When I talk to people about the work I do, regardless of where they are on the hierarchical corporate chain, they often express a desire to have more presence in their job. They would like to be able to speak with confidence during meetings, put conviction behind their words and command the floor with their James Earl Jones-like presence. Well, maybe not the last part, but many of the people I meet talk about wanting to feel more comfortable when they speak in public situations, not just in “public speaking” moments. While I often hear the caveat, “but I’m just not good at this,” in my experience the most natural thing for us to do is to be ourselves and connect with other people. Not everyone can be James Earl Jones, but we can all exude confidence in our ideas, passion for our objectives and courage in our voice.
So what gets in the way?
Fear is a useful tool to motivate us when we are in danger. Properly understood, it can help us to avoid situations or people that are harmful to us. The problem is when we apply it to situations where there is no real danger, or the danger is exaggerated. Most importantly, it is debilitating if it is existential fear. We become fearful of how we are going to received, that we are going to make a mistake, that people won’t like us or think that we are stupid.The fears are so many and so deeply rooted in our life story that it can sometimes become difficult to even know that they are happening. So, instead of dealing, we tell ourselves a story about how “nobody will listen to me,” “they don’t need my help” or “I’m just not good at speaking in front of people.” All of these thoughts are negative and make us feel small. Whether we realize it in that moment or not, our presence is reduced and deeply affected by our fear.
Think of any inspirational leader or speaker you have ever admired and ask yourself if they spoke from fear.
(He had something to say on this topic.)
In my experience, when most of us talk about wanting more presence, we have an idea in our mind of what that person is like; someone who is confident and can command the attention of a room just by being there. Often we are seeking to be someone other people admire and respect. Herein lies the paradox. Wanting to control how others see us is just another way that we live in our fear. (Also, the ability to control others is both a very difficult and manipulative thing to do.) And fear automatically disrupts our ability to connect to other people. As long as I am trying to control my fear that you will reject me, you will most likely be unable to fully hear me. My presence shrinks.
So what is the alternative?
Not the gauzy love of Disney Channel television shows, but the kind of love that gives us courage to speak our minds and stand up for what we believe in. Love with strength.
(This guy definitely spoke and fought from his heart. He even once said, “It’s lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believe in myself.” There is nothing “gauzy” about him.)
We cannot operate simultaneously in both fear and love, we have to choose. When we speak, we are either trusting ourselves, our ideas and our right to say something (Love) or we are trying to protect ourselves, our ideas and our right to be here (Fear). While everyone might not agree with what we have to say, we will be heard if we speak from that trusting, loving place. We describe people who speak like this as being, “confident, humble, magnanimous, smart, credible, etc…” When someone who is speaking from this place makes a mistake, she admits it and moves on. There is no arguing, no bluffing or pouting because nothing is at stake. We may not agree with her, but we trust that she is who she says she is. We often listen to her.
I try to help my clients identify what is getting in their way, namely what is it that scares them about speaking their mind?
1. Self-awareness: The best way to break free of patterns and habits that keep us from our full potential is to become more aware of them. Again, from this place of love, not fear.
The second piece is we try to identify what they want to say. There is no sense speaking up if all we want is to hear our voice in the room. Our ideas and observations will be more respected if they only are voiced when we feel strongly or know it to be helpful.
2. Clarity of goals: What effect do you want to have on the project, group or organization? Be sure that you are offering something and not just looking for something in return.
And lastly we work on trusting our voice, our ideas and our right to be in the room. While there are always politics to almost every environment, the truth is that the more we trust ourselves, the easier it will be to make a difference in our place of work.
3. Trust ourselves: This is where the real love comes into play. While we will not be right all the time, we need to understand that being right and being present are not necessarily the same. I would rather be working with a team of people who are present and who spoke with confidence and humility than with a team of people who wanted or needed to be right about everything, no matter how smart they were.
In the end, we all need to remember that we have a choice in any interaction between speaking from a place of Love (trust, confidence, humility) or Fear (insecure, aloof, arrogant). The more we choose the first, the easier it will be for us to make our presence felt in this world.