A lot of professionals tell me they lack voice in their organizations.
They are either hampered by their own insecurity and lack of confidence, or by the hierarchy in the organization which seems to stymie their efforts at sharing ideas or even finding a space or platform where voices could be heard.
There are multiple barriers to speaking out in the workplace:
- Insincerity: People may appear to be sincerely listening, but consistently find reasons why nothing can be done or why your idea won’t fly. You likely feel frustrated from this experience.
- Superiority: Managers might say they don’t care about what you think, or through their actions are dismissive, evoking anger and indignation.
- Invisibility: Colleagues and managers may ignore you completely, causing a sense of hopelessness.
- Gas lighting: You find yourself accused of some action others are using to hide their own inadequacies or wrongdoing. They succeed in making your life miserable by drawing undue negative attention to some small action or word from you as “proof” of your lack of fitness for the job. This makes even the strongest person feel powerless.
All of these undermining workplace situations make people feel small, insignificant, and reluctant to say anything that could jeopardize the bit of security they believe they have in their jobs. It feels an attack on your sense of goodness and competence. In these situations, most put their heads down and try to do their jobs as the bullets assail them and their nervous systems and bodies shut down in protest.
But there’s good news.
You are not a victim. And there is a way out. Let me tell you a little bit about finding your voice in a way that will advance rather than hinder your career growth. It consists of a series of important inner steps beginning with experiencing yourself at your best.
Exercise 1. Recalling a good experience: Think about a time when you felt you had something to say, and others really listened to you. Jot down a few notes about the context, environment, and how you felt. This is important because it is the destination towards which you are headed on a more consistent basis.
Exercise 2. Feeling it physically: Now that you have that image in your mind, locate the energy of that experience in your body. Some people feel it in their heart or chest, others in their solar plexus. If you can imagine it in detail, feel it emotionally and in your body, and reignite the energy of that experience, then you can replicate it.
Exercise 3. Noticing your energy: You can grow this energy source, which is a combination of your heart, mind, soul, and unique identity. You have 100% permission to have seniority over own energy space. If you can imagine it extending outside of your body, think about how much space it takes.
Exercise 4. Creating a permission device: Jeffrey Allen talks about creating a device he calls a “permission rose” at the outside edge of your energy field. You can of course change the rose idea to your own image or device. Its purpose is to be a compassionate gatekeeper for what you allow in and what you refuse entry. It is flexible in that it can vibrate with your energy and other people’s energy, but it only allows in what you choose. You truly have 100% permission to be in control of how you exist and operate in your own energetic space. Even if you are subjected to an outside force that is harmful, although you may not be conscious of it at the time, you have 100% control over how much you allow it in to enter your unique energy space.
Energy, permission and purpose
An example from Victor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning” comes to mind. Those who survived the most inhumane actions in concentration camps without losing their sanity or humanity, were those who kept and inner sense of noble purpose and meaning. They refused to allow outside aggression to change their sense of who they really were, and protected it internally using their imaginations. As you give yourself 100% permission to be authentic, strong and safe within your own energetic space, you also give others one hundred percent permission to have their space – they can only come in if you let them and the same is true in reverse. If you allow a negative influence into your energy field, you can forgive yourself reset your permissions to try again.
This gives a sense of control over what could happen inside and a sense of any boundaries. If somebody smiles at you, you may allow that energy in through your permission device. If someone yells at you, you can choose through your permission device to refuse. You are in control of what you allow in and what you allow out. As a result, even without words you set more appropriate boundaries. You learn not to be a sponge for other people’s energy and you learn not to be a fortress shutting everything out. We can be calm and focused when we know with certainty that we have control over our own energy identity space. We can make the space smaller and more porous between friends and larger and less porous when in a public presentation setting.
Ivan Meisner writes about this in his book, “Who’s in Your Room?”. He writes that each of us have our own inner room within over which we have complete permission. There may be people in your inner room that entered without your permission, but that you can energetically cause to leave., The result is increased ability to set parameters around what behaviours, words and actions you allow inside your space.
This is foundational to being heard and acknowledged. I have had many clients who felt voiceless, yet once they realize they had inner control, and gave themselves permission to say yes or no around what energy they allowed, they also started to set boundaries around their time and tasks with their words, actions, and expectations. It does not mean they were rigid, demanding or rude. But it did mean that they felt empowered to negotiate, question, and to feel entirely confident that it was their right to do so without feeling or acting confrontational.
Jeffrey Allen explains this like the movies of the old Ninja master who is surrounded by impossible odds while younger ninjas surround him with weapons. Because he has inner mastery, the Ninja Master is able to calmly dodge, step aside, or with little effort deflect an object, standing intact and unharmed. There are many stories in the lives of outstanding leaders throughout history who remained calm and focused – even filled with joy – in the face of pain and suffering because they were so internally calm purpose-filled. You can be your own Ninja Master!
As you establish this sense of energetic seniority over your own space, you increase clarity and sense of purpose. You own self-respect and respect of others builds. As a result, you initiate inspired actions and see results beyond what they previously experienced. This is how many of my clients experienced it:
- Inspired action: Clearly and confidently explaining to managers which tasks are impossible to accomplish in the assigned timeframe.
Result? Previously inflexible managers showing understanding and providing accommodations.
- Inspired action: Ability to set priorities and to let go of frenetic control over details.
Result? Get more done with less stress and more team trust.
- Inspired action: Courage to say what is no longer acceptable or appropriate.
Result? Tormentors backing down. Increased respect.
It is important to note that people who were able to accomplish these goals and reduce their workplace frustration had already tried similar actions in the past without success. The difference the second time around was that they believed they would be heard. When I first started teaching, I didn’t expect my students to listen to me and they rarely did! As I became clear in my expectations, I also became more confident that students would respect it, and respect it they did. Eventually I developed tools that allowed me to calmly gain and keep the attention and silence of an entire auditorium of unruly teens!
You might have experienced this as a student. When a teacher stands confidently at the front of the group and says nothing but stares at the group expecting silence, within a matter of seconds it happens. Sometimes the teacher will raise a hand in the air to attract attention, but there are few if any words. The intent and outcome are clearly communicated in the energy, demeanor, and body posture of the teacher.
This energy awareness skill will bring results in your own work context as you consciously practice it. One final way to practice: experiment with walking into a room or public space and taking up more space or less space. Try having a commanding presence or an approachable presence. As you develop your sense of seniority with your own energy space, you will find that no matter the position or status in an organization, you will find your voice, and it will be heard and respected more and more often. And if for some reason your current organization is incapable of doing that, you will have the skill to move with authority into a new job where you can hear and be heard.
About the Author
Dr. Marie Gervais is the author of “The Spirit of Work: Timeless Wisdom, Current Realities”. She holds a PhD in Culture and Learning in the Workplace. Through her work in leadership training, she has coached more than 500 supervisors, managers and business owners for career and business success. She hosts the Culture and Leadership Connections podcast, which features interviews with diverse leaders in a variety of professions. Her publications span industry and academic journals on topics including the future of work, workplace communication, productivity and psychological safety in the workplace. Her online courses and products are used by managers and career developers around the world.
To learn more about the book, check out this link: https://shiftworkplace.com/the-spirit-of-work/