#6 Express yourself.
Finding your voice.
I have worked in project management throughout most of my career. Early on, as a junior project manager, part of my tasks were to take meeting minutes for large milestone reviews. I would get to the meeting rooms early to make sure the projector was working, everything was setup properly, and I had a good spot (out of the way) to see and hear everything going on so that I could capture the major points of the meeting.
There was one instance that I won't ever forget - mainly because I beat myself up every single time I think about it. I walked into the room, got everything ready, found my spot and was just getting situated when three Directors walked into the room. They stood around analyzing the room and quickly started identifying who would need to sit where for the milestone review. Not too long thereafter, one of them looked straight at me and said, "You can't sit there. You need to go to the back of the room." My face lit up in embarrassment and I thought to myself, "You basically just told me that I'm not important enough to sit here." So I quietly collected my things and moved to the back of the room.
I am very respectful of my elders, hierarchy and requests that my superiors make. What I am not ok with is me biting my tongue. The room that we were in had poor acoustics and I needed to be close to the front. Why did I not respectfully express my concerns? I was so frustrated with myself the entire review that I could barely pay attention, thus allowing it to affect my work. I could only think to myself, "Sherly Sandberg would be so disappointed in me right now." All of this over a seat.
I have worked in a very male-dominated environment throughout my entire career and, as a result, I have allowed myself to think it is ok for men to boss me around in most situations. I think to myself, "they belong to this Boys Club and I am not allowed to by a member". What makes it even worse is: I have a voice and also typically have a very logical reason for carrying out actions, but for a long time I kept my mouth shut. Instead of politely explaining why I thought it was best for me to sit close to the front, I pressed my lips together, allowed them to infuriate me, and sat my tush in the back of the room.
This is just one of many simple situations where I chose not to use my voice. I would allow situations like this to build up and it would come out in some other fashion. In fact, early on in my career where feedback or input was requested, I often kept my mouth shut because I allowed my male colleagues to speak over and/or interrupt me. Just because I am a female, a minority, in my industry, does not mean I cannot have an opinion and/or should not be entitled to express it. It should never mean that I allow others (male or female) to push my voice down by speaking louder than me. You can take a note out of Kamala Harris' book and say, "Excuse me, but I was speaking." ;)
I am here to tell you that you need to find your voice. When you encounter a situation where you have specific needs, then it is ok to respectfully address them. What I should have said was, "I recognize that certain individuals higher up in the organization need to be close to the front and I can respect that. Since I am taking notes today and the acoustics in this room are horrible, would it be alright if I stayed here to ensure that all of the action items were captured properly?". At that point, I would have had to be ok with whatever response he provided.
Even for something as trivial as an assigned seat, if you have needs it is important to express them. I personally have let too many things build up over the years and, I can tell you from experience, it isn't healthy. I personally ended up raising my voice in meetings and firmly saying, “Excuse me, I have something to say.” You should never come across as insubordinate, so if you find yourself having difficulty expressing your emotions, I would encourage you to take Emotional Intelligence and Communications courses. If you can't listen to me, then at least listen to Madonna: "Don't go for second best, Baby. Express yourself".
P.S. You will notice throughout my blogs that I often use the words respectfully, politely and professionally. The reason for this is, while it is ok to express your needs and/or conflicts, you always need to make sure that you are respectful, polite, and professional in your delivery.