"We all have voices, but we have forgotten how to use them. American Idol has ruined it for us. If we can’t sing perfectly, we don’t sing.”
Janna’s words resonated in my ears. It’s true, I thought. I love to sing—in the shower, in the car, with my grandkids. But not with other adults, who might notice that I don’t sound much like Norah Jones, or who might judge me for my silliness, or even say, “Keep your day job.”
Janna’s Chocolate Villa Jewel of Wisdom was titled, “Coming to Our Senses”; it was about using our voices and our bodies in long-forgotten ways. At ease with her guitar, she led the group in singing, dancing and rhythm exercises that left us feeling free and uninhibited. In the middle of the afternoon, we were laughing, clapping and making nonsensical vocal sounds without concern about what others might think.
It felt so good!
I grew up singing—in church and school choirs, at summer camp, and to my favorite songs on the radio. Until I got to be a teenager—like most—I had no worries about what other people thought, and singing brought me joy and freedom. For many of us (myself included), it has become a private activity, and we leave the joy to the stage performers, who are more courageous and willing to hear the criticisms of the Simon Cowells of the world.
Where else have we lost our voices? When did we stop speaking up for what we want or need from the other people in our lives—at work, at home, or in our dealings with friends or colleagues? We excuse ourselves easily:
“I don’t want to hurt her feelings.”
“Nothing will change, so what’s the point?”
“He won’t listen anyway.”
Communicating assertively doesn’t have to put another person down. Knowing how to ask for what you need is the first step. At our last Chocolate Villa, co-facilitator Stormy Sweitzer taught us a simple model for assertive communication:
- State the person’s name: “Simon.”
- Say, “I am concerned…” This gets the person’s attention that the issue is important, but you own it and you are not blaming.
- State the concern/issue/problem clearly as “fact” and why it is a concern.
- Offer a specific solution or change you’d like to see.
- Identify their feelings toward the suggestion or ask for alternative suggestions.
So it might go something like this:
(1) “Simon, (2) I am concerned about the way you laugh when Ella plays her violin. (3) She sees you making faces and putting your hands over your ears, and it makes her feel embarrassed to practice when you’re home. I understand that her music is not pleasing to listen to yet, but her skill level is improving, and she needs encouragement. (4) I’d like to suggest that you sit down and listen to her play for just five minutes when you’re home, and offer her some positive comments from time to time. (5) Would you feel comfortable doing that, or do you have any other ideas that would help her feel supported?”
Practicing—whether singing or communicating—helps us get better. But in order to practice, we need to be willing to try—even if we risk looking foolish, or singing off tune, or stumbling with our words. And every time you practice, it gets easier, and feels more comfortable. When you practice, you’re actually training your neurobiology. Some part of you says, “Oh, I can do this.” And then, when real life presents you with a new situation, you can step up and use your voice—naturally.
Where can you find your voice again? In what parts of your life can you step back onto the stage and belt out your favorite tune, or step up to a situation and state your concern?
Thanks, Janna, for reminding us about the power of our voices, and how good it feels to use them.