How to ‘speak up’ for yourself without being aggressive (VIDEO)

For anyone who’s ever felt helpless about how to best shine their light, this TED talk is worth your time.

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In his TED talk “How to speak up for yourself,” Dr. Adam Galinsky, a Columbia business school professor and psychologist, addresses an audience of people who historically have had trouble speaking up for themselves—women. Dr. Galinsky discusses gender differences in power—and says that what we have conceived of as gender differences are really just power differences. He says that women are often, at least in the workplace, “low-power”—hence our anxiety at asking for raises or promotions and the reason, presumably, why women are underrepresented in top-level positions.

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But what, actually, to do about it? I have often felt that the kind of aggression that is necessary to be “powerful”—for me, to be a leading light in the publishing world, for example—requires a certain amount of relentless self-promotion that I just don’t have the stomach for. But neither do I want to shine my light under a bushel—I believe I have something to offer the world, even if I can’t bring myself to tweet 43 times a day about me and my genius. If you’re at all like me, Dr. Galinsky’s talk is heartening: he discusses the research on how people, especially women, can gain greater authority and power.

Here’s where it gets interesting. He doesn’t prescribe elbowing your way to the top, double-crossing your colleagues, or spouting off authoritatively about topics you know nothing about.

No, in fact, his research demonstrates that a more authentic—even spiritual—approach is actually the best way to go. For example: there’s one situation in which women are perceived as being as powerful as men—and that’s when they advocate on behalf of other people. There is something about being the “mama bear” that gives us authority and confidence in our own voices.

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And second, being excellent at something gives us power: there is a certain calm authority that comes with really knowing one’s stuff. And Dr. Galinsky notes that we become experts by tapping into our passion, by getting quiet and introspective and really considering what our vocations are.

And third, we gain power by really listening to other people, by considering their point of view. We better understand the people we are trying to help, and, as a happy side effect, we naturally gain support by devoting time to other people.

These are all spiritual lessons, lessons that I think about every day. We each have been blessed with innate talents and passions, and we become powerful not by seizing something but by working at it. We become powerful by listening to and advocating for other people. It does require reframing the word power a bit—which Dr. Galinsky seems to define more as “having some control over other people,” and I define as “the ability to effect positive change in the world.” Everyone can stand to gain more confidence in their abilities, especially women, who too often discount their God-given gifts as unimportant or ordinary.

I wish more of the leaders in our world had more of this kind of power—that they felt a calling to serve people, to advocate for them, instead of rule them. But we can only make change in the world by changing ourselves. For anyone who’s ever felt helpless about how to best shine their light, this TED talk is worth your time.

Leigh Anderson
Leigh Anderson

Leigh Anderson is the author of “The Games Bible: The Rules, The Gear, The Strategies” (Workman, 2010) and has written for Vox, Newsweek.com, and Popular Science, among others.

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