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How To Slay The Vampire Voices Inside Your Head To Find Your Voice
by Rebecca P. Morgan, PHD
In school, I dreaded being called on by a teacher. Being put on the spot like that, I would panic, sweat, go flush, lose my train of thought, and ramble. That wasn’t the worst of it.
It was the giggling followed by the teasing at recess for what seemed like days afterward that made me want to stay home “sick” from school with my grandmother, all cozy, drinking ginger ale, eating chicken soup, and watching stories.
Being called out in class. Was it really a learning moment that built character? What I learned was I hated being wrong, not having the correct answer, and school kids can be pretty cruel.
I made it through school, surprisingly without having a heart attack before age 18. And to prove to myself, the world, and especially my teachers and peers from school that I was not stupid, I went on to collect college degrees as a hobby.
There’s no better way than through extreme-revenge higher education to show Peter, Dawn, Mrs. R., and the rest of them that you aren’t stupid. “It’s Dr. Dumb Ass to you now!”
Before I became Dr. Dumb Ass…
I officially entered the workforce at age 12 picking cucumbers on a family farm where I learned to keep my head down and my mouth shut. Which is what you needed to do to avoid missing cucumbers as we flew over the vines on a platform that looked like some sort of airplane with wings being pulled by a tractor. We were laying on old mattresses with our hands dangling over the sides and wearing kitchen dish gloves (cucumbers are prickly) allowing access to the vines. We would find a cucumber, pick it, toss it into a bucket, and repeat.
Walking behind us was the quality assurance team (the farmer's kids). If you missed cucumbers, you’d have them tossed at you to remind you to keep your head down and stay focused.
Keeping my head down and mouth shut followed me into my corporate career as well.
Schoolmate taunts turned into annoying roommates living inside my head for FREE, offering their opinions on everything every day. “Who do you think you are? What are you wearing today, Punky Brewster? All your favorite things? People will think that idea is stupid. You can’t say that.”
My friend Michelle calls these vampire voices because they suck everything good out of you. She’s right. These voices stopped me from speaking up for years.
Early in my career, in meetings, my seating preference was to sit in the overflow seating in the conference room along the wall. I’d also volunteer to take notes because when you are the one taking notes, no one asks you anything because they want to make sure you don’t miss the wisdom coming out of their mouths.
I listened closely and observed.
I did have things to share, ideas to solve problems that were being discussed, but I wouldn’t speak up in meetings. Instead, I’d wait until after the meeting and have side conversations to share my ideas. Occasionally, in the next meeting, I’d even get a shout out, like “Rebecca mentioned this to me.” This worked well for me…for a while.
Until I had a new leader, Joe, come along. In one of my sidebar conversations after the main meeting, he told me that he pays me for my opinion and expects me to speak up, sharing my ideas with the team. He felt they’d benefit from what I had to say.
He also told me he would call on me directly if I didn’t speak up because he knew I had things to share that could help the business.
The idea of being called on, the panic, the sweats, and the hives took me back to school. I couldn’t allow that to happen! I needed to figure out how to speak up and have control over when I did it versus being called on and becoming lost for words. From that day on, I told those vampire voices inside my head to sit down and shut up. Then I started speaking up, and then you couldn’t shut me up! You need to do this, too!
That sounds so easy, right? If only that is what happened! It’s a simplified telling of the story that has been more like a journey.
Here’s how it started. I added an opening line to preface my ideas and thoughts. Like this:
“I’m not sure if this is a good idea or not…”
Or JUSTify when I spoke up. Like this:
“This is just my two cents.”
“I’m just the assistant manager so what do I know, but… ”
“If I could just add something…”
“I just mean I think you could do better when it comes to… “
I was like Nike in meetings. Just do it!
We had a consultant named Gina on our team. I looked up to her. She was so smart, articulate, and not only sat at the table, but she sat next to the VP! One day, Gina came into my office and asked if she could share some advice with me on communication.
Gina noticed that I had been speaking up more and what I had to share had the power to influence change. However, my message and its impact were getting lost because I often used the word “just” as a precursor before sharing what I had to say. The word was unnecessary.
It was time to ditch the “just” but it wasn’t easy. It was a habit, drilled into me from my childhood and the feeling that what I had to say wasn’t right or good enough. It took practice and time.
Although just a word (see what I did there?), it sends a message, even a subconscious one that we aren’t confident, credible, and it lessens the impact of our words, sending doubt as to why should we be listened to.
Alternatives to saying “just” are “I think…,” “I believe…,” or “I have…” and then say what you have to say. No JUSTification is needed for your thoughts, ideas, and suggests. They have merit. You matter and so does what you have to say. So say it!
As for those vampire voices telling you BS and stopping you, the key to slaying them is to act before you think. When we think, we aren’t speaking up. We are waiting for the right time and the right words to come to us. Often that right time passes us by or even worse, someone says the exact same thought we had and is now getting all these accolades. I know you know what I’m talking about!
Easier said than done, right? The best resource I’ve come across to help take action when we really don’t want to or feel scared is Mel Robbin’s The 5 Second Rule.
In her book she talks about this 5-second window we all have to act on a thought or an idea and how we need to act within 5 seconds or our brain is going to kill the instinct we are feeling and we‘ll never do it.
I want you to act and push yourself to speak up more because what you have to say matters.
Here's the truth. The fact alone you are having any conscious thoughts and fears about what you have to say and how it may come out like word vomit you hear other people spew...it’s not going to! That process alone, you vetted it, so say it. Sure, it may not come out perfect, or as smooth as you wanted it to but it’s going to be pretty decent, and you did it. YOU. (It gets easier with time and practice. Maybe you’ll end up like me and forget to shut up.)
Remember: You are paid for your opinions and even if you aren't being paid for that, what you have to say matters and can make a difference. Why are you keeping that inside?
Over the years, I have been honored to have helped hundreds of women slay their vampire voices to develop their communication skills. JUSTifying our thoughts before we speak is something we often talk about.
Thank you, Gina, for helping me see why I needed to make this adJUSTment!
Connect with Dr Morgan, a workplace relationship strategist, empowering people to reach their dreams and potential through the power of human connection and care.