Voice. Do you exercise yours? On the surface it seems like a silly question. But I’m not talking about vocal capabilities. I’m wondering about voice as our expression of ourselves, our opinions. Powerful. Impactful. Or muted. Underutilized? How would you characterize your voice?
I remember standing at a holiday party talking with my brother-in-law. He is married to my husband’s youngest brother. He is the administrator in charge of all ambulatory services at a 550 bed hospital in Queens, NY. They have volunteers on call to serve as translators for over 100 languages. Think high stress job. Constant chaos. He has funny stories about babies being delivered in elevators. And some not so funny stories.
“What Board?” he responded. He was clearly surprised. I was asking his opinion on some healthcare issues. I really wanted to hear his opinion so that I could calibrate it against the opinions that I had heard from my colleagues on the healthcare Board that I serve on. “I thought you were taking it easy.”
I was dumbstruck. ‘Taking it easy.’ In an instant I was introduced to my husband’s family’s the talk track about my transition. Wonder who kicked it off? My mother-in-law? Or worse, my husband?
In the rear view mirror the anguish of that moment has given way to questions. What role did my voice play in my brother-in-law’s miscalculation? Did I leave it up to them to draw their own conclusions?
Maybe I was silent because I was just figuring it out myself?
This latter question is way too charitable of me. Let’s face it by the time I was serving on a Board I’d gotten well into my transition… Had the conversation occurred earlier in my transition I think that might have been valid.
Here is a different perspective on voice provided by a recent Focus Group participant. Jayne, a fifty-ish software developer from San Francisco shared, “I think it has a lot to do with how other people perceive whether or not we can do it.” She went on to describe a situation where she needed to advocate for a project, “People look at me and they will say ‘okay, because she is oriental, she’s Asian and she’s probably not going to be doing a good selling job.’
Do other people’s perceptions impact our voice?
Webster’s defines voice beyond the mere vocal capability as, “an instrument or medium of expression” and a “wish, choice, or opinion openly or formally expressed.”
I remember a dear friend sharing a conversation she’d had about me during the time that I served as ceo of a technology services company. She is an artist and couldn’t really relate to my 7 days a week ‘always on’ vc-backed company persona. She appealed to another friend of ours to try to get a better understanding of my near addiction to the company. The friend told her that the company was my ‘canvas.’ Canvas to my artist friend was a code word, meant to represent that perfect expression of her art that she’d been chasing her entire career. Canvas.
Here’s what I’ve learned about voice so far in transition.
Our voices translate our own personal ‘canvas’ for the world. If left undeveloped no one will be able to draw the conclusions on their own. Voice requires practice. Patience. It is not immune to risk as those who have experienced voice overs or tone deafness can attest.
Voice illustrates for others the unique value you bring to those situations you care most deeply about. It doesn’t matter if your personality tends your volume closer to a whisper than to a shout…it only matters that you get it out.
Has anyone heard your voice recently?
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