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Speaking Your Authentic Voice With Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere

Be patient with yourself. Self-growth is tender; it's holy ground. There's no greater investment.

-Stephen Covey

What does it mean to speak your authentic voice in any situation?

Here's my definition - it's the ability to recognize and name your real concerns and needs underneath the presenting issues of any situation, while also listening in partnership to hear another's real concerns and needs, in order to find genuine solutions that will work for each person.

Another way to look at "authentic voice" is -- what happens to you when you have difficult conversations where there are differences of opinion or competing objectives, and where those differences could affect how you are regarded?

Differences of opinion are fascinating when you are dating or going for that big new contract. But, are you fascinated when they have the ability to influence your reputation or affect your bonus?

Consider for a moment. Who do you become when your boss challenges the way you do something? Who do you become when you see your spouse raising your children in a manner that you think is wrong? Who do you become when your son or daughter comes home late -- again? Or, when someone doesn't answer your email as quickly as you think they should?

Naturally, our automatic response is to evade, avoid, or attack (of course, in a nice way!) when we feel challenged. Anyone can speak their voice when things are going their way or when their point of view matches another's point of view. The challenge of leadership is to speak one's authentic voice, but in a spirit of partnership and curiosity, especially in the face of differing points of views and competing objectives.

Day in and day out, we are left with the residue of hallway conversations that leave a rippling effect, impacting our thoughts, feelings and actions. Left unnoticed, those quick exchanges shape everything we do and the way we do it.

I love the following story because it shows that it is possible to, in the span of seconds, elevate a conversation to a higher level of connection by speaking for one's genuine adult needs (in this case, to be heard and respected), while also respecting others. It is possible to meet our adult concerns and needs genuinely instead of through artificial and temporary substitutes of communicating evasively (sneaking, stuffing, lying by omission) or conclusively (judging, deducing others, projecting our standards onto others).

Jody Usher, Ph.D.

Former Assistant Dean for Student Affairs
Emory University, Atlanta, GA

I saw a great demonstration of leadership the other day. It was one of those extraordinary moments when genuine words, spoken from the heart, dissolved the silent tension in the room.

Gentleman A, whom I will call Mike, was making a point. Gentleman B (a.k.a. Tom), interrupted and started speaking over Mike in a loud voice. Mike held up a hand and said, "Please, Tom, let me finish what I am saying without interrupting me. Then you can talk. Your continued interruption really irritates me. I know it is my issue. It reminds me of how my father would interrupt me as a child, and I felt like he didn't care what I thought. What I would like is for each of us to hear each other fully, without talking over each other, and then decide together what action to take."

Tom acknowledged with a nod, and the meeting went forward with no interruptions. After the meeting, I heard Tom say to Mike, "Thank you. I didn't realize how I was interrupting you. Thanks for letting me know. I'll try to be more aware."

I'm still thinking about this event days later because, while the words Mike spoke were great words, his presence was the most powerful part. While he seemed irritated at first with Tom, his energy changed as he made the statement about his own personal history. He spoke his needs while being open to hearing from and learning from Tom. He gave us a little insight into why this was important to him. He didn't lose his own voice in the presence of another's louder voice. In fact, Mike grew more animated and contributed more through the remainder of the meeting.

Here's another thing that struck me as significant. In leadership training programs, I often hear someone say, "You can't show your heart at work. No way!" But what I observed is that, when Mike spoke in the way that he did, he became even more of a leader in my eyes and in the eyes of others in the room. It all happened so quickly, but the impact of his speaking produced a better meeting and left me and others inspired.

In the Leadership Intensive, we examine the ways that people tend to go into familiar patterns (learned in childhood) of "evasive" or "conclusive" behaviors, all designed to protect ourselves and have things go the way we think they should.

The key to truly creative solutions and fulfilled partnerships is to open our minds to what we do not know and can only learn from another while also speaking up for our own adult needs.

All my best,


Practice this for the next week:

  1. When you start to react, hit pause.
  2. Silently reflect - I wonder what gives them that perspective? I wonder what could be their deeper concern or unspoken need?
  3. Ask yourself - What am I reacting to, and what is my real adult need? How can I express my true need in partnership, and while honoring their needs?
Posted on Wednesday, February 1, 2006 at 11:35AM by Registered CommenterJan Smith | Comments Off

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