How to be Taken Seriously as a Woman (Part 1)

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I recently returned from teaching a college course on persuasive speaking. I taught it with a dear friend of mine who works as a lawyer. I taught the class tools actors use to persuade an audience into feeling how he or she wants them to feel and my friend taught persuasion from the legal perspective.

We stumbled on a surprising theme: Even though we are female professors and the class was fifty percent female, generally the women in the class shied away from speaking up and speaking out. The women students also continually undercut themselves in their presentations, despite our efforts to provide them with tools that would empower them to speak assertively.

By talking to the women individually, I found that, for some, there was a battle happening in their mind.

One of my students did a good job of articulated this inner turmoil when she asked me, “How do I embrace my power without coming across as bossy or a bitch?”

Her question, as crass as it may sound, stuck with me, for many reasons. I don’t think that she is alone in suffering from this insecurity. This is not endemic to the classroom.

How many women have had this thought?

Recently, I was at a friend’s dinner party and I sat down with a woman who runs her own business. She asked me what I do and I told her that I am a performance coach who specializes in helping women find inner confidence and exude more authority. Immediately her ears perked up.

She replied: “I could use your help?? I often feel like my clients don’t take me seriously…??? And I don’t know why??”

These question marks are not typos, rather they are my attempt to communicate her precise intonation.

You may have noticed that many women around you present statements with questioning intonations, and if you haven’t, listen for this lilt-up at the end of sentences. (Think classic California, valley-girl speak.) And yes, though women form the majority of offenders, men also upspeak.

Both of the women above lilted-up at the end of their sentences. After further discussion, I also discovered that both held the same inner belief: The belief that if they state exactly what they want, others will be offended.

Why do we, women, think this way?

In The Power of Talk: Who Gets Heard and Why, published in The Harvard Business Review, Deborah Tannen articulated that women, like people from a different culture, have often learned a different speaking style than men. As girls, women tend to play with a single best friend or in small groups. They use language to negotiate how close they are. Girls learn to downplay ways in which one is better than the others and to emphasize ways in which they are all the same.

From childhood, most girls learn that sounding too sure of themselves will make them unpopular with their peers. A group of girls will ostracize a girl who calls attention to her own superiority. Thus girls learn to talk in ways that balance their own needs with the needs of others.

Does this sound familiar?

Women have a natural instinct to use their voice to balance the needs of others with their own, which includes inviting a dialogue as opposed to making statements, and to downplay their own knowledge for the sake of not being ostracized by the group.

The problem is that this habitual “upspeak,” as we call it, and other vocal patterns, can make women come across as less competent and self-assured than they are.

Upspeak can be appropriate for some groups and situations, but not for all. For most people it is a habit from childhood that might no longer be serving us.

So, how can we stop the undercutting, unflattering, upspeak habit?

We can learn from the challenges articulated by the two women above: Embrace your inner power and end your sentences. That’s right, try it out right now. End. That. Sentence. With. A. Period. Not. A question mark. Even if you don’t feel one hundred percent confident in what you’re saying, fake it until you make it. End your sentences and you, and other people, will start to take yourself seriously.

Once you’ve made a few statements, they’ll start to feel less awkward and less aggressive. You’ll start to get used to the way your assertive voice sounds and feels in your body. You’ll also start getting used to the reaction you get from others. They’re not offended, that face their making just means that they heard you. 

Click here to find out more about how I can get you off the upspeak train.

 

10 wholistic practices to increase your odds of landing the job

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You have the expertise, job history and experience to qualify for your dream job, but you are still not landing the position.  You have prepared your content to perfection, so what else could it possibly be?

Your body language, presence and the silent conversation your body is having with others in the room might be having a huge effect on your success rate.

Neuroscience research shows that the subconscious rules our behavior 95-99% of the time. Without knowing it, most of us are undermining our interpersonal and professional credibility, simply because we’re not aware of what we’re communicating on a physical, vocal and energetic level.

So you google  “body language interview tips” and you get stock answers that sometimes work and sometimes don’t. In the best case, the stars align and you eek by, just barely. In the worst case, they make you seem less human, too slick, and fake. 

Why body language interview tips DON’T work:

When I first started practicing yoga, I was just following the form— the shape that my instructor’s body was making at the front of the class. I didn’t learn how to embody the asanas until I started to understand what the pose was supposed to accomplish.

Learning the form was good training, but at a certain point, in order to rise to the next level, I needed to understand why. I believe the same to be true for interview preparation and coaching. It’s not enough to learn the forms, you have to learn the why.

For example, standing tall or sitting up straight with good posture can quickly look arrogant or hollow. This exudes in-authenticity if all you’re doing is practicing the form or posturing.

In contrast, if you are able to stand powerfully, knowing that your feet need to be planted squarely beneath your hips and your weight, balanced equally between the balls of your feet and heels, then that gives you a presence of weight, authority and gravitas.

Or, if you allow yourself to sit with a straight spine in your seat, knowing that this is enabling your body to take a deep, diaphragmatic breath,  then you are sending an authentic signal of confidence to your self, your nervous system and your audience.

The crucial tip that WILL make you stand out from the crowd:

Often we over prepare the content for these high-stakes situations but we don’t prepare physically or emotionally. We only take care of one part of ourselves. Any small thing can then knock us off our game and send us into a state of defensiveness and mental muddiness. This is not only communicated to your interviewer but it has a spiral effect on your own nervous system. So, here’s how you prepare efficiently and effectively for the success of your whole being:

Before the interview:

Practice diaphragmatic breathing. 4 counts on the inhale, 4 counts on the exhale. Put a hand on your belly to make sure that you are releasing as low down as possible. You can place a hand on your back to make sure that you are breathing three dimensionally. Try filling up your lungs from the bottom to top, imagining that your lungs are balloons filling with air.

Practice a powerful neutral stance, first while standing, then sitting down. Then, try transitioning from walking in, to sitting down, like you’ll be doing in your interview. At all times, your feet are planted firmly beneath you and are in parallel. Your hips are over your heels, your shoulders are over your hips. You can imagine that your head has a string pulling out the top and your chest is slightly raised. 

Warm up your voice. Find a closed space and practice rumbling as low as you can go. Often we want this deep resonance in our voice. It adds authority and weight to our ideas. It also sends a message to our bodies and our interviewer that we are relaxed. When we’re nervous our voices tend to jump a pitch, often because tension has risen to our throat. The more you can practice a lower pitch, the more you will feel relaxed and send a message of authority.

Move your face and body, tensing and releasing, before you walk into the interview. Often, we’ll prepare by staring at a computer screen or reading or notes over and again with our face down and brow furrowed. Our face will then remain frozen in ways that don’t communicate our excitement or enthusiasm for the position. 

During the interview:

Focus on this the other person. Often we’re so worried about how we’re coming across, we forget that others might be having the exact same experience. Try this, focus on the other person. What can you do to make them feel comfortable? In an awkward pause, be curious about them. Have a list of questions that you know you can pull out if needs be. Ask a question and then focus on listening and really hearing the answer.

Re-set the playing field. How often have you walked into an interview and you’ve been taken off guard? Something they said has thrown you for a loop, or something happened in your personal life, just before you walked through the door, or something in the room has made you uncomfortable. This type of experience can make or break an interview. If you do not take the time to make yourself comfortable, you not only fail to set yourself up for the possibility of success but your looking uncomfortable makes the interviewer feel uncomfortable. This also a great way to reset the playing field so that your interviewer knows that your’e in control.

Find your center and stay there. Often, we’ll lean forward to try to look engaged or lean back to try to look confident. Don’t do either, stay in your center. This is not only sending a signal of strength and ease to your interviewer but it is sending a signal of safety to yourself. When answering a question try to keep your head level, your eyes level and stay in your center. If you start to lean or swerve, notice what made you feel that this was necessary. You’ll probably begin to notice that you’ll only do this if you’re not sure about what you’re saying or in some ways trying to “dodge” a reaction from the other person. Try to ask and answer questions “head on.”

Plant your feet and point your toes where you want to direct your focus. Try noticing which way your toes naturally point. Your feet will naturally fall pointing towards where you instinctively want to go. Often, this is right out the door. Instead, try pointing them towards the interviewer to send the signal that you want to be exactly where you are right now.

Put your hands where people can see them and allow gestures to come into play. We want to see where your hands are. It makes us more comfortable. Maybe so we know you don’t have a hidden agenda. Allow your hands to rest comfortably in your lap or on the arms of the chair, but when there’s an opportunity, gesture with an open palm and from the heart. 

Bonus tip for powerful communication:

Breath is connected to thought. So, inhale to find “inspiration” and exhale while giving your answer. Try looking at the interviewer while inhaling to “find” your answer, it will keep your answer connected to the person in front of you, enhancing your relationship and keeping you authentic and honest in your message.

There are many other tools and techniques I could teach you, these are just a few. But you can start to see the difference in technique thats specific to your needs. Imagine the difference between wearing an off the rack, one-size-fits-most, clothing item, and a tailored suit. The quality of interview experience you can have, after working with a coach who tailors to your unique communication style, is well worth the effort and the price.

What are you committed to?

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I am a voice and body coach. I help people enjoy the act of speaking in public (imagine that!) as well as teach people how to grow their authentic leadership presence. This work starts by looking at the conscious and unconscious choices you are making in how you use your voice and body language. But with this work, something inevitably happens–life begins to percolate through.

With clients, we’ll start by talking about physical choices, but end up talking about the life choices that led to the physical. Our life choices actually manifest in such things as our posture, the volume of our voice, the gestures that guard vulnerable parts of our body. We could even go so far as to say, our life choices  (what we’ll call commitments) are the seeds of many of our physical habits. 

So, how do we identify our commitments? And, once we do, how do we create permanent, positive change? What follows is a process that I use with clients that comes directly from Paula Shaw, the author and leader of my favorite workshop at Esalen Institute, The Max (themaxwithpaulashaw.com). I found this process to be simple and straight forward but revelatory and powerful in it’s ability to catalyze dramatic change. 

Let’s take a recent example from my own life. I have wanted to launch a website for years.  (Spoiler alert, it’s now done, shameless self promotion: rebeccacmartin.com) Why has a website taken me so long? Unbeknownst to even myself, until I took some time to do this process, I had been very busy committing to saying that I wanted to create a website and not doing it. In other words, if you were to simply judge from the results of my actions, you could honestly say that I had been committed to talking about a website but not creating a website. That would be a fair statement. Once I was able to see this about myself, I was motivated to create change.

In going through this process, I also realized that I had been committed to quite a few beliefs that “helped” me with my larger commitment: I’m not tech-savvy. I don’t look good in pictures. I’m better in person. I’m not ready. I don’t have anything new to say. I don’t deserve to have my own website. Etc. In essence, I had been working very hard to convince myself not to launch a website.

So, your turn. What are you committed to? You might be reading this post because……

You are committed to reading personal growth blogs. You are committed to your psychological health. You are committed to a vision for your life that is bigger and better than what you’re experiencing now. You are committed to seeking an answer.

You are probably also committed to….

Eating healthy food, sleeping 8 hrs a night, loving your partner, being good to those around you and to yourself, yoga, meditation etc. Or, are you really?

Let’s look a little deeper. What could an outside observer say that you are in fact committed to?

Being on your computer 6+ hours a day. (It’s what you do, right? So it’s a commitment!) Searching the web and not doing the items on your to do list. Spending more than you have. Credit cards. Saying you are going to drink more water, and not drinking more water. (In fact, you are committed to 3 cups of coffee a day.) Saying you’ll wake up and exercise and not doing it. Having clothes in your drawer that you don’t wear. Buying what you don’t need. Being late to work in the morning. Being late, period. Etc etc…

Yup! Once you get the ball rolling, it’s easier to come up with more negatives than positives. So, all sorts of commitments are involved in getting us places and doing things, and being somebody and ultimately, accomplishing amazing things in this world! Commitments are important. Commitments are powerful. They have the power to build the life that we dream of, or to keep us locked into patterns that don’t serve us.

Now, pick up a pen and paper and write down the answer(s) to the following question: What are you committed to? Flesh it out. Give yourself the big picture of all of your commitments, positive and negative, and especially try to see your commitments from an outside perspective. Go.

So, what did you learn?

Now, what do you do when you realize that you have made commitments that are not serving you? Here’s what I do:

  1. Bring awareness to my commitments and acknowledge them for being what they are (no judgement). A thing is what it is.

  2. Look at your overall vision for yourself and ask: Which of these commitments are not serving my vision for myself and my life?

  3. Use choice and self-discipline to pick ONE commitment to turn around per week. Each time that commitment comes up, give yourself the assignment to make the new choice that serves you and your goals.

  4. Repeat steps 1-3.

We are all a big ball of commitments and no one can define exactly where they’ve come from. Many of them are from our environment–the way we were raised, our communities, our education, our work environments, our home lives. It’s not entirely our fault that we’re built this way!  AND it’s important and empowering to recognize that we have the ability to change.

Working with your commitments in this way can be done on your own or with a coach. Something as simple as a weekly check-in can ensure that progress starts happening now. Bring awareness to your personal commitments, begin to dream and develop a vision for where you’d like to get to and let’s create a game plan to help you get there.

This is one path I don’t think you’ll mind committing to.