When we were young …

What were you like when you first joined the workforce, many moons ago?

17 years ago when I joined the workforce, I was shy and timid. I was always the quiet one at the meeting table. I didn’t know when to speak. Neither did I want to be seen as rude to interrupt others.

Unconsciously and unfortunately, my colleagues thought of me not speaking in meetings as my default presence.

One time, there was an important cross-department meeting. Before people from the other department came into the meeting, a male colleague from my department turned to me, “Cynthia, can you let us talk later in the meeting?”

“What?! Who the f*** do you think you are?!”

I wish I had said that to his face. I didn’t. I was raised not to curse.

But I was furious, and all that I said was “fine”, a different “f” word.

At that moment, I told myself, “I will NEVER let anyone tell me to keep my mouth shut.”

The Tipping Point

Well, old habits die hard.

I didn’t change to a different person after that incident.

It wasn’t until the annual performance review a year later that it hit me the hardest.

My boss sat me down and looked perplexed,

“Cynthia, when I hired you, I thought you were capable. How come I never saw you speak in meetings?”

I didn’t know how to answer her.

As a result, that year, all the people in my department were promoted to the next level except me.

“To see is to believe.”

My not showing up and not being seen led to self-doubt of my capabilities.

The escalated frustration finally made me realize that I had to do something.

It is interesting that for most of us, indeed, we won’t want to change until the pain of not changing is more severe.

The Turning Point

After that annual performance review, I started to dedicate my time, energy and money to learn from different teachers, mentors and coaches to speak up, to be heard, to be assertive, to stand up for myself, to … almost all self-development programs that you can think of.

Two years later, I was co-chairing a wedding with another friend. I was surprised to notice my co-chair, who was very independent, was seeking out suggestions from me on the event flow, the word choice, and the arrangement. I was surprised to realize that others in the organizing committee started to take what I said seriously and wanted to hear my opinions. I was heard, loud and clear.

It was just a wedding. Not mine, unfortunately. But that’s not the point.

What struck me was the subtle changes in me and the way others saw me, even in a social setting.

That gave me validation and tremendous confidence.

Since then, I was able to speak up in any settings to be heard and be taken seriously. I started to enjoy speaking up and started to take the lead.

The Golden Nugget

Have you had anyone in your life who shuts you up?

Have you been struggling with speaking up to be heard?

Have you been defaulted to be the quiet one?

You have a unique voice that the world wants and needs to hear, because you were born to be heard.

The world is waiting for you to shine your light and for your voice to be heard.

Over the years that I’ve learned and taught others to be heard, there is one fundamental shift that you need to be heard.

To be heard is never about you.


You read it right.

The purpose of any interactions, be it meetings or conversations, is to create a meaningful dialogue and lead to a result that benefits everyone.

If you can make that shift, you will not think about,

“When should I speak up?”

“Is it my turn now?”

“No one’s listening.”

Instead, you would think,

“What can I contribute?”

“How can I help make this meeting more productive, efficient or effective?”

Shift your thinking and the result will shift.

Because of that shift, I’m heard in meetings, casual conversations and any other interactions.

Are you ready to make the shift?

Cynthia Zhai is a voice coach, speaker and author. She helps business professionals from all across the world speak with a powerful voice to be heard, respected and recognized. You can access her free over 130 video lessons here or reach heron her website: powerfulexecutivevoice.com





Image courtesy of Kristina Flour.