By Roberto Giannicola, PCC
Has your own voice ever weirded you out when speaking to someone you consider high-status, as if you could hear your vocal tone morphing into something abnormal, spiking up a few octaves?
I remember times I entered a conference room full of “big shots,” times I met people I considered superior to me, and I needed to clear my throat anticipating my uneasiness about speaking up. Often, I even started sweating. Phew, how embarrassing!
What was affecting me? I felt good enough when it came to technical expertise; coding, diagrams and algorithms, all of which kept me laser focused at my desk. I enjoyed the challenges and was confident I would resolve them. But in situations requiring social intelligence, I felt awkward and intimidated. It was the feeling of inferiority compounded with worry: “What will they think of me?” As soon as I compared myself to anyone I believed was superior to me, I subjected myself to psychological slavery. In these enslaved instances, I tried to adapt to seek approval.
I realized I had to learn to “dance.” This meant learning how to bring my personality fully into conversations that mattered, find my voice and engage my audience. It also meant demonstrating I was socially adept and that my organization didn’t make a mistake in promoting or hiring me!
I decided to step up and face the issue. I made it a point to practice public speaking through various means. I committed to every possible speaking engagement in the Bay Area and even did improv for a full year! But I was still caught in my fear. I continued to expose myself to people whom, I believed, were only there to pick on my imperfections.
Little did I know, those “imperfections” were only in my mind. I had imprisoning beliefs that denied me access to reality. To “dance,” I needed to effectively overcome self-limiting beliefs. Finally convinced I was the problem, not others, I worked harder. I continued to expose my vulnerabilities but allowed myself to recognize and appreciate my value.
Today, I coach technical professionals who experience the same dilemma. They are highly qualified in their fields but may feel out of place interacting with their bosses or peers, or at networking events. I start by asking them to consider their limits with these three questions.
Do you find yourself intimidated? Recognize that you will be happy and at peace with yourself only to the degree you accept that you are doing your best at that moment. Yes, some people have a lot of experience in their fields. But you need to own the experience that you personally bring, comprised of all you have accomplished and what has made you who you are. Can you embrace your uniqueness and use it as a pillar that will carry you with poise? Once you do that, you won’t feel as affected by the opinions of others or their high status. Your status is just as exceptional and as high.
Do you focus on your flaws or your qualities? Believing you are flawed stops you from showing who you truly are. It keeps people from recognizing and utilizing your strengths. In her book, “Quiet,” Susan Cain says we undervalue introverts and lose a lot in doing so. She proves the quiet one in the room often has the best ideas. What a huge loss if we can’t dig beneath our limitations and unearth these gems. While it is important for others to recognize you, it is equally important for you to know how to express your ideas with clarity and self-assurance. Honor your gifts and offer everyone the opportunity to know about your talents. Those you may consider “above you” need you! Imagine them looking at you and thinking, “Without your talents, I could not complete this project.” You are as powerful to them as you believe they are to you.
Do you practice your powers? Imagine a bucket you fill with water. The water you pour in represents the continued practice you apply to a new skill. Eventually, you’ll fill that bucket to the top. Then you’ll feel confident and will notice how easily you can approach others. However, you need to know that this bucket has a tiny hole at the bottom where water escapes. If you don’t keep practicing the new behavior, in the long run, the bucket once full of skills you acquired will again be empty.
In my quest for confidence, I constantly had to confront my limitations and false beliefs. Nothing ever helped me more than my re-engineered acceptance, focus and practice. Intelligence and the ability to resolve an algorithm wasn’t what brought the change. Addressing my limitations with determination while focusing on my objectives, not on my past, is what propelled me.
You must have enough guts to say to yourself, “I will not live a mediocre life. I am different. I deserve more.” Your internal voice tells you to be self-assured and engaged. Don’t listen to it and you’ll continue to be influenced by those around you, leading to conformism and mediocrity. So, look closely at yourself and decide who you want to become. Then take the plunge and embrace this unstoppable confidence until you’ve learned how to dance.
Be brave. Be bold. Be audacious.
Then say it aloud: I know algorithm. And I can dance!
To learn more about how I work with technical experts to overcome their limits, adding emotional intelligence to their technical intelligence, speak with Roberto.