Many of us will reach a time in our careers where the stakes shift & we are called to bring a forward a new level voice - one that conveys experience, wisdom & leadership. This crossroads can hit us like an avalanche - we arrive in uncharted territory with a voice & communication style that no longer meets the needs of our environment. Where we once followed the guidelines & expectations of our industry we are now asked to lead & forge a different path - one that reflects our voice, vision, & passion.
Whether we are the parent returning to to the workforce, the employee rising into management, or the person who leaves their career to pursue their passion this time of transition can be all at once exciting & daunting.
As a voice & communications coach I’ve had the privilege sharing this time of transition with several clients. What I have witnessed time & again is that this growth of communication style, be it more assertiveness, greater listening, or expressing more vulnerability is absolutely possible for individuals is work & your life. Great leaders are not born they are created - through self awareness, perseverance, & patience you can absolutely step into a more resonant voice.
Begin with Presence
Regardless of our leadership style presence is the foundation of effective communication. Ultimately there is no ‘right’ communication style. An effective leader is able to read the room & draws from a variety of skills & tools meeting their audience where they are. Cultivating presence - through mindfulness practices & meditation will offer you invaluable space to recognize your style, evolve your skill set, & meet each unique interaction for what it is.
Cultivating presence can be as simple as pausing to take three deep breaths. Even now as you read this, I invite you to pause & do just that…take three deep breaths.
During our career most of us develop a style or professional persona that reflects the culture, expectations, & implicit characteristics of our role & industry. This persona becomes our default way of being. Thus, it can be incredibly disorienting when we step into a new role, particularly one in which we feel a personally connected (i.e. an important promotion or soul directed project) & discover that this style no longer meets our current circumstance. The newly promoted engineer may find they lack the tact to effectively relate & inspire their team or the wellness provider turned financier may realize they find it difficult to take charge & lead.
This is a time to be proactive & take inventory. Think about your career to this point what have been your strengths & limitations? What themes have arisen in feedback you have received from peers, mentors, or managers? This honest self reflection is a foundation for growth because only when we know where we are can we effectively move forward.
In general most of us lean to one side in our communication style the head or the heart.
Lead from the Head
At it’s best leading from the head includes; rational thought, clarity, not taking on or creating drama, being concise, & confident. However when it is unbalanced it may include dominating, inconsiderate of others, detached, arrogant, abrasive or dismissive.
Lead from the Heart
At it’s best heart felt communication is considerate, caring, approachable, & empathic. However when it is unbalanced this style can become submissive, indecisive, overly concerned with others perceptions, & overly emotional.
These ways of being are fluid & change as we progress in our industry. As we develop seniority & experience we tend to become more confident & clear whereas newer employees are more likely to be concerned with how they are perceived. When our communication style does not evolve we become stuck in our role & unable to move forward. Thus it is important when we take inventory to consider not only where we are but also what style will take us where we want to go.
Effective leadership blends the strengths of both head & heart - leading with confidence, clarity, & rational thinking while also remaining humble, approachable, & empathetic. Beyond that they are able to play these skills as needed like leading a clear & concise presentation for investors to actively listening to the concerns of an employee, to leading an inspirational team meeting all in one day.
Take a moment now to take inventory.
~ Where you now?
~ What are your strengths?
~ Your limitations?
Understand Your Why
Knowing why we want to develop our style is of huge benefit for cultivating the perseverance to stick it out. Dig deep, make it personal, & find the why that gives you goosebumps or creates deep sense of steadiness in your body. This felt experience allows us to connect to this goal on both a cognitive & visceral level. In time we can learn to map our behaviours to this felt experience.
Some questions you might ponder;
~ Why is it important that I learn to share my heart & passion?
~ How will listening & connecting with my team help us?
~ Why is important to respect myself & set boundaries?
~ What benefit to myself would this have?
~ What benefit would it have on those around me?
Break it Down
Now that you have an honest inventory of where you are & the motivation to grow it’s time to break down the skills you want to develop into tangible behaviours. Think of the mentors & role models that inspire you most, perhaps those who are in the positions you wish to grow into or those who lead a similar role in a way you admire. Through reflection & observation consider the specific communication behaviours they use. Write them down.
(Some examples might include)
From the Head
~ They are clearly prepared & organized in presentations
~ They speak with a clear voice & stand up tall
~ They gently bring the conversation back to topic when it trails off
~ They set clear boundaries around their time
From the Heart
~ They use stories to inspire their staff
~ They know peoples names & ask about personal situations
~ They have an open-door policy
~ They speak with heart & emotion
By breaking down the specific behaviours we admire we make the seemingly impossible ways of being tangible & applicable. Look at these behaviours & take note of those that would likely be of benefit to you in your new role.
Try it On
Pick a behaviour from the list you created & adjust it as needed to fit your current situation. Start with something that feels possible. Starting slow with those skills that are easiest will help you build the confidence & capacity to develop those skills that are more daunting.
Practice this skill. You can begin by practicing with a friend or in front of a mirror (fo r those more daunting assertiveness skills) or by bringing these behaviours right into the work environment. If this behaviour feels inauthentic or uncomfortable that is okay. Growth is usually uncomfortable. Practice the behaviour & allow it to refine as you integrate it into your repertoire. Go slow. Choose one behaviour at a time & once it feel comfortable add another form the list.
Give it Time & Let it Grow
As we change our communication style there is a period of adjustment for both ourselves & our environment. By taking the time to practice these behaviours, make them our own, & allow time for our environment to adjust we are more likely to maintain these skills.
Some people may not appreciate our efforts at first. Change is often uncomfortable particularly for those who have grown accustom to &/or benefit form our previous professional persona. It may take time for the peer that leans on you to respect your personal boundaries or for the colleague who admires your scientific approach to feel comfortable with your sharing your feelings or passions as a project leader. Their discomfort does not mean that you are failing, only that change is happening.
This process is a dance, one that rests on presence, patience, & practice. Add & adjust behaviours in a way that feel empowering - that both challenges but does not overwhelm you. In time you will likely find that that thing you use to feel was impossible (i.e. sharing & executing your vision, respectfully calling out unprofessionalism, or growing in your entrepreneurial dreams) is now your reality & that your voice has grown in immeasurable ways.
About the Author Amy Thiessen is a coach, writer, & musician who focuses on helping others find & express a their voice with resonance. Her unique approach works with the wholistic mechanism of voice utilizing somatic awareness, psychology, mindfulness, spiritual practice, & vocal techniques of toning & song.
Would you like help in developing your professional voice? Book a free consultation to see how we might work together to help you reach your goals.