4 Tips for Finding Your Voice at Work
By Jeanne Thompson
Growing up as one of five kids, I never had trouble finding my voice. And this has held true throughout my career — but not always.
A number of years ago, my boss at the time mentioned a new position that was being created. It sounded like my dream job and one I knew I could do well. As he cited potential candidates, I hoped to hear my name. But it never crossed his lips. I could feel myself shrinking, thinking, “I have to say something.” I managed to squeak out, “Wow, sounds like an interesting opportunity. Any chance you’d consider me?” Then I held my breath. And nearly a decade later, I still remember his response: “No, I don’t see you as a good fit for this role.”
My first thought was, “Maybe he’s right.” However, as I sat there digesting his comment, I started to consider some of my accomplishments and thought, I “can” do this. I was also a bit disappointed that he didn’t think I’d be a good fit. I realized I had to say something. By not speaking up, I was letting him define who I was and what I could bring to the table. The line from the classic ’80s movie “Dirty Dancing” came to mind: “Nobody puts Baby in the corner!” In that moment, I sat up, found my voice and told him the role was something I’d be interested in and that he should consider me. I then outlined what I thought I could bring to the table. And to my surprise, he listened carefully and recommended that we discuss it further. It took courage to speak up and ask for what I wanted, but it paid off: I eventually landed the role. I had secured my seat “at the table,” as many like to say, and had set myself down a new and exciting career path.
But getting that seat was only half the battle. Often I was the only woman in the room, the youngest, the most junior or the only one without a PhD. And, in the beginning, I had many more questions than answers. In time, I realized the very fact that my experience and perspective were different was the value I brought. What I thought was my greatest weakness turned out to be one of my greatest strengths.
Finding your voice is the first step towards getting and keeping a seat at the table. It isn’t always easy, but here are four tips on what it takes:
1. Ask for what you want. Raise your hand and let your voice be heard.
2. Believe in yourself. If you don’t know what value you bring to the table, no one else will.
3. Contribute with purpose and confidence.
4. Do your homework and come to the table with an opinion that you can back up with reliable data and insight.
Upon reflection I realized “Nobody puts baby in the corner” but … baby! Had I not spoken up during that meeting with my boss all those years ago, I might not have the job I enjoy today.
Sometimes it takes standing up to secure a seat.
Jeanne Thompson is the Senior Vice President of Thought Leadership at Fidelity Investments. You can follow Jeanne on Twitter here.