The workplace is fraught with different pressures. “Am I good enough?” “Have I achieved my KPI’s?” “Do I deserve this job?” “Am I justified in asking for that pay rise?” “What does my boss think of me?” At one point or another, most of us have asked ourselves at least some of these questions.
But why do some of us find communicating at work to be so overwhelmingly difficult? Well, because we are not lying on a sun lounger in The Maldives reminiscing with our family over the good times. Instead, we are working under pressure - pitching in meetings, delivering presentations to board rooms and negotiating pay rises with senior directors. Events which tend to fill us less with serenity and contentment and more with angst and malaise. With all the social and intellectual pressures present in the workplace, there’s no wonder it can take its toll on our performance and indeed, our mental health.
Firstly, be easy on yourself. Whilst you might be frustrated that your colleagues sail through seemingly unfazed, the truth of the matter is that they don’t. Either they have learned how to perform under pressure or they are naturally better at hiding it than you are. Let’s take a look at some of the tools that will help you to up skill and reduce some of those pressures.
Why do I hate speaking up?
“I don’t think people find me interesting when I speak.” It’s a horrible feeling that can make us want to be swallowed up into a big hole. The secret to overcoming it is to be interested yourself in what you are saying. When you know and believe in the value of what you are saying, other people will perceive it’s value too. Think of the world as a mirror. What you project, is what you will get back. It’s a reliable feedback loop. So project whichever response you want from your recipients. If you sit there speaking in monotone, hands by your side with a glazed over look in your eyes thinking, “they don’t find me interesting” then chances are; they won’t.
If on the other hand, your eyes are bright and alert, your shoulders are back and posture upright and your voice is filled with colour and modulation, then the overall statement will be that you are enjoying yourself and value your own ideas. And unsurprisingly, you will be greeted with bright eyes and interest. Your listeners will mirror you. So make sure your voice and body show that you have faith in what you are saying. You have something to bring to the room otherwise you would not be there.
Why do my colleagues find it easy?
Although some people are born naturally good communicators, for most of us, it's something we have to really work at. Good communication is a skill and like any skill, it requires time, effort and determination to truly master. Nobody needs to go through life wishing they could be as good as their counterparts. So it's important to think about which areas in your speech need improving.
A good first step is to listen to someone who's speech you like the sound of. Note down what they do that you think makes them a good speaker. Why do they make you feel comfortable and why do you want to listen to them? What’s going on with their voice? Do they speak at a speedy energised pace, or do they take pauses allowing you to go on a journey with them as they speak? Do they have strong dynamic speaking voice, or is it full of colour and emotion? Is it emotionless, or is it filled with emotion? Finding out what kind of communication you like will help you to work out hot to be your own best communicator. You can then work towards incorporating these elements into your own speech.
How do I get heard in meetings?
Sometimes only the loudest voices are heard. Meetings unfairly accentuate that dynamic. However, by jotting down your main points in advance of the meeting you can be confident in raising the points you want to make. This will help you be sure on what you want to say and avoid being hesitant about speaking up during the meeting. Make sure you use open body language to show that you are listening to others in the meeting when you are not speaking. Nod at points you agree with, make eye contact and keep your body and arms open. No arm crossing! This will encourage your colleagues to be more receptive to you when you speak. Power poses: the body language of winners - read this blog for more on this topic.
Why do I hate giving presentations?
The dreaded presentation… It’s something that lots of us try and avoid at all costs. There’s a heightened pressure. It’s all eyes on you. From an evolutionary perspective, that’s not a good place to be. To be singled out and stared at by dozens of your fellow hunter gatherers was probably not the safest position for our primitive forefathers. Evolutionary psychologists speculate that this is why there is so much fear around public speaking, that it triggers our animal sense of danger. However, the reality is, a few thousand years on, it's not so much a case of life and death. Whilst there is a potential to go wrong, the worst that can happen is that you fail to educate or connect with your audience. So, it’s good to keep it in perspective if the fear takes hold.
Remember, each and every member of the audience wants to enjoy and be stimulated for the minutes or hours of your speech or presentation. They want to be engaged. You’ve got knowledge that they don’t have and they want to sit there for an hour smiling and learning, not cringing. One of the simplest ways to deliver a confident presentation is to practise, practise, practise. It may make you feel nervous even whilst you are practising, but feel the fear and do it anyway. If presentations really make you nervous then a good tip is to visualise the presentation, if your heart starts racing faster - do it again until you can control your breathing. This will create neural networks that form a positive experience for your minds eye. If you're still feeling the nerves, read our blog on 5 tips for overcoming presentation nerves.
Remember you are not alone in struggling with communication at work. Most of us do. Learn to be easy on yourself, and spend some time working towards being a more confident, calmer, more composed speaker with these tips. Watch this video on having authority in the workplace: