Even though it happened many years ago, my first public belittling is a memory that, when recalled, causes my chest to seize up and my heart to race like I am experiencing the whole dreadful thing all over again.
I had been blessed with a gem of a manager who had been an exceptional first coach and mentor, and had been given the freedom to share my thoughts in any forum because I was told that there was value in my unique perspective, and that I was valued as well. I had no problem doing this in meetings, perhaps because people and conversation did not scare me, but I found it difficult to start doing this in writing.
In the written form, an impression of my voice, or a manifestation of my ‘voice’ would remain indelibly, I would have no knowledge of whether the message was ever actually received, no ability to clarify if my thoughts were vague or unclear, and no control over how my words would be interpreted. To top it off, I also did not know what point-of-view (because I had many) would be most interesting for me to spend time writing about and also be appreciated by the reader. So I stalled, I made excuses only I knew about, I focused on tackling other things on my work to-do list and put the whole ‘share your point of view on a meaty topic’ thing on the back-burner until some event (and sadly I don’t recall what the exact impetus was) created a space and time for my thoughts to flow. So I went for it.
The topic must have carried some importance or meaning to me at the time – I vaguely remember it having to do with the elements of a strong new product concept – and maybe there was also a lot of circuitous debate going on around me about said topic that seemed to be never-ending and therefore negatively affecting my ability to do good work. I must have spent a couple hours typing up a summary of my perspective because by then I had lots to say, and then another two and a half hours
obsessing thinking about the best email subject line to increase the chances that the message would at least get opened and hopefully read. I was crazy nervous when I finally hit the send button, but mostly content and relieved. I’d accomplished something that I’d wanted to do, given full support to pursue, and would push me further along the road to being even more fully present, fully myself, in all aspects of my work.
I tried to move on to other tasks after that. It was just the beginning of the day and there was lots still to do. But I was dealing with a complex mix of new emotions as a professional; pride, fear, excitement, worry, hope – and was distracted for most of my remaining engagements.
In one of our many epic one-one-one check in meetings that almost always inevitably turned into a coaching session (which I loved!), my manager explained that the main purpose of sharing these perspectives was to get people to think about a topic in a new way so that the resultant conversations which needed to happen to move an initiative forward were enriched and ultimately, better decisions could be made. She also cautioned that we should never, ever do it for the response.
If you attach yourself and your emotions to the outcome, you’ll find yourself feeling disappointed more often than not. Do it because you believe that it is the right thing to do and the team would benefit from having this information, bolstered by your thoughts.
Still, it was MY first time, and I was very much attached to the outcome. I absolutely wanted a response from someone…anyone… and I wanted it to be positive. A validation of my smarts and my bravery.
So when that response came in the form of a single sentence (which I paraphrase here because I have long deleted the correspondence and don’t recall the exact subject of the POV) – “Thanks for sharing, but I’m not a fan of this approach” – I was devastated. Not crying on the floor unable to function devastated, but I was deeply disappointed and, to be honest, also a little hurt. In retrospect, the sender of that email, who was far more senior and had years and years of experience managing people and working in teams, could and should have displayed more empathy in responding to me. But I had no control over her reaction at the time and don’t want to digress into the topic of empathic leadership here.
None of us have control over anyone’s reactions to us and what we do. The only thing we have any control over is ourselves, how we condition ourselves to react to different situations, how we channel the emotions, and how we transform negative energy into positive energy… because negative energy is a huge waste.
Fast forward to today. Being able to articulate my thoughts in spoken or written word is not an act of bravery, nor is it something that I have to think about or prepare to do. Years of practice, coaching, a naturally feisty personality and a curious mind have made the act of sharing my perspective an almost thrilling experience. It gives me energy. But I would be lying to you if I said that criticism or dismissal of my thoughts in public forums (something that still happens to me, perhaps a little less frequently than before as I’ve learned to bring more nuance to how and when and to whom I share my thoughts) didn’t hit me straight in the gut and for an instant, make me feel slightly less than.
It’s okay though, because the feeling passes even more quickly than it took to type that last sentence, and I remind myself why I shared my thoughts in the first place (because I believed what I had to say was important and would help open people’s eyes to a new perspective), I thank the person for their thoughts because they too, were courageous in sharing their dissent which also adds to everyone else’s thoughts and to the broader conversation, and give myself a big, secret, internal hug for being vulnerably courageous.
If you’re at the beginning of your own journey in finding the confidence to find your voice, check out this earlier post in which I share some of my experiences and thoughts on how to take the first step.
If you’ve found your voice and have experienced a dismissal of your thoughts, I’m curious about how you processed it and your thoughts on how to move on. Please share in the comments section below.