What we say and how we say it, really matters
Being ready to say what we need to, and to then be heard – it’s vital for us all.
At the heart of much of my work is a deep care for ensuring that teams can be open about what is going on between them, and can then make sense of it together, and that these exchanges shift the relationships and the actions - they really change how they see each other and the work they are doing together.
I have the privilege of witnessing this often, and have a deep respect for those willing to really try to bring their voices, often from difficult circumstances that feel edgy and terrifying to step into.
I want to share some experiences that contrast what happens when we do and don't feel able to truly bring our voices - our real impact - and I start with a deeply personal example from almost exactly a year ago - where my voice was heard and really felt.
To my own voice, I realise this piece has been with me in draft, for a number of months, waiting to be told and heard – when I was ready to speak it.
It's Thursday 8th June 2017 and I'm in St Mary's Church, Barnard Castle, County Durham - It's my Nana Ethel's funeral service - my Mam's Mam (we say "Mam" in the north east of England) - she'd passed away a year ago yesterday, 28th May 2017, aged 89 - the last of my grandparents.
This is the same church I was christened in, and got married in. It's also the same church that we've said goodbye to other loved ones, and earlier in that year in 2017, had said goodbye to my mother-in-law, Christine.
I'm at the lectern, which has a built in microphone, and as I stand tall, and look out over the church, it's “packed to the rafters” as they say.
I'm there - ready to speak to the congregation - to convey all the stories of my “Nana Ethel”, from family and friends - and to share a poem that my Mam had asked me to read out. I was SO proud to do this, and I was ok with it as I’m no stranger to public speaking.
Having danced my way through those great stories of “nana” (so many great things were said to us), I began the poem, called "A Smile". As I began to recite the opening lines I felt such a rush of power - of conviction - not sadness. I could feel every single word I was mouthing - the shape and tone of every word as it rose up through my body, into my breath, and then out across this huge space to everyone else.
It was at that moment that I truly felt I was bringing my voice at my most composed and passionate, not sad or trembling, though calm and assured. My voice was being heard and felt with a quality of listening that was of a different order – I was sure of that somehow.
After the service a number of people came to say how "they'd felt IT" and "my words", in a way they hadn't often.
So how do I relfect on this?
Now be clear - this is NOT about ME - it's about what happens when we CAN truly bring our voices. This voice we were born with as we screamed loudly into the world as a baby, that perhaps over time has been reduced, held back, blocked, softened or drifted through habit - or worse still, been shut off completely.
What’s interesting is that in my life, I have very rarely felt “shut off” or that somehow my voice is “blocked” – and yet, I too felt this quality of authenticity in my own voice.
My friend, peer and client, Marie Chandler (Head of Health, Safety & Well-Being at National Air Traffic Service), asked me, “Why did you feel this Steve?”.
It wasn’t regret - far from it. While I was deeply sad to see Nana Ethel leave us, and I miss her deeply now, at THIS moment I actually felt at ease, as if planets aligned. I was very free, and very ready.
Marie then said “How did it happen Steve?”
My answer? Firstly, the poem was about “smiling”, and was in itself beautiful. You could not help but SMILE :-) - so the words really mattered.
Deeper though - because when she was alive, that’s how my relationship was with her, we said what we thought and felt all the time. It was as if I could bring THIS VOICE at her funeral, because we were ALWAYS this way, when together.
“ah there it is !!!”, I said to Marie.
I COULD be THIS WAY, in THIS moment, because she and I were ALWAYS this way…hmm…never saw that coming :-). I felt SAFE AND POWERFUL when with “Nana Ethel” - WE created that.
THIS is what made it possible. It came from my body and my breath combined, connected, with my vessel aligned beautifully, unblocked and free. This is how SHE was, and how I was with her - both of us, as free to speak and be heard, as when we were born. We ALL have this in us.
Marie’s response to reading this piece?
“Brilliant... SAFE and POWERFUL. That's when we feel able to share our own true voice, when we feel safe and powerful – and - that's not all about YOU, it's about the relationship you have with the person or team that is making you feel safe and powerful - so it comes full circle back to relationship - it's all about relationships - now isn't that a revelation...😋
“I agree Marie”, I said. “This is the power IN relationship - OUR voices, IN relationship”.
This experience had me think even deeper about my own passion and commitment for helping others find their voice and to be heard and felt – and with each other.
I have some questions, which for now I leave you to ponder, and bring your voices to – until I share my thoughts in another instalment J.
Do you know your most authentic voice? What does it sound and feel like?
What is it that helps you to find your voice? How do you feel safe to bring this voice? What helps? Who helps?
Do you find yourself blocked somehow? And if so why?
What if you could take strength and learning from these most personal family stories, and transfer them to your workplaces?
Steve Holliday, Director, Lacerta Consulting Services Ltd