“Everyone tells me to ‘use my voice’. But no one is listening…….”
My coaching client added this at the end of our first hour together. I had to extend the session. Because this is the truth of what many of my clients face, and we have to talk about it.
I teach women to advocate for themselves, their ideas, their business and their bank accounts. We work together so that they can ask for what they want-and get it. So they learn to build credibility, ask questions, change perspectives and use evidence to win. They also learn how to use their voices. But my client had a point. Sometimes it feels like no one is listening.
I have tools to get people to listen. For 20 years I was a medical malpractice defense attorney. During my trials I had to get bored, tired, and preoccupied juries to listen to complicated medical terms. And the clients I work with now also have their juries — the investors, clients, customers and teammates they want to persuade and influence. Many of the tools I used to get my jury to listen work with their juries as well. We create exhibits — like a graph that the CEO can review before the meeting to create context for the presentation, or a video of the product that keeps the investors interested and engaged. We also work on tone of voice, modulation, and pacing that will draw in their jury. They learn to ask the right questions and see things from their jury’s perspective in order to pique their interest and keep them listening. And these tools work.
But this client didn’t have all of these tools yet. She needed to understand that she wasn’t alone, and that this was a common problem. And we all need to understand that if we want women to use their voices, we have to start listening.
Recently I had Elizabeth Lesser as a guest on my podcast, The Elegant Warrior. Elizabeth is the author of the fabulous book Cassandra Speaks-When Women Are the Storytellers, the Human Story Changes. I loved her book and I loved our conversation. But ever since I’ve wondered about how we can make people listen. Because if they’re not listening, all the speaking in the world won’t change a thing.
I think it starts, like everything does, with us. We need to become better listeners. In my experience there’s no place that karma is more evident than when it comes to listening. When you’re a good listener, people tend to listen to you. With listening, what goes around really does come around.
While one of my 10 tools of an advocate is presentation (tone of voice, body language and facial expression) another is reception (reading tone of voice, body language and facial expression). If we want to advocate to win, we need to become better listeners. My definition of win is “to receive something positive because you have earned it”. In this situation the something positive is better relationships, more psychological safety, more insight and better perspective. You earn it by listening.
The next step is making listening as sexy a skill as talking. There are tons of books on how to present, how to speak, and how to use your body language to influence others. There are few on how to listen. (You’re Not Listening, by Kate Murphy, is my favorite). Many people hire me to coach them on how to present at their next meeting, pitch or interview. No one has ever reached out to prepare for being on the receiving end of a presentation, pitch or interview. But maybe they should. Receiving is harder than presenting. It takes more presence, more thoughtfulness and more empathy. But it takes both presentation and reception to become a strong advocate. And when you make someone feel like you’re listening? You might find you’ve created an advocate for the next time YOU need one.
Yes, it’s time to use your voice. No one can say what you need to say better than you can. You are your own best advocate. There’s a way to use your voice that makes it more likely that people will listen. It’s the advocate’s way. And there’s a way to use your ears that helps even more. Use your voice AND your ears, and the wins will start pouring in.