Alice Walker said “the most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” Women in particular tend to fall into this trap. Even an accomplished, successful professional can at times doubt herself, self-sabotage in subtle ways, and back away from opportunities without knowing why.
The issue of giving away power has been on my mind for many weeks now, and as I consider it, study it and observe it, I’ve also learned a new appreciation for the complexity of women and power. Women have their own sources of strength and skills, and are more ambitious than ever. We are claiming more influence in business, politics, and leadership, even if there is still much to do. And yet, many women also do, say, and believe things that diminish their personal power. Sometimes we do not claim it as fully as we could.
The following is a list of some of the ways women deny their power and influence, consciously or unconsciously:
Not asking for what you want or need – Don’t assume that others know what you want, or that they will make it a priority, unless you tell them. In particular, ask early, before you become resentful.
Self-limiting thoughts and actions – Examine your beliefs closely and identify any negative self-talk; also be on the lookout for self-sabotaging actions such as self-doubt, indecision, procrastination, and perfection paralysis.
Letting yourself be pigeon-holed – Related to the previous item, this one is about letting others limit or define you. Make sure you manage your image and personal brand (what you’re known for) so others don’t do it for you.
Thinking small – Let yourself dream big; in fact, insist upon it and make time to do it. What would you be or do if you thought as big and bold as you could, and didn’t accept any limitations?
Language choices – Pay attention to your choice of words. Make note of words such as “just,” “only,” “sorry,” “apologize,” “might,” and other phrases that smack of a lack of conviction or confidence, or indicate you are deferring to others when you don’t need to.
Body language – This is a tricky one because we are not always aware of how we hold our bodies or what our physical demeanor communicates to others. Some actions that may decrease your influence are crossing your arms, slouching, slumping, not making eye contact, visible tension or nervousness, etc.
Ignoring politics – In my experience, women far more than men tell me “I hate office politics and I don’t want to play those games.” Not liking the politics of a situation is fine, as long as you are not sticking your head in the sand and trying to ignore that they exist and influence things. Pay attention, look for patterns, and beware the vipers.
Not valuing yourself – Know your value, both in monetary terms and intrinsically. Don’t feel guilty about charging what you’re worth, negotiating for a better compensation package, or insisting on respect.
Disconnecting from “self” – When we deny who we are and what gives us energy and joy because we are afraid of how it will look, or whether we will fit in, we are suppressing our own creativity and brilliance. For example, don’t try to dress like or be “one of the guys” if it’s not who you really are – if you’re feminine, then be feminine. Embrace who you are, even the quirks — own them as a valuable part of you.
Do you recognize yourself in aspects of this list? I certainly see myself at times in each of them, which is part of the reason why I am so fascinated and intrigued by the subject. Are there other ways you see yourself or other women giving away their power?