While I speak at quite a few events throughout the year, I have been promoting a specific event that I am speaking at soon. Of course it makes sense to advertise an event I am a part of, but why am I REALLY behind THIS event? Persist: A Badass Women’s Conference is an event just for college-age women. The content within the conference equips attendees with the mechanisms they need to believe in themselves, unite to build up other women, eradicate self-doubt and arm themselves with the tools they need to communicate with influence and power. After teaching communication skills in higher education for the past 20 years, and having a teenage daughter of my own, I find this to be one of the most important things, as a society we can do right now for our young women-helping them to find the strength of their voice and communicate with power.
Why is this effort Important?
Persist: A Badass Women’s Conference has a lineup that can transform lives. I am not saying that to sell more tickets. Truly. I am saying that because I remember being a college-aged woman. I remember what it felt like listening to a professor who taught me how to self-advocate and showed me that I don’t have to be in power to feel empowered. It changed my life and it changed the trajectory of my life. These speakers have made it their life’s mission and literally their job, to help young women live their absolute best life and fulfill their highest potential. (Want more info? Click here…but also keep reading.)
Now, while this event is going to be RIDICULOUS, it has caused me to reflect on how I, personally, and we as a society, inspire and support young woman to stand up, speak out and own their voice. And then I realized…
How Can we Help?
Many of us are doing something that is not very helpful. All too often, I hear well-meaning adults say things to help coach a young adult that stops short of sound advice. Sayings like:
-Don’t forget to speak up
-Don’t be shy
-Ask for help
-Go to the interview
-Go introduce yourself
While these phrases are supportive, they lack the most important piece that ultimately prevents their effectiveness. Specific wording. If you are advising someone to speak up, what exactly do you suggest they say in that particular situation? If you encourage a young adult to ask for help, who should they ask? How do they ask? What do they say? How should they start? What exactly are they asking for?
I realized this years ago when my oldest was in middle school. My daughter came home, frustrated with a teacher. Instead of encouraging her to “talk” to the teacher, I learned more about the exact situation, then suggested a few sentences and questions of which my daughter could implement when she returned to school the next day. I asked her which option she felt most comfortable saying. Then, she rehearsed the question, a potential comment, and a follow up question. This was the start of her confidence in self-advocacy, which is not just standing up for yourself when your back is against the wall. It is being well prepared even in potentially intimidating situations.
When a mentee was concerned that she was not being paid enough. I did not tell her to ask for a raise. We talked about her specific concerns and reasoning, then we created very focused talking points and questions with which to approach her supervisor. We then practiced the conversation. Multiple times.
Providing precise wording helps young adults who generally have less experience and less confidence in negotiating highly communicative and potentially overwhelming situations. They often don’t know exactly what to say because it can be an uncomfortable situation, or at least one of which they are not accustomed. By providing the suggestions that are specific in nature, you are equipping our young adults to build confidence as they try to maneuver such conversations. They also have a lot less to stress about as they have already have the appropriate communication tool in their toolbox. So now, with obstacles removed, they will be more apt to speak up. As they experience more and more of these interactions, their confidence grows. This is how we encourage confident communication.
Next time you hear yourself encouraging a young adult to take some sort of communicative action- take these steps:
- PAUSE: Figure out what EXACTLY are you suggesting they say. What are the words you’d like them to communicate? If you cannot verbalize it, please do not expect them to do so.
- PREPARE: Ask questions so you can better understand the situation they are in, for example. Ask:
- Are comfortable enough to speak up. If not, why not? What is going on there?
- Who is involved in this situation?
- Do they know the general theme of what they would like to say? How to say it?
- What would make them more comfortable to address the situation
By gathering these answers, you can better prepare yourself with the specific advice you will be giving for their exact situation.
3. PRACTICE: Give them an opportunity to practice their words. This way, the words will flow much more easily when it counts. Practice does not always make perfect but practice definitely builds confidence.
We don’t just want to encourage our young adults to speak up, although it is a great first step. We want them to powerfully communicate. Be the seasoned adult in their life that not only inspires them to speak up but affords them the opportunity to communicate as their best and most powerful self!