6 Fundamental Steps for Women to Communicate Powerfully
As I sit to write this blog, I feel very moved reflecting on the women I’ve supported over the years who have developed the capacity to communicate powerfully. I’m thinking of a woman who was afraid to ask her husband for a divorce, fearing that her family would disown her because of their religious beliefs. This courageous woman learned to speak to her family with authentic power about the fact that her marriage was causing pain to her and her husband.
As a result, the relationship with her family became closer and stronger than it had ever been. Her family completely supported her in her decision to have a happy and healthy life, which included ending the dysfunctional marriage.
And, just last week, a female client who has been working on raising awareness about gender inequality in the tech industry, challenged the leaders of her company-she works at one the largest tech companies- to put systems in place to address gender-based harassment and discrimination.
For years, this woman received unfair, unwarranted and devaluing gender-based comments and actions in the tech industry. She could have given up; she could have believed the story that she was a victim; she could have done nothing; she could have changed careers and left a field she’s passionate about. And yet, she chose to do the necessary work to find her voice and speak her truth with power while maintaining professionalism, integrity and resilience. Her company is listening to her.
I’m so inspired by these women! I feel so proud of them. Honestly, I feel proud of everyone who learns the essential skill of speaking their truth with an equal dose of empathy and power.
It is important to acknowledge that many of us women could not even consider finding our voice and speaking our truth if it were not for all the women and men before us who paved the way.
Yet, the advancement in rights and recognition we women enjoy does not automatically translate into our having the ability to communicate powerfully.
In fact, even if tomorrow our society achieved complete gender equality - legally and economically, men and women would both still have much work to do help women communicate in ways that reflected that equality.
What does power mean?
The etymology of the word “power” is the Latin posse. Its original meaning is “to be able to,” to have the ability of doing something.
Power is to have capacity.
I believe all women have the capacity to learn to express themselves authentically.
Last week, I had the incredible fortune of seeing the talented jazz musician Esperanza Spalding perform in New York City. At the end of the show, I came up to her to thank her for her authenticity and being such a strong role model of female power, intelligence and confidence for women.
Wearing a track suit, with the words LIFE FORCE, Esperanza gave me hug and said: “Thank you! Yes, that is me. I could not be anybody else.” I was so inspired by her capacity to be herself unapologetically.
If you are a woman reading this or have women friends, this blog is for you. I want to share with you the 6 fundamental steps I teach women to communicate powerfully.
#1. Spend time examining and challenging the messages you received during your life as to who you need to be because you are woman.
Did you hear you are only valuable if you look beautiful or thin? Did you hear you need to adjust your behavior or communication to catch a good man to marry? Did you hear you would be less of a woman if you are not partnered or if you don’t have children?
As you look at these messages, understand their underlying implicit beliefs that you might have unconsciously adopted and defy any of those messages that do not allow you to be the fullness of you or follow your dreams based on your gender.
I continue to spend time looking at some of the messages I have internalized because I am a woman.
For me, the issue of my worth being based on my appearance became very obvious when I moved to the US in 1999. Having grown up in Argentina, the issue of beauty was sort of a given. Somehow all women were considered beautiful because they were women. While I lived there, being seen as intelligent was more important to me than anything else.
When I moved to the US, I heard so many people give me the label of “beautiful”; I became dependent on it to feel worthy.
As I age and my body goes through its natural changes, I continue to work on becoming freer of the labels that would determine my sense of value in the world based on how I look.
#2. Communicate your values and needs directly.
Every human being has needs.
Because women are not usually brought up to communicate directly, we tend to want others to guess what we need so that we don’t have to feel needy.
Other times, we might communicate what’s important to us in very indirect ways by dropping hints or making up comparative stories to avoid feeling guilty about making requests.
Others cannot support us in the fulfillment of our values or needs if they don’t know what these are.
Stop communicating your desires in round-about ways. Learn to communicate them as clearly and succinctly as possible.
In my experience, men can be great role models for asking for what they need directly. Pay attention to men or to people who are confident about making requests. Notice how they ask others to support them in the fulfilment of their needs and values and develop your own way for asking with confidence and conviction.
Dissolve the illusion that others can read your mind.
The more direct you are, the easier it is to find the tools and support necessary to realize your desires.
#3. Only apologize when you noticed someone feels hurt by your words or actions.
Women tend to over-apologize on a daily basis.
When I was in grad school, my professor Riane Eisler, an expert on women studies, shared a study that stated that women say ‘I’m sorry’ about 60 times a day, while men say it about 6 times a day!
Stop apologizing when you ask a question, when you ask for support, when you want to be heard, when you express disagreement, or when you want to share your feelings.
In my work with women, I have seen women equally apologize for their tears and for their laughter when sharing something with me. It’s time we welcome our tears and laughter and stop apologizing for them.
#4. Set healthy boundaries
Every healthy relationship needs healthy boundaries.
If something does not work for you, say ‘No’. Sometimes, we women are so afraid of saying “no” for fear we are going to offend someone, receive some form of retaliation, or be seen as too tough.
To learn to say “no” we need to connect first to the needs and values we are saying “yes” to.
For example, by saying “no” to staying late at work every week, we could be saying “yes” to health (exercising after work, having a wholesome homemade dinner, taking appropriate rest). Saying yes to health will mean our immune system will be stronger, which will translate into fewer sick days and we will have more focus to work efficiently while at work.
So, find what you are saying “yes” to before you say “no”, then feel confident about your no.
#5. Understand your own biases against other women.
In our male-dominated world, many of us have learned to criticize other women, treat each other as competitors and even prevent other women from succeeding.
Often, we are unaware we are doing this and that it is learned, society-wide behavior. Learn how these unconscious biases hurt us all.
When you are about to question a woman’s behavior, criticize her or not give her an opportunity, ask yourself: ‘if this person were a man, would my words or actions be the same?’
Consider how you can support other women grow. Say something when women denigrate other women.
When you see or hear other women succeeding or fulfilling some of our own wishes, celebrate their success and celebrate them.
#6. Talk about gender inequality with women and men alike.
We all have the responsibility to raise awareness about injustice.
Speaking up about gender equality can and must be done with intelligence, skill and grace.
We need to learn to talk about what matters without attacking or devaluing men.
You need to be the model to initiate and maintain these conversations with power and compassion.
You also need to be able to discuss doable practices that lead to equality. I give some suggestions in the blog I previously wrote titled “How to Communicate Respectfully with Women”.
As a woman, when you courageously and gradually learn to take these steps, you will feel more connected to your power, that inner quality of capacity that is available to you at all times.
As usual, share with me in the comment area what worked, what you are reflecting on, and other ways in which you communicate when you are anchored in your inherent power.