Finding Your Voice at Work

Somewhere along the way, you might've heard the phrase that, as an employee, you’re either a shark or a minnow.  There's no in-between--you are this or that.

Problem is, the longer we’re told that we are something, it starts to sink in more and more to the point we almost throw up our hands and admit defeat. That, as employees, we only have one motor and become disoriented if we try to rev it up too much.

And that’s simply not the case. Especially when you’re trying to find your own voice, your own footing to be a productive member at work. That at the end of the day, sometimes the best way to defy conventions is to train your brain to prove them wrong, and not feel ashamed to have the support of other co-workers to help push you in that direction.

For instance, the one thing I’ll always remember at my first job back in college was overcoming the fear of having to open my mouth in public. I really liked being a busboy at this restaurant because I could hustle through my job without too much interaction with people who weren't my co-workers. I had no voice and no sense of direction. And then my boss came to me one day and asked if I wanted to be a server.

Uh-oh.

He should have just said I was going to be standing on a soapbox in front of 10,000 people.

But I had a college trip in the works and needed the extra money. So I timidly took the promotion and immediately began replaying the horrors of what would transpire from there. People would think I have no idea what I’m talking about! They won’t understand me because I mumble! I’m not giving them eye contact! Whatever general connection I was going to make with a customer would be disastrous.

So I thought.

All throughout training, I learned how complex things were: the process of ticket times, how fast everything moved, table turnover, who to talk to in the kitchen if I needed this or that, etc. Yet, the biggest - and most obvious - learning curve was when I had to shadow my trainer as she helped her tables. I remember walking behind her like a scared puppy as she started to talk. She pointed at me as she talked to customers and told them I was a trainee. I gave a nervous smile and stared at my notepad like it was an escape hatch. After a few rounds, my trainer took notice and pulled me aside and said, “You need to start talking to customers as if they’re your co-workers, your family members or friends.” I tried to give some excuse that I was nervous and she replied with, “That’s an excuse anyone gives if they don’t want to do something.”

Boy, did that sink in. And still does now. I was afraid to take charge and work out my problems with public speaking because I was scared of failure. I had spent more time creating excuses instead of working toward a solution.

And she knew it. She told me to suck it up and do it. And that’s what I did. Within weeks, I started engaging customers with ease and wondered why I even had an issue in the first place. The fact I made enough money to go waste it on dumb things on my senior trip was a novelty compared to what I learned. More than anything, I was just thankful I found my groove, that my trainer nudged me to overcome my fear, improve my speech and create my own confidence to excel.

In the end, that moment will always be directly tied with how I work to speak up at work, to engage in projects and collaborate with co-workers on any task thrown our way. And that with the right combination of dedication and training, it’s possible for any employee to change their tune and improve their skills to become something bigger than what convention would say otherwise.

With that said, what have you done - or what’s helped - to find your voice at work?

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