I remember a time in my life when my voice was completely silent. This is saying a lot. People tell me that I’m a strong, outspoken woman who speaks my mind and shares what’s in my heart, seemingly without hesitation. But this wasn’t always the case. Peeling away the layers and finding the courage to be 100% ME meant I had to take a long, deep look at the places in my life where I was hiding. Especially from conflict.
I founded my organization, Women For One, in the wake of a long and painful divorce that set me on a path to self-discovery that continues to this day. Now, I have the honor of sharing my voice with our global community of hundreds of thousands of women. In my writing and some of my courses, I have shared my personal journey of moving from feeling stifled and shut down to being empowered and at home with myself.
As a passionate advocate for other women, especially the next generation of rising leaders and changemakers, I know that it’s all about coming to terms with the toxic messages we get from an early age. I don’t care if you’re 20 or 50: As women, no matter who we are and where we are from, we’re indoctrinated with this idea that, in order to be good, we need to sit down and shut up. And at some point, in order to take care of others, we silence what we know to be true.
It’s high time for women—especially millennials who are paving a new path in life, work, and love—to do away with this myth. Yes, it’s actually possible to nurture others without shutting ourselves down. You might think you’re doing others (or yourself) a favor by running away from conflict, but all you are doing is avoiding your own truth and power. What’s more, this doesn’t add up to genuine nurturing or caretaking. In fact, if your words and actions are totally different from how you really feel, you’re actually contributing to even more conflict…conflict that will manifest both internally and in your day-to-day relationships.
Millennial women have typically been encouraged to be brave, bold, and to go for what they really want. This can be confusing on a deep subconscious level, because the toxic messages that compel us to be silent remain. But we can’t really find our true power and express our most authentic selves until we speak up. We will never understand or discover our voices until we are truly able to face conflict.
Having the hard conversations, from the bedroom to the boardroom, hones our voices because it improves our self-esteem and builds confidence. It’s really easy to know what we stand for when everything is going smoothly—but standing up for yourself, speaking your truth, and getting clear on who you are when the going gets tough is the true litmus test. It’s the only way we can discover what we’re made of.
So, how do we unapologetically share our truth and discover the power of our voices if that means rocking the boat and coming head to head with conflict in our lives? Here’s a process I walk myself through, which gives me the clarity and strength to get myself to speak up…especially when I really want to just remain silent.
1. Start noticing when you experience conflict, both with yourself and others, and what your first reaction is.
This is really important. For all of us, the issues where it’s hard to speak up are going to vary. When I was married to my first husband, it was hard for me to be real in my relationship, but I was a rockstar at work. Also, notice what you do when you feel this conflict. Do you run away? Do you simmer with resentment but say nothing? Do you zone out and disassociate? Or do you come out with your fists up and your insults at the ready? Whatever the case, when you are coming from a place of reactivity, you don’t give yourself the space to drop into true power. When we continue to perpetuate conflict through avoidance or aggression, we remain in conflict with ourselves. So do some more inquiry when conflict comes up for you.
2. Dig deeper and figure out what’s really going on.
Instead of resorting to habitual behavior, which almost always comes from fear, reflect on what is TRUE for you instead of making it all about the other person. Your body is constantly sending you important information about what is going on. When I find myself getting tight and constricted around certain people or in certain situations, I take some time to check in with myself. I might even realize that I am feeling held back, restrained, and inhibited. This is an important opportunity; I can keep myself from sharing, blow up and blame myself or the other person, or check in with the deeper need and identify what is important to me. When I figure that out, I can unpack some more layers. I can ask myself questions like: Why do I feel hesitant to share what is important? What am I afraid of? Remember, self-reflection can take work, so try practicing it with a therapist or a trusted friend.
3. Get real about how you feel.
I don’t always know how I feel in the moment, but since I’ve taken on the practice of checking in with myself in times of internal and external conflict, it’s become easier. Sometimes, if I’m already in the midst of a heated situation with another person, I take a power pause and check in with my body. In the middle of a tense moment, I slow down, breathe, and check in with myself and the other person. Other times, if I’m alone, I write down my feelings. I identify my personal needs. I take lots of deep breaths and connect to the powerful woman I absolutely know lives within me (hint: she’s within you, too). Sometimes I practice speaking my truth out loud to myself. Most importantly, I own it unapologetically. When I accept and live in my truth, I do away with the internal conflict that only serves to perpetuate external conflict.
4. Commit to one baby step when it comes to sharing your voice.
This is where we get a chance to practice what we preach. So take some risks here, because they pay off big time. Share something that might feel a little uncomfortable with the person you might be experiencing conflict with. This is the true meaning of truth telling, which is all about vulnerable and honest sharing. This isn’t about getting it right, but about connecting with your shared humanity—which is tender, unpolished, and sometimes rough around the edges. When you truth tell, you welcome transparency—from yourself, and the other person. And when you are transparent and authentic, you get clear about who you are and what really matters to you—without defensiveness or fear. When we just give ourselves a break to be real, others usually find they can also relax in our presence. So instead of being individuals who are at odds with each other, we learn to take off our masks and be who we are.
Finding your voice through the moments of conflict is a rich and exciting journey. Luckily, you’ll have a lifetime of opportunities that will help you rise to the occasion! Instead of greeting them with dread, you can be grateful for them. Because these are the moments that will lead you to the gift of your voice—which is the place where you’ll find your deepest and truest power.