POWER AND AUTHORITY. Sounds commanding, doesn’t it? Like something more befitting a queen or supervillain than regular old you? Get those thoughts out of your head! You don’t need to be royalty to speak with power and authority. All you need to be is who you are—without the fear that’s holding you back.
Be honest; how many times in your life, including in your most intimate relationships, have you let someone talk down to you because you were afraid to speak up? Trust me, I get it—I was afraid to speak up hundreds if not thousands of times! So go on. Tell me. How many times have you been afraid to speak up for yourself? Okay, what about groups? How many times have you been afraid to get up and speak in front of a group of people? You’re definitely not alone on that one! Public speaking is one of the most common fears!
Why are so many of us so afraid to speak up? Where does that fear come from? Is there any way you can learn to speak with power? Stick with me, fearless friends. Let’s learn what it means to speak with power and authority, why it matters, and how you can overcome the fear that’s holding you back from speaking your truth with confidence and conviction.
What is Speaking With Authority and Why Does it Matter?
Speaking with authority means speaking with confidence and conviction. It’s not aggressive, it doesn’t mean speaking down to anyone, and it definitely shouldn’t come at the expense of other people. Let me be clear; when you are speaking with authority, you’re not trying to hurt or demean others. Powerful speakers are not those who demand attention by putting others down, but those who gain it through their carefully chosen words, compassion, and strong convictions.
Being able to speak with authority is an incredibly powerful tool. It will help you get your point across in a way that will make it more readily accepted and welcomed by others. Automatically, you’ll be seen as a more effective leader, thereby helping you run your business and the people within it. (And let’s not forget increasing your ability to lead those rambunctious kids of yours too!)
It will be a huge boost to your self-confidence because when you learn how to speak with authority, it will come with the added benefit of helping you get over any fear you may have of speaking in front of audiences, business leaders, and peers.
So let’s talk about how to speak with authority and live by your values at the same time.
Speaking Truth to Power
What is the meaning of speaking truth to power? I bet you’ve heard this phrase before. Let me share what I think it means. I consider speaking truth to power as the difference between talking about your values versus the person who is standing for their values.
It’s when you’re willing to speak up when an injustice is occuring, such as to a person with a seemingly higher status or power difference treating people differently based on their race, religion, or gender. In these instances, something needs to be said, and speaking up to authority is powerful as well as necessary to ensure everyone, no matter their background or identity, has respect as human beings.
Now I know it can feel super risky to speak up to a person seemingly in power—even if they are infringing on another’s rights. They may feel criticized or offended when confronted with their behavior. They may be looking for an easy, self-serving, or expedient response rather than a moral and just one. And you, the person who is speaking truth to power, may feel uncomfortable or unsure of what to do in the face of conflict and tension.
It’s okay to be nervous. Speaking up to people, whether it’s speaking up for yourself or someone else, is a learned skill. It’s a verbal behavior you need to practice, and it’s something I know you can get better at. When you learn how to speak up for what is right, you can become a champion of your own moral values and defend those around you who are not being treated fairly.
How Do You Speak to Power When You Don’t Feel You Have Any Authority?
Speaking to people of power can be extremely intimidating. Remember how I said public speaking was one of the most common fears? It’s something so many of us face (and too often desperately try to avoid), and it’s compounded when the people we are speaking to seem to hold power over us, such as a boss, manager, demanding parent, or government official.
Here’s the truth: everyone has a voice, and everyone’s voice is unique. That’s what’s truly magical about human beings. Your voice—yes, your voice—is just as important as anybody else’s voice around you, and those needs and opinions of yours matter. As with so much in life, it all comes down to understanding your own personal fears.
If you struggle to speak to people in leadership, whether it’s one person or an entire group, ask yourself what’s stopping you. What is it that intimidates you? Do you believe you’re not someone who can speak to people in positions of power? What are you afraid will happen? Are you worried about what they will think of you? Are you afraid you will get tripped up and choose the wrong words?
If you struggle to speak to people who are important to your personal welfare, ask yourself what’s your worst fear. Maybe that person is a partner who’s the working spouse and therefore is in charge of the household money. Or maybe it’s a relative you’ve long admired. When close relationships contain power inequalities, it can feel hard to speak up if you fear that person may reject or even abandon you.
These fears can run deep, and they could stem from a past trauma, a lived experience, or a fear you imagine may one day come true. By the way, research is also showing that fear may be handed down through your DNA. Maybe you’re worried that if you speak your mind, no one will listen to you, or that your viewpoint may negatively impact your relationships. Maybe someone will laugh at you for choosing the wrong word or lacking confidence. These thoughts are all guided by fear, and this fear will never go away if you don’t begin building yourself up and practicing speaking with confidence and authority.
You might be asking yourself right now: Can I speak truth to power? The answer is yes.
Let’s dig into 5 actionable steps you can put into practice to help you move beyond your fear. It’s my hope that you will challenge yourself to speak up for your own needs and values no matter who you are speaking to.
How to Speak With Power and Authority: 5 Steps
1. Don’t Allow Your Feelings to Lead the Way
This is a tricky one because I want you to honor your feelings. But sometimes our feelings can misdirect us—especially if you’re someone with a lot of feelings! (Like me!) Too often, feelings overrule facts. Have you ever been at a stranger’s house, or even at a dinner with your own extended family, and been afraid to ask someone to pass the butter or the mashed potatoes? So, instead, you poke at what’s on your plate until someone notices and passes you what you need. What if they don’t notice at all?
We all get nervous at times. Nerves only mean something is important to us, so don’t let your pesky nerves get in the way of you expressing what you need and want because what you need and want is important. So take a deep breath and focus on the facts of the situation. Ask yourself: How would you feel if someone asked you to pass the potatoes? Even if you were mid-bite, you’d probably hand the dish straight over without a second thought, right? Why would you expect the other person to be any different? Mashed potatoes are delicious and everyone should have them!
Are you making it up or is it a fact? – Rhonda Britten
Think before you let your feelings do the thinking for you. One handy tool that can be used in any situation is to stop and take a nice big breath! This gives you a few seconds to choose your response rather than let your fears decide for you. We’re all human, regardless of if we usually lead or follow. We’re all insecure about something (because we care so deeply), and we all get caught worrying about what other people are thinking of us (because we want to belong and connect). So let’s give each other a break! Give yourself a break!
You are a human being, which means you have value. The next time you’re faced with talking to someone with authority, take a deep breath. Next, don’t ignore your feelings—navigate them. Choose what to say. Choose to speak up. Choose to include yourself in the conversation.
And then there are those times that feelings can lead us to make bold, rash decisions, especially if someone says something we don’t agree with. While being bold and speaking with authority is important, you need to make sure you aren’t being reactive based on how you feel in the moment. So yes, be bold, but be thoughtful about what you say and how you say it.
Remember: fortune favors the bold.
2. Focus on Intention Rather Than Results
Imagination is a beautiful thing, but it can certainly make things difficult for us too. We’re so caught up imagining the horrible scenarios that could befall us that we forget about our original intentions. Being worried about the results of a difficult conversation automatically increases your need to be perfect, which makes your self-doubt skyrocket!
This is why I want you to focus on intention rather than results. We can’t predict the future, and we can’t control all of our circumstances. But we can make a choice on what we intend for every conversation. Ask yourself: What is your intention for the conversation? What do you hope to get across? Let this be your focus. Say it with me: intention instills confidence. Now once more for the people in the back: INTENTION INSTILLS CONFIDENCE!
Before your next conversation with someone in authority, ask yourself what your intention is for the conversation. Creating an intention will keep you focused so that you don’t get sidetracked worrying about what the other person is thinking or what their response will be. Focusing on your intention will keep you centered and moving forward, and that will positively shape any conversation with a person that “seems” more powerful than you. (And, by the way, hint, hint, they’re not!)
3. Do Your Best to Not Take Things Personally
This tip is easier said than done. That’s why I’m saying do your best. There are times when the things someone says are going to feel very personal, and that’s why you need to continually work on rising above those instinctual fight or flight feelings.
And I do understand how hard this one is. When someone says something hurtful to you or sarcastic (but it doesn’t feel very funny), it can feel like they are intentionally trying to get your goat. Anyone have that friend who constantly talks about how difficult it is to gain weight while you’re struggling to lose 15 pounds? Or it could be as simple as a word or phrase that drives you absolutely BONKERS! What about these gems: “You look tired,” or, “did you lose weight?”
It can even be the tone of their voice that gets to you. They might have your best interests at heart, but the way they speak to you comes across as annoyed, demanding, demeaning, or dismissive. Even a single sentence like “Can you speak up?” could seem blunt and maybe even rude in the wrong tone, but if you take a step back, in all likelihood, it comes from a good place. They probably just want to be able to hear you better.
Just because they don’t have their own communication skills down doesn’t mean you should communicate poorly back. What helps is understanding that everyone is coming from a different place, and you don’t know what that place is. Everyone has their own needs driving their behavior. Now, I’m not suggesting you allow someone to bulldoze over you, but when you step back and don’t take things as personally, you can better express your own needs and thoughts with confidence.
There’s a big difference between being assertive vs. aggressive. When you’re not automatically personally offended by what other people say, you can come at the conversation objectively with power and authority.
4. Use Stronger Filler Words
A filler word, such as like, you know, well, uh, and um, make you sound less confident. Adding these words into your language makes it seem like you don’t know what you want to say next or what you want to say to begin with.
While we may need to pause from time to time to get our thoughts straight, there are stronger filler words you can utilize instead. Whenever an “um” moment comes upon you, implement stronger filler words or phrases, such as, “however,” “I was thinking,” or “another important consideration is…”
Instead of filling in other words, you can also opt for silence. A simple pause is absolutely okay. It will give you time to collect your thoughts, and it can build suspense when you are telling a story. We often tend to speak way faster than we need to, so a little bit of pausing now and again can be a good thing. If you are uncertain about how your pauses are coming across, ask for feedback from the people you trust. Do you speak too fast or too slowly? Are you using filler words? Are your pauses well timed or too frequent?
5. Learn from Past Experiences
Every conversation is a learning opportunity. It’s okay if what you intended to say doesn’t turn out perfectly the first time. Do your best and continue to learn from your experiences. No one is perfect; the best we can do is strive to continuously improve.
If you leave a conversation thinking, “well, that went terribly… I sounded like an idiot.” Or, “Oh, no! That wasn’t how I intended that conversation to go. That’s not someone I’ll speak to again.”
Stop and ask yourself: Did I have an intention? Was I practicing speaking up? Did I do the best I could with the circumstances I was in? If any of those answers are yes, then acknowledge yourself for making an effort to practice.
When you have an awkward conversation that doesn’t go the way you want (and you will), take the time to reflect on and learn from the experience. Pay attention to what went well. Pay attention to what didn’t go so well. When did the communication go awry? What was your part in it? Did you come on too strong? Not strong enough? Did you listen to what the other person had to say? What might the other person have been feeling?
While you can’t control someone else’s reactions or feelings, you can control your own. You can control how you enter a conversation, how you present yourself, and how to respond to someone else (even if you feel they’re being unreasonable!)
Speaking is a Skill—Practice It
Some people are naturally great speakers. They can command any room no matter who is present and gain positive responses. These people are great at telling stories, maintaining eye contact, perfecting their body language, and making sense of their words.
This is not the case for all of us. Not everyone has exactly what it takes to walk up to a powerful person and begin speaking with authority. Speaking well and speaking with confidence takes practice. The less you use this skill, the more difficult it will be to use it, and the more you will fear speaking up to authority, speaking in front of an audience, or just plain old conversing.
Continually practice speaking up in order to hone your skills. Practice speaking with intention, maintaining eye contact, working on your body language, and improving your communication skills.
Speaking up to Authority is Power You Give Yourself
You won’t be given the power to speak up for yourself—it’s something you need to build and practice on your own. Your needs matter, and it’s important that you are able to express them, even to those who you feel hold power over you.
Speaking up is something so many of us fear, but you don’t have to continue living with that fear hanging over your head and dragging you down.
My 10-week Fearless Living Training Program is based on decades of learning how to crack the secret code to fear. With Fearless Living, you’ll learn how to build confidence and authority when speaking to those around you. My Wheel of Fear process will have you speaking with confidence and conviction. Let’s get started!