Dedication: I dedicate this story to every person learning to speak up and speak out, and I thank every person who encouraged me to find my voice and use it.
Well into my career, I was in a meeting with a great group of intelligent, successful and confident business leaders. I respected every one of them. They were all men.
It was in that meeting room that I found the courage to say, finally, to one of the men who had just interrupted me, “Eric, I was actually going to finish that sentence.” (There was no Eric in the meeting, but I choose to protect the anonymity of the insistent interrupter). This was also the day that I came to viscerally understand what people meant when they said that a room had become so quiet you could hear a pin drop. In fact, the moment I spoke those words to Eric, the meeting room became so still that any of us could have heard a feather drop. Some of the men stared at me in disbelief, some stared down at the conference table or floor, but one man looked at me with a look of understanding and gratitude. I later learned that he was frequently interrupted in those meetings, too.
Over the years I have read articles about how men and women listen differently, or how the pitch of most women’s voice is one that men cannot always hear. Hmmm. That’s interesting. In all of the years of my childhood and adolescence, as I sat at the dinner table with my family, I do not remember ever noticing that Dad or John, my brother, did not hear Mom when she spoke. Listening is listening.
All of these years later, I am writing this post because I still find it necessary to say, with some frequency, “I was going to finish that sentence.” When I first spoke those words they were a proclamation, a way to claim my voice and my power in a place where I was not being heard. This proclamation was the first of several “go to” phrases I then formulated to help me make the point that someone was ignoring or dismissing me when I was speaking. That first proclamation soon became a reminder to ME to listen better, to hear the voices of those who spoke reluctantly or softly or slowly, to encourage others to speak up and use their voice to express their opinions, too. It reminds me to be patient and to listen so intently that the person speaking knows without a doubt that I am truly interested and I truly care.
We know that speaking up and voicing our points-of-view are two critical steps on our path to empowerment. Listening to others and encouraging them to speak up and voice their opinions are critical ways to advance the empowerment of all.
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