Having a voice is a phrase with different meanings. It is not just about our physical voice but also the place within us from which we speak. Even if we do not like how we sound, we might get over it and use our voice when we know we have an important message to share. Not using our voice can leave us feeling like our own imposters, leading to unfulfillment and regret.
In her book “The Leader’s Edge,” Susan Hodgkinson speaks about the Five P’s of a personal brand: Persona, Product, Packaging, Promotion, and Permission. I will use her model to describe how these dimensions impact our ability to have our voice in the workplace and why it matters.
Persona is your energy and style expressing your vision, values, attitudes, and worldview outwardly. Being aware of your persona is about knowing and living your values, being congruent, authentic and a person of integrity. Finding your voice starts with knowing yourself and what matters to you as the unique individual you are.
Maybe you recognize the passive coworkers in your team who are always silent in meetings. They have a voice, but they do not use it. They might sound apologetic and tentative when they speak. Even when they feel wronged, they tend not to speak. Finding a balance between speaking and listening is about avoiding not speaking at all or speaking too much.
Product is the sum of your qualifications, experience, technical and functional expertise, and the results that you have delivered over time. Finding and using your voice in this area is about the critical role you have to advise, recommend, and speak up when is necessary, coming from a place of expertise.
I used my voice to speak up when advocating for employees, advising leaders, training, and sharing my expertise throughout my HR career. It was not easy when what I said was not what management wanted to hear, but I needed to speak up with integrity and confidence.
Packaging is the wrapping you place around your services. It includes your appearance and the packaging of your messages when presenting them. Packaging your voice means paying attention to the verbal, vocal, and visual aspects of your delivery. In other words, it is not so much what you say but how you say it. You don’t have to be a professional speaker to understand the importance of delivering a clear message effectively to the right audience.
Have you seen a coworker delivering a presentation with great content but in a sloppy way? What was the impact of the message on you? To maximize the impact of your voice, consider creating an outline and preparing talking points for your ideas. Preparation is the key to success.
Promotion is about how to inform your target market about your value and impact. Promoting your voice means creating awareness about the work you do, your convictions, and value-added to earn a solid reputation in your marketplace.
As a Leadership Coach, I hear from women passed over for promotions despite their stellar results. The explanations they hear are usually vague, leaving them angry, frustrated, and unsure of how to move forward. I remember in one instance it was because she did not sell her work very well. Sally Helgesen says that many women tend to feel awkward advocating for themselves and promoting their contributions. And this takes me to the last P, for Permission.
Permission is about your sense of legitimacy, internal confidence, and core belief that you have essential contributions to make. Therefore, you don’t need to wait for anyone to invite you to do so. Permission to have a voice is to believe your opinions matter and that you deserve a space to express them.
We often have flashes of great ideas, but we do not express or act on them. How many times have you seen your thoughts carried out by someone else? How does it make you feel to realize that you could have been the one who mobilized your boss for that great idea or solution, but maybe you didn’t think the idea was that good, or perhaps you thought that others were not going to like it?
A feeling of inadequacy can rob you of your ability to identify your message and share your viewpoints, even if they do not match the people around you. And then you think that your opinions and attitudes are not valuable, and you just shut up instead of taking part in the discussions.
Something similar happens in work meetings when you have a great idea and ponder whether to express your opinion. You might have the missing piece to solve the problem, that unique angle none else has brought. The best thing you can do is join the group’s mind, conveying the ideas that come to you. The ones not described are also essential components within the collective mind and could be of great help at that time. Still, when shared outside of the context of the discussion, they become simply an editorial comment and not a contribution.
If you are struggling to express your voice at work, I offer you the following suggestions:
- Connect what truly matters to you, your values, beliefs, and your inner compass. Be authentically you. To find your authenticity, you must question everything you believe and ask yourself if your views are yours or have come from others. Do you believe them? What are truly yours and not the collective mind?
- Honor your individuality and your right to express your thoughts, ideas, convictions, and values, even when others around you might not agree. Be respectful and understand the environment and circumstances that provide the best return on your efforts.
- Evaluate to what extend your workplace provides you a safe environment for you to have a voice in certain areas. If you work in a conventional organizational culture, consider taking small steps in the direction of voicing opinions on less sensitive matters first.
- Define the what, why, when, and whom of your message considering the most effective channel. It could be that your message can be more effectively delivered in written than spoken.
- Use your technical expertise and know-how to make valid points that provide value-added to your clients and workplace. Prepare solid business cases to back up your recommendations.
- Decide when is best not to speak up. Sometimes your best voice is to be silent and listen to others and collaborate.
- Use emotional intelligence to deliver sensitive matters with diplomacy. Consider the verbal, visual, and vocal components of your message, the audience, and the cultural nuances.
- Use your voice in the direction of unity in the workplace. If you are a leader, understand that you have an essential role in creating inclusive environments where people feel they belong.
The most important aspect of having a voice in the workplace is daring to be yourself. You will bring your best work and example when you can be authentically you through the expression of your voice.