“Well, you see, ummm, I just think that if we were to…”
Do you ever sound like this? Unsure of yourself and hesitant when you try to communicate in a professional setting? When you begin your career it can be tough to find your voice as a young professional. Conversing confidently in our personal lives is an accomplishment in and of itself, never mind the added pressure of the boardroom!
As a young woman starting out in the workforce, I have made my fair share of mistakes when communicating and have identified areas to improve. However, I’ve also found methods that work to speak in a voice that is true to you. Keeping these suggestions in mind will help you to grow and develop your style so you can best present yourself throughout your career.
THINK ABOUT YOUR EVERYDAY LIFE
While communicating in a professional setting is certainly different than an everyday chat, this is where the root of your voice is found. Being a professional does not mean that you have to give up your signature sense of humor or your penchant for using words like “penchant”. In fact, when you tune into your natural tendencies you can better communicate your ideas and make connections because you are not preoccupied with what you think you should be saying.
KEEP YOUR AUDIENCE IN MIND
Just as you wouldn’t talk to your grandmother exactly as you talk to your friends, the same goes for your professional life. As young career women transitioning to the working world we have to get our bearings and understand the difference between a talk by the water cooler and a strategy session with management. Although it may seem obvious, we have to avoid being too familiar too quickly.
I learned this lesson when I first entered a new position and was going through training with my team. The extensive time we spent together allowed us to become comfortable and build a lighthearted rapport. When I interacted with my supervisor I was inclined to make jokes and behave as I had with my coworkers. After seeing his taken aback reaction, however, I realized that while it was perfectly acceptable to speak that way with my team, it was not an appropriate way to communicate with my supervisor. You have to look at the foundation you have laid with someone and should generally be more formal if you are unsure.
DON’T LET YOUR AGE DISSUADE YOU
As we are just starting out in our careers it can be difficult and downright nerve-wracking to voice our opinions and take a metaphorical and literal seat at the table. After all, we are new to the game, doing our best to build positive relationships, and don’t want to be the young person who said the “wrong” thing. What we must realize is that we were hired (or are making it as entrepreneurs for all of my self-starters out there!) for a reason: because we have experiences and skills that make us valuable and enable us to contribute productively to our organization. It is up to us to believe this and to act accordingly.
When you are struck with thoughts like, “I’m too young/inexperienced/new to the field for my comments to be valued,” it is essential to reframe your mindset. Appreciate that your fresh eyes and different life experience will bring up points that may not otherwise have been realized. Additionally, if you speak in a clear and concise manner I can promise you that the focus will be on your ideas, not your age.
When I was recently meeting with a manager in my organization (who I admire and aspire to be like) and her entire team, I was hesitant to make suggestions and speak up. I feared that if I said something that wasn’t well received in front of these senior leaders I would look bad and my qualifications would be questioned. However, I decided that the alternative of keeping quiet and missing an opportunity to add value would be far worse. When I shared my idea it was met with enthusiasm and I ended up taking a larger role on the project because of it. While every instance will not work out in this way (believe me, I’ve had my fair share of ideas that have been passed over), it is better to believe in yourself and speak up than to let your age be a deterrent.
If we want to be established and effective professionals, we must be true to ourselves, mindful of any situation we are in, and confident (never cocky!) in our abilities.
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How do you foster a mindset that allows you to professionally contribute? What tips do you have for other women they define their voice?