It’s always nice to find out that you’re not alone. This recent article helped me to feel this way by revealing how women face discrimination because of our voices.
I’ve been told on more than one occasion that I have a little girl voice (always by older men). In addition, I have received unsolicited and unwelcome coaching about how I could improve the tone of my voice by making it richer, deeper – more masculine.
Ironically, when I sing, my alto voice is much stronger than my soprano voice. If you’ve ever heard me speak, you might even be surprised that I can hit those alto notes (in fact, I can also hit some tenor notes too!). So it’s not that I’m not capable, or that I don’t have it in me – it just isn’t what comes natural to me. When we do things that agitate what feels natural and right, and takes us out of our comfort zone in a nonconstructive way only to please other people, it sets us up to be extra self-conscious and prone to making mistakes; it may even lead to violating other aspects of who we are.
This article just offers one more example of how male models of leadership dominate (as only male models of leadership could do). Let me say this as loud and clear as my so-called “little girl voice” will allow: the only way to dismantle such domination is to consistently remain true to who we are despite other people’s prejudice.
If you’re anything like me, then the idea of claiming to be an authority seems a little bit distasteful. Not just because of imposter syndrome – feeling like ‘who am I to claim to be an authority’, but also because authority is so closely linked to the word authoritarian – something I do not wish in any way to associate myself with. Nope, not me – I’m all about cooperation, sharing, and other bleeding heart stuff like that.
On a recent drive along I-80 in central Pennsylvania (I have some of my best thoughts while on the road), it occurred to me that my repulsion toward the word authority may be rooted in my interpretation of the word rather than what the word could potentially mean.
The concept of authority has become entangled with authoritarianism and top-down, hierarchical leadership styles that are slowly, but thankfully, becoming a relic of the past. We think of the word ‘authority’ to mean ‘I wrote the book. I’m special and better than (collective) you because I know it all – and anything you say to try and challenge me is just going to make you look like a fool.’
I see authority as an active process of envisioning and creating. It doesn’t mean that you wrote the book that sits on dusty shelves and nobody reads anymore but that you are actively and continually writing – creating – in response to an ever-changing world.
If you think you know everything you aren’t an authority; you’re a jerk and nobody cares about your impossible and improbable claims to know everything. The only way to establish authority while also building credibility and respect is to take creative risks, learn, renew perspectives, and repeat the process over and over again. Let’s rewrite the script on authority.
Have you ever worked for a narcissist? It’s hard to feel like you’re making a meaningful contribution when your coworker, supervisor, or leader takes credit for your work, puts you down, and does whatever they can to draw attention to themselves regardless of the consequences.
Unfortunately, there have been several narcissists in my life — both professional and personal. Being around someone with this kind of personality can be really distressing. It has caused me to undervalue my work (and myself in general on a more fundamental level), to deflect attention from myself both intentionally and without any awareness of doing so, and to feel extremely frustrated and profoundly alone. It’s subtle but impactful psychological abuse that seeps into your intellectual and emotional processes – and it’s really hard to get past that. I’m still working on it.
The first thing to do if your boss is a narcissist is leave if you can. You’re not going to change them. No amount of false flattery, perfectionism, or working 16+ hours a day will get them to appreciate you. It’s just not going to happen, so let go of that fantasy. They don’t care about you like that. They are focused on illuminating themselves and leaving you in their cold, dark shadow.
If you can’t leave right away, then you need to figure out a way to effectively deal with the situation so that you can thrive. Narcissists aren’t clones of each other so you’ll need to get to know them and their selfish desires to develop effective communication and work strategies. It can be helpful to share how their behavior is impacting you in a safe environment. Don’t forget that their behavior – and everything they say about you and the world – isn’t about you. It’s a reflection of their insecurities. Know that you are capable and remain committed to your work and the contributions you can make.
You could also have a bit of fun with it and do whatever you can to upstage them and reveal them for the selfish jerk they are. But I don’t recommend that, because in the long run – no matter how clever you are – it will be used against you even if it destroys your career and whatever self-respect you have left.
So if you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having to work closely with a narcissist, know that it can be done. If you choose to stay in this situation for an extended period of time, even if you’re super tough, it’s going to hold you back in one way or another. Plan an escape. The mere fantasy of doing so will give you sustenance as you face your dysfunctional workplace each day.
I hate talking about myself. When I’m asked to share even superficial details about my life, I feel my fists (and teeth) clenching as my gaze drops to the floor. I guess people think something about me is interesting – and I’m flattered, really I am – yet, I can’t help but feel a little to a lot uncomfortable with any form of prompted self disclosure.
Yet, I’ve found it to be really helpful to not just talk about myself but – gasp – promote myself so that people can understand how I can help them develop and realize their goals and while also making things a little bit easier for them. I really do have a lot to offer; why is it that I feel an icky feeling in the pit of my stomach when an opportunity to share comes my way?
It’s because most models of networking and self promotion are just downright sleazy. And we’ve all been a victim of sleazy people who only care about promoting themselves and making money at the obvious expense of everyone else and values that you’d think are common sense. They stretch the truth or shift their focus to things that in the long run really aren’t all that important. There has to be a better, more sincere – and more comfortable – way.
Think of selling yourself as creating connections and sharing your many resources to create positive changes. If you don’t sell yourself, nobody will ever know who you are or what you have accomplished. Your example can be an inspiration to others, and your gifts can directly benefit people, organizations, and communities – if they are activated through dialogue and subsequent action.
Selling yourself is offering who you are and what matters most to you to the world. Not everyone will be interested. In fact, some people might really disrespect you for just being who you are. Focus only on the people who are open to learning about you and what you do – people who care and with whom you might share a genuine connection.
And to make sure you’re not a hypocrite, extend the same to others. Open up to them and listen to understand who they are and how they serve in the world. Selling yourself isn’t about compromising your values or making other people feel sick because you are overwhelming them. It’s about communication and creating opportunities for meaningful relationships to begin.