Finding your voice in the team – 3 strategies on how to give voice to your thoughts

Google defines voice as follows: Noun: the sound produced in a person’s larynx and uttered through the mouth, as speech or song OR a particular opinion or attitude expressed. Verb:…

Sherell Diane | March 28, 2023

Google defines voice as follows:

Noun: the sound produced in a person’s larynx and uttered through the mouth, as speech or song OR a particular opinion or attitude expressed.

Verb: express, vocalize, give voice to.

I wish to focus on the verb – give voice to, because it feels to me like the perfect coming together of code and sound into meaningful language. Now picture a scenario where someone, YOU perhaps, with a natural ability to hear and speak, do not feel comfortable giving voice to your thoughts in the team at work. The question is WHY?

Here are 3 reasons why people fear giving voice to their thoughts in teams

What are some of the reasons that people in the workplace, especially in a team context, find it challenging to give voice to their thoughts? I am going to share some of my personal experiences, and those of ex-colleagues from working across diverse portfolios over twenty-seven years in blue-chip multinational corporations.

Strangely for me, at the onset of my career, I exercised full agency. I was confident and had conviction in the accuracy and quality of my work. Over time, as I developed a feel for personalities, hierarchies and workplace dynamics, I became more guarded with my voice.

These are some of the reasons experienced either by myself or people I know, and I appreciate that there may be many more:

Fixed Mindset Leader

When the leader of the team demonstrates a fixed mindset, especially if they are uncomfortable being challenged, then the door for open dialogue or any form of two-way communication is automatically shut.

Abrasive Organizational Culture

When psychological safety is not Weaved into the DNA of the culture of an organization, starting with its leadership, especially when team members experience any form of victimization, bullying or othering, they tend to hold back on their opinion.

It is compounded by ever-failing internal labour processes and procedures, meant to be fair for the protection of both employer and employee, but proving not so and often resulting in employees silenced or exiting businesses.

Dysfunctional Team Dynamic

When the core team lacks trust, they are not comfortable being vulnerable with one another, they conceal their weaknesses, and skill deficiencies and hold grudges.

If the leader of the team is not passionate about building a team that is trusting and has a Growth Mindset, finding your agency within a dysfunctional team is near impossible.

I enjoy the work of Patrick Lencioni, organizational health expert and author, and also apply his methodology in my own business Move To Be More when facilitating team cohesion workshops.

Somehow, for me at least, there was a period during my career where I felt safe in my mute state. I called it “operating under the radar”. Admittedly, I also felt dead. And it didn’t last very long because the behaviour clashed with my personality. Yet when I decided to rise from the ashes again, I didn’t quite return to my fully awake state. 

I chose to remain semi asleep, because of the three broad reasons outlined earlier. It helped me to survive. Still, I didn’t thrive. But even that approach didn’t last for too long because it is not in my nature to accept being devoiced of my opinion. 

So I found projects and initiatives that align with my strengths and values and where I had the opportunity to amplify my voice. 

Here are 5 tips on giving voice to your thoughts in a team context

1. Prepare your thoughts

If you have important input to give or an important question to ask to clarify something, PREPARE how you will frame it beforehand.

The preparation will help you to settle your nervousness and grow confidence in your motivation for why you are voicing your thought because there is a motivation behind it.

2. Clarify your message, audience and motivation

Clarify beforehand WHAT you are saying or asking, to WHOM and WHY. This is still part of the pre-framing step and will help you ground yourself before the meeting or discussion.

3. Deliver your message with conviction

Once in the room, meeting or discussion, spot the first opportune moment and dive in – as calmly and with as much conviction as you can muster. If possible, rise up from your seat so that you are seen, then SPEAK SLOWLY AND SUCCINCTLY, stating your point.

If you get asked questions, take breaths to gather your thoughts and only answer what you can otherwise commit to following up afterwards.

4. Be in control of your emotions

Manage your EMOTIONS should someone in the team trigger you with negative comments or any form of provocation. One way to do this is to allow them the space to say as much as they want to say while you focus on your breathing, making sure that you stay centred.

A situation like that usually does not require your response afterwards, and if it does, you may say something like “it is not part of the topic being discussed”.

5. Be sure that you FEEL heard and seen

If, for whatever reason, you get snubbed, TRY AGAIN. Your voice is your agency.

If you are not going to contribute to decisions affecting your career, your everyday work experience or your work environment, you are likely to feel excluded and frustrated especially if you do not have a fulfilling work experience.

This is what I know with certainty – everyone at work (and in the world outside of work) has some level of fear living inside them. Some manage to hide it better than others, and as said by Brene Brown, the two most shame-based of all personality disorders, i.e. narcissism and grandiosity are driven by high performance and self-hatred, and the shame-based fear of being ordinary. 

So the next time you fear being vulnerable and giving voice to your thought, think about this: how is fear showing up for the person you’re afraid of? 

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