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The Key to Being Heard

Please join me in welcoming Nancy Bos to our blog today! When I met Nancy I was immediately intrigued by her work helping people find their voices. There are so many times as educators that we need to get in front of groups for presentations. I can remember when I was a middle school teacher and my 7th-grade team was asked to present in front of hundreds of parents. I felt fine doing it, we had a script of sorts but my colleague, who had been an educator for over 20 years just couldn’t do it. She sat down and refused to speak. Of course, the rest of us handled her parts and no one was the wiser. This was the first time that I realized that adults can have “stage fright.” Over the last 20+ years in our field, I have noticed adult professionals with differing degrees of efficacy in speaking to crowds or even to their colleagues. I’ve always wondered why because it is something that has come rather easily for me. Today’s blog answered that question and so many more! I am so happy to provide this resource to you, if you sometimes wonder “am I even being heard” this blog is for you. Be sure to subscribe for Nancy’s weekly newsletter and if this may not be for you but you know of a colleague or loved one who would benefit from the blog post or newsletter certainly forward it along. In Friendship, Love and Leadership,

The Key to Being Heard

By Nancy Bos

Marie came to me desperate for speaking voice help - she felt her career was at stake. She said that in meetings the others didn’t usually seem to hear her. Her frustration at not being heard was turning into anger for being underappreciated and fear that it could cost her position.

My first thought was, there was a real chance her colleagues are to blame. It’s true that this is a problem that women often bring up. Being human means having biases that sneak up on us, like undervaluing women’s voices. But it isn’t just women who complain about this. Some others that I’ve heard similar complaints from are:

• Any people in a minority in groups

• Introverts in groups of extroverts

• Younger people in groups of older people

• Older people in groups of younger people

The bias to prefer people like us is called a similarity bias. Similarity bias is the preference or tendency to appreciate people like us. because they make us feel comfortable and safe.

Similarity bias is something we can’t escape as humans - it’s built into our evolution. It’s only those people who are aware of their bias who are able to make different choices. However, in Marie’s case, she had no way to address this potential issue with her co-workers.

The next thought was, is there something about her voice that makes her hard to hear? The answer to that depends somewhat on the audience - specifically on hearing issues in the group. As hearing begins to decline with age, people experience a much more aggressive hearing loss in the typical range of female voices than male voices. A group of older people might legitimately have a hard time hearing a woman’s voice. Approximately one in three people in the United States between the ages of 65 and 74 has hearing loss, and nearly half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing. - National Inst. for Deafness and Other Hearing Disorders

However, aside from talking louder for the hearing impaired, is there something Marie do could on her own to be heard. That’s where the secret lies. Marie could change her speech patterns to be more male-like in order to overcome some similarity bias. Changes could include:

◦ speaking in shorter sentences

◦ using stronger and clipped consonant sounds

◦ speaking louder

◦ turning all sentence endings down in pitch, as statements, rather than up like a question (also called uptalk)

◦ choosing different words

Women can experiment with using more assertive language. “When you use tentative language, then you are more prone to be interrupted,” Assoc. Prof. Adrienne Hancock, SLP says. She cites as an example the difference between the statements, “We’re going to dinner here,” and, “I was thinking of going to dinner here.” The latter phrase conveys a sense of uncertainty. - Stephanie Watson, ASHAWire

The problem with all of these potential solutions is that they were inauthentic to Marie. They all required her to be “more like a man” or “more like one of the boys.” They all assumed that her colleagues were coming up short in the respect department because of gender and that she needed to accommodate for their problems. Thankfully, after Marie understood all of these scenarios, we agreed that accommodating was not a long-term solution. In fact, it might not fix it at all.

Results came for Marie when she examined her connection with herself. Through our conversations about when in her life Marie learned her speech style, she came to the realization that over her entire youth, she had learned to put her own thoughts and opinions at lower importance than other people. It was an unconscious training that she received from her parents. It was reinforced in her relationships with her brothers, as well as in school, sports, and church. Marie was an introvert who suddenly discovered that if her ideas had value, she had to deliberately give them voice.

Giving voice to one's ideas is a short-hand way of saying that if something is worth saying, it is worth saying well and with confidence. Over the years, Marie had become less and less confident in herself, but she knew that her deep knowledge of her field was important and it needed to be heard.

As Marie worked on placing the confidence she had for her ideas into her voice, she achieved success quickly. She learned that the subtle ways she might have devalued herself had snuck into her speech patterns and had given the listeners a subconscious impression that her content was of less value. She enjoyed now being heard in the meetings.

Marie made the essential mental shift of believing that her knowledge was so valuable that it was worth it to use her voice with confidence. Not only does confident speech enhance things like enunciation and loudness, it also improves our body language, which causes people's eyes and ears to be drawn to us. It was challenging for Marie, but this is often times the solution for people who feel they aren’t being heard. Of course, it can be overdone. A relentlessly confident speaker can also be called a blow-hard or worse. But being a windbag is rarely a concern for most of us.

In the end, using your impassioned voice to deliver a message in a way that only you can give it, will bring the audience to you every time.


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