It has not been easy and I have lots of room for improvement. What I hold on to, and encourage you to do the same, is that genuine sharing of resources and opinions has value. What really gets me jazzed is learning other people’s questions, reactions and opinions, particularly from those who disagree. This gives us both an opportunity to grow.
Where do you practice?
- Your voice matters―liberate it (Liberate your voice series, Post 1 of 3)
- Authenticity is an over-rated leadership characteristic
- Stepping up to “authentic” leadership
Change Whisperer by www.gailseverini.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.