Sometimes I would lay in bed as a little girl, watching the head lights circle around the ceiling of my bedroom from the busy street below. I lay awake having conversations in my head with the people who made me upset or angry. All the things I couldn’t, or didn’t say in the moment. The things I wished I had said. The things I would say the next time I felt that way. I never seemed to have the guts, or the right words when I needed them.
Over the years, I have always been drawn to the super women. Who isn’t? The ones who are so articulate and have the right language, in the right moment. Don’t get me wrong, I became somewhat of an expert at saying the right thing to comfort someone, but to confront someone was a different issue. I can always find the correct and sincere tone to help a loved one or a coworker, a client or a friend in need. Those are feelings I can express easily. It is part of what makes me successful in my chosen profession. But given an angry feeling, BAM, I have often felt completely inadequate. The better approach for me was, most often, to be agreeable, and above all, non-confrontational.
A number of years ago, I was assaulted by a stranger. Not brutally, but dramatically. Consequently, I experienced a brief, though very real, phase of Post Traumatic Stress symptoms. Though I generally felt fine, I had a few weeks of a muted and flat relationship with the rest of the world. I preferred to be hidden under a hood whenever possible, or just posing as my normal self, when in reality, feeling distant. Those feelings lifted and shifted significantly when I went away for a weekend. Once placed in a new environment, with new people, and new activities, I felt as though I had “snapped out of it.” The dull roar became clarity, and I felt my head clear up as though the congestion was suddenly drained.
I tell you this story because it was at that point when I made a conscious decision to deal with the perceived bullies in my life. Of course, they weren’t real bullies, but people whom I allowed myself to feel pressured by. It seemed to be occurring with just a few people, and I felt like I had allowed it to go on for too long. Interestingly, these people were other women. While I admired strong women who could verbally stand up for themselves, I had not quite learned how to consistently do that for myself.
Power, Perspective, Purpose
So, after the assault, when a couple of incidents presented themselves, I decided to practice appropriate confrontation. Somehow, the assault had given me power, perspective, and purpose. I was able to be clear, direct, and honest without being hurtful. I walked away from those encounters feeling shaky, but proud of myself. I felt that I hadn’t betrayed myself. I hadn’t perpetuated the duplicitous relationships of being friendly on the surface while, internally angry. Instead, I had defined myself more and helped the women understand where I was coming from.
Stand Up, Speak Up
It is years post-assault now and I continue to work on this communication style. With more and more women in positions of power politically and in business, I find there are more role models to learn from. They have words, but more impressive, is their command of those words. They are making every effort to break the glass ceiling by expressing themselves in healthy and clear ways. Showing their strength without aggression.
I’m not yet an expert at this, and may sometimes come off as awkward in these encounters, but I keep trying! Sometimes, I have to double back, apologize, and try again. The chances don’t happen often, so it is difficult to get regular practice! But the commitment to my self-esteem, and to the me who was assaulted, and refuses to be victimized again, is an important one. I think the little girl lying in bed watching the head lights spinning across the ceiling would be proud of my progress.
The commitment to women in my personal and professional life is equally as important. I think we all deserve to have people be honest with us.
If all those strong, articulate women can work to break the glass ceiling, I can do my part, right?
Please serve up a cup of decaf and tell us your tips for clear communication!