‘Why did I say that? That sounded ridiculous. Everyone will think I’m an idiot’.

Hands up if thoughts like that have ever run through your head.

If you are a woman, chances are they have. Perhaps you were at work. Maybe you were at your mum’s group. Or even at a family reunion. 

It doesn’t really matter where you were. The common thread is that you spoke.

Out aloud. 

And then you wished you hadn’t spoken out loud. Followed by a period where you spent way too much time beating yourself up about your ‘dreadful’ comment.

In fact, you were still giving yourself a hard time over the ‘stupid thing you said’ long after everyone else had forgotten about the meeting or the dinner – let alone what anyone said on the occasion. 

Ok, so it is all very well for me to point this out. But just understanding that this is true is unlikely to make it easier for you to speak up in meetings. Or assert yourself when it is appropriate. Or feel better when you tell yourself that you didn’t articulate yourself perfectly. 

But recently, more and more women have been sharing with me their reluctance to speak up or out – which absolutely hurts my heart. So here are my top tips, designed to ensure that less women feel compelled to sit in silence. 

Three Tips To Help You Learn To Speak Up

Don’t Flatter Yourself. Not Everyone Is Thinking About You

I received this fabulous piece of advice from father many, many years ago when I was busy angst-ing over some social faux-pas I believed I’d made. And while it might seem like it was perhaps a little harsh when you read it here, it was probably the most life changing advice that I’ve ever received. 

Because it made me understand that I could speak up without believing that everyone was hanging off my every word, let alone dissecting our comments later.

It pays to remember that each and every one of us is the star in their own movie. People spend far more time thinking of themselves and the way life is impacting them than they do analysing or judging others. Those analytical or judgemental thoughts, if and when they occur, are fleeting in the overall scheme of things. 

If you are not sure you believe me, think about it from your own perspective for a moment. I’m willing to bet that you spend the majority of your time thinking about what you’ve done, what you are currently doing or what you want to do. Thoughts about what others are doing or what they said or did most likely take up the minority of your own thinking. 

And so it is with others. As my Dad so clearly pointed out all those years ago, chances are no one is thinking about you, which (so long as you are not saying anything deliberately harmful) releases you from having to worry about every single word you utter.

Challenge Your Thinking

If recognising that others aren’t necessarily focussed on your every word isn’t enough to have you speaking out more confidently, you might like to challenge your own thinking.

And for that, I recommend employing my very favourite question in the world? 

Which is….Is that really true? 

I ask it of the people I work with. And I ask it at home. But most of all, I challenge myself with it.

It is the perfect question for days when you find yourself thinking catastrophic thoughts like ‘Everyone will think I’m an idiot for saying that’. (Assuming anyone is thinking about you all, that is.) 

Chances are, when you dig into it, whatever you are telling yourself is not true. Not ‘everyone’ is going to think you are an idiot for one comment or remark. Nor will they never speak with you ever again. You won’t be disowned. Or kicked out of the mums group. And it is highly unlikely your employment will be terminated, and you probably won’t be demoted either.

Let Go Of Perfectionism

Yes, yes, I know. This one is far easier said than done.

But we have to try.

Because holding onto to the idea that every word that we utter has to be perfect prevents us from finding – and sharing – our voice. 

And when we choose not to voice our thoughts we short change both ourselves and others. 

If you find yourself refusing to speak up because you are afraid that you’ll not select the perfect words, it can be helpful to concentrate on the intent behind your message rather than the words themselves.

What’s more, if you really feel that you’ve mucked up, you always have the option to have another go. There is nothing wrong with sharing that you don’t think you articulated your point as well as you could have, and reframing your thoughts using alternative words. This approach also demonstrates a healthy dose of self-awareness as well as a real commitment to clear communication.

Do you struggle to speak up? Does it hold you back? I’d love for you to share your thoughts in the comments section below.