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Find Your Voice

Speaking up can be one of the most challenging parts of both our personal and professional lives — push too hard, and you risk alienating others; don’t push hard enough, and you risk being trampled over. It is important that you find your voice and be able to speak up with confidence and conviction. It is a part of being a leader. If you don’t believe in it no one else will either. People buy into the leader first before a vision or a plan.So you need to find your voice; speak up about what you are passionate about –what are you committed to?Even when you really care, speaking up is hard to do. I can tell you many times I have needed to speak up, but uncertainty, fear, and concern I would look foolish held me back. But sometimes we speak up when we shouldn't, and end up damaging opportunities or relationships. How can we solve this dilemma of speaking up: when can we assert themselves, when can we push our interests, when can we express an opinion, when can we make an ambitious ask.You’ve asked some of these questions before. Can I correct my boss when they make a mistake? Can I confront my pushy coworker who keeps stepping on my toes? Can I establish boundaries? Can I challenge my friend's insensitive joke? Can I tell the person I love the most my deepest fears and my innermost thoughts?Adam Galinsky, chair of the Management Division at Columbia Business School, says the way to find your authentic voice is to widen your range of “acceptable behavior.” We can go to one extreme or another. Sometimes we're too strong; we push ourselves too much. But sometimes we're too weak. The range of acceptable behavior is important because when we stay within our range, we're rewarded. When we step outside that range, we get punished in a variety of ways. We lose that raise or that promotion or that deal. Or we aren’t taken seriously; we are criticized, or made to look foolish.To find your voice, the first thing you need to know is: What is my range? But the key thing is, the range isn’t like a bull’s eye that is fixed. It's actually pretty dynamic, expanding and narrowing based on the situation. One thing determines your range more than anything else, and that's your power.Power comes in lots of forms. Galinsky says in negotiations, it comes in the form of alternatives. When you have no alternatives, you lack power, the company had lots of alternatives; they had power. Sometimes it's being new to a country, like an immigrant, or new to an organization or new to an experience. Sometimes it's at work, where someone's the boss and someone's the subordinate. Sometimes it's in relationships, where one person's more invested than the other person.When we have lots of power, our range is broad, and there is plenty of wiggle room in how to behave. But when we lack power, our range narrows. We have very little wiggle room. The problem is that when our range narrows, that produces something he calls the low-power double bind. The low-power double bind happens when, if we don't speak up, we go unnoticed, but if we do speak up, we get punished. Many have experienced the gender double bind when women who don't speak up go unnoticed, and women who do speak up get punished. The key thing is that women have the same need as men to speak up, but they have barriers to doing so. These are really power differences.We need to find ways to expand our range. Two things really matter. The first is a need to seem powerful in your own eyes; the second is a need to seem powerful in the eyes of others. When I feel powerful, I feel confident, not fearful; I expand my own range. When other people see me as powerful, they grant me a wider range. Obviously, we need a way to expand our power range.How can we expand our range?Advocacy for others. When we advocate for others, we discover our own range and expand it in our own minds. We become more assertive for others than we are for ourselves. Like a mama bear defending her cubs, when we advocate for others, we can discover our own voice.Perspective-taking. But sometimes, we have to advocate for ourselves. Perspective –taking is a simple powerful tool. It's simply looking at the world through the eyes of another person. When I take your perspective, and I think about what you really want, you're more likely to give me what I really want. Perspective-taking can defuse a volatile situation. When we take someone's perspective, it allows us to be ambitious and assertive, but still be likable.Signal flexibility. When you give people a choice among options, it lowers their defenses, and they're more likely to accept your offer.Build strong allies. You do this with advocacy, and also with asking advice. When you solicit opinion and advice, they like us because we flatter them, and we're expressing humility. This helps us in being able to share our accomplishments without looking egotistical. If they have advised us, they feel part of it.Tap into passion. When we tap into our passion, we give ourselves the courage, in our own eyes, to speak up, but we also get the permission from others to speak up. Tapping into our passion even works when we come across as too weak. Both men and women get punished at work when they shed tears. Researcher Lizzie Wolf has stated that when we present our strong emotions as passion, condemnation of our crying disappears for both men and women.It basically boils down to managing your behavior and efforts. Be a ferocious mama bear, or a humble advice seeker, whatever the situation requires. Build strong allies. Be a passionate perspective taker. Be flexible. You will expand your range of acceptable behavior, and you will find your voice.

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