On April 30, 2021, when Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made history, marking the first time two women sat behind the president during an address to a joint session of Congress, my heart leapt with joy. Women have fought long and hard to be heard. Women of color, especially, have had to do a lot more work to be seen, heard, and recognized.
Recently, I said to someone who offered me a speaking engagement, “I work best if I see diversity. Will there be women? Will there be people of color? Will there be brown people? Will there be Asians?” As an Indian American woman, I know how important it is for me to own my voice and to see diversity in its real form, not tokenism. I have learned that both speaking up and representation matter, so if you are in a place to shake things up, do it.
Owning your voice is imperative. Speaking out for the voiceless, a moral obligation. However, in my humble opinion, how you communicate makes all the difference. I believe that unchanneled emotions create frustration and then dilute the power of our words. It is natural to have anger within. I would suggest working on that anger and putting it to good use instead of harming yourself or anyone else along the way. Good communication skills are worth more than we realize!
I reached out to three women experts who are teaching people — using their own methodologies — how to communicate better.
Mona Terrell Wallace, president & CEO, Mona Terrell & Associates LLC, said something poignant: “Sadly, I believe that our cultural background/race/ethnicity impacts how people hear, listen and heed our voice. I also believe that our cultural background/race/ethnicity is a pathway to understanding and relating to the nuances of others. These thoughts have been the foundation of how I communicate myself and how I communicate for others in my work.”
Wallace gets her love of words from her father. He was a wordsmith who taught her the power of words in storytelling to educate, motivate and encourage.
“He taught me to relate to people, not translate to them,” she says. “Words, while colorful as embellishment, are ‘colorless’ until they are used in a caustic way. I have been writing all my life and communicating professionally for more than three quarters of it. I am inspired by the power of words and how they amplify the voices of those I have the opportunity to create a voice for and to.”
When I asked Wallace if ignoring our voice has any detrimental effects, she said, “It can make you invisible, inhibiting you from contributing to and defining conversations and actions. It inhibits you from showing up in your full self, authentically and in a meaningful way. On the other hand, when your voice is ignored by others, that’s a sure sign that who you are intrinsically isn’t of value to them. That’s unfortunate and very real. A good step to acknowledging all voices to positively impact our daily lives is to call people and their voices in, rather than calling them out.”
As for me, I have always spoken up, for which I am grateful. But, over the years, I have leaned on yoga and Ayurveda to speak my truth with kindness and listen to others (both said and unsaid words) with patience. In my twenties, I was self-righteous and saw life as black and white. In my head, I was speaking out against injustice and fighting other people’s battles and communicating what was not working. The intentions were good, but I spoke from a reactionary space, not a responsive one.
When I spoke with, Jen SanMiguel, a yoga teacher, teacher, owner of The Connective, and web producer, she said, “Yoga not only brings us into the deepest parts of ourselves- where our true voice resides but creates expansion in the body. This gives us room to breathe more fully and to let our voice- audible and otherwise- grow in strength.”
Asked if she could recommend any yoga asanas to help ‘develop’ a voice, SanMiguel had some solid suggestions.
“The fish pose opens the throat area and allows us to practice being vulnerable,” she said. “Sitting on the ground, one hand on the heart, on hand on the earth, allows us to feel connected and secure. Lastly, belting out some big Oms (or any other sound that resonates), allows us to hear and get comfortable hearing our own voice. Our inner voice is guiding us all the time- whether we pay attention or not! Ignoring that voice, can leave us feeling lost, directionless and disembodied.”
I have learned that you cannot change the world outside if you have not begun to work on the inside. If you have not started your own healing and left behind the baggage of yesterday that weighs you down, how can you be kind and honest to your voice? You will show up to your words in a reactionary mode. Learning to effectively communicate can open doors and bring in a plethora of opportunities for you.
Sushana Chaudhary, a passionate communicator, former broadcast journalist, and the founder of Speak Confidently, said, “In 10 years of my corporate career, I saw how otherwise bright people would fail to reach their potential because of lack of communication skills. This is more prevalent in South Asian communities. Any South Asian colleague or friend I have ever met, wants their kids to develop impressive communication skills so that they can achieve more than their parents. Since building communication skills takes time and effort, I thought why not start inculcating these critical public speaking skills in formative years. This motivation led to the creation of Speak Confidently in 2016,” she said.
At Speak Confidently, Chaudhary uses her two decades of experience as a broadcast journalist for international channels (ZEE. Discovery, Doordarshan and Sahara), to teach effective communication strategies to students (Grade 3-12), entrepreneurs, social media groups, and corporate audiences to help them plan, structure and deliver audience-centric presentations.
“My goal as a communication coach is to bring my students out of their comfort zone and help reach their potential through effective communication skills,” she said.
It takes time and energy to become a great communicator. Though some people start out better than others, you can improve as long as you put in the effort.
“Communication works for those who work at it.” ~ John Powell