One of the biggest challenges for women at the workplace today is to be ‘seen’ and ‘heard.’ This simply means putting out there your presence and voice. But most often, we find ourselves unable to be present and voice our opinions. There are many instances at work where we might have made all the efforts and produced great results , but are uncomfortable to stand in the limelight or take credit for our work. We might have great ideas and solutions at a client meeting, but we are not comfortable to speak in front of the client or a boss for fear of being shut down, or because we lack confidence.
These fears and inhibitions are seated deep in our minds and often pose a challenge to gain confidence and claim our space. Often, these fears come as chatter and messages in our mind that keep playing like tapes. Where did these messages come from? How do they limit our actions?
Transactional Analysis (TA)
A humanistic framework with theory on personality and an explanation of our psychological structure provides lucid explanations to the above questions. Eric Berne the founder of transactional analysis explains our human behaviour through three voices in our heads–The Parent Ego, Adult Ego and Child Ego states. He describes them as “consistent patterns of feeling and experiences related with corresponding consistent patterns of behaviour.”
The Parent Ego state
This is the state where we think, feel and behave like a parental figure from our lives. It shows up in two distinct forms-Controlling and Dominating, or Nurturing and caring. The controlling and dominating parent figure is characterised by anger, someone who knows it all, and is usually commanding and condescending. On the other hand, the nurturing and caring parent figure is characterised by kind, loving and caring actions.
Usually, we have both of these parental figures in our lives and tend to imitate them, and adopt their behaviour. This carries on well into our adult lives, as we begin to subconsciously think and behave like either of these parental figures. These messages and traits that come from them, are stored in the Parent Ego state. It carries all the dos and don’ts, cultural norms, collective messages passed on from one generation to another.
The Child Ego state
This is the state where we think, feel and behave like the child we once were. This does not mean we are childish or immature, but we become childlike in our thoughts and actions. At different ages of our childhood, the different experiences have a lasting impact on our minds and this tends to show up later on in our lives. When the Parent Ego is speaking inside of us , it is the Child Ego state in us that listens. Again, the Child Ego has two aspects to it-The Free child and the Adapted Child. The Free child is characterised by uninhibited impulses, curiosity, spontaneity and playfulness. The Adapted Child is characterised by obedient and quiet behaviour, someone who says ‘yes’ even when they want to say ‘no’ and someone who cannot speak up.
Unfortunately in our society, women are encouraged to be adaptive and compliant. Women are asked to play subsidiary roles, be of assistance rather than lead, not be too visible and are conditioned to be the Adaptive Child. This behaviour shows up in our work, where we are unable to express ourselves freely, unable to oppose something even when we know it is wrong and stop ourselves from offering something new.
The Adult Ego
This is the state that is rational, reasonable and present in the here and now. It is that part of our mind that is aware of current realities, uses data and information to assess situations, and is present in the here and now. This is extremely essential for problem-solving. It is the state that helps us rationalise and balance out the imbalances we may have in the other two states. When the observer within is stuck in either the Child or Parent Ego states, shifting our observer to the Adult Ego state might give us more clarity in thinking and resolving a problem.
A business leader who was being too critical and harsh on herself, constantly pushed herself to do more at work. As a result, she was always tired and burnt out. During a leadership coaching session, I asked her to write down what she would say to a stressed out 15-year-old, who was obediently preparing for her board exams. This leader wrote a compassionate note, stating how important it is to balance studies and fun activities, to stay motivated and positive. She could politely tell those who always instruct her to study, that fun was important to keep a calm head. This leader was then asked to direct her compassionate voice towards herself. She realised she was being too hard on herself which became exhausting. She promised to plan some relaxing activities as part of her weekly schedule, so she can unwind and be more alive to her work!
To grow as powerful leaders, we must use the best of these adaptations to drive powerful change in ourselves. For instance, redirecting the nurturing and caring Parent Ego state towards ourselves may rekindle the Free Child in us! We might be able to understand our inner voices better and shift to a more rational and reasonable approach.
What action can we take to be seen and heard?
In my book and my course STEP UP that is focussed on women leadership I encourage women, through self-affirming practices, to take charge of their narratives and limiting behaviours. The online course outlines some powerful practices that can be used to increase visibility in your professional space. Here are two ideas.
A request is when we seek assistance from another person to satisfy a concern that we have. Making requests is useful in driving others to work in the same direction as us. It not only makes us visible as leaders, but includes others in our leadership journey.
Requests have many elements to them such as a listener, a speaker and conditions of satisfaction that need to be met while executing the request. They are required to be specific and clear. Requests get us to be seen and heard by others.
How can we make effective requests?
- By sharing our care and acknowledging we may not be able to do everything. Asking for help is a form of making a request.
- By making a clear request and stating our expectations to the listener, while ensuring they understand the what, why and how.
- By making requests in a mood of openness, curiosity and positivity instead of being apologetic or pleading.
An offer is what we make to satisfy a need either in the other person, a team or an organisation. Making a valuable offer can change others’ and our future. It is an important aspect of being seen and heard.
Offers have the same elements as requests and are required to be specific and clear. When we make offers, it helps us recognise our own skills and value, and is a way of caring about others’ interests and cares. As an individual, you are an offer, as you bring your own set of expertise, skills, experiences with you.
How can we make offers?
- By looking at areas we have not contributed to and assessing if we can offer something in those domains.
- By making offers that matter to our team, business or organisation
- By making offers that bring us visibility and recognise our potential as a professional.
- By making offers in the domain of others’ cares, as this shapes how we are seen in our organisation.