We all have secrets -- ways we do things, how we make something work, or how we keep ourselves strong. Instead of gloating about our little secrets to success, we can share them with our colleagues and friends who might find them useful.
So how do we share without seeming boastful or arrogant? I take an appropriate moment (or what I think is appropriate) to say, “Have I shared with you some of my secrets for how to do X, Y or Z?” and then I’m off!
This seems like an appropriate moment to me, so here is one of my secrets:
I was fortunate to learn early in my career how to stand tall and own the room while relaxed and collegial. I think I figured it out because I had no choice. I was the only woman in the room; I wanted respect and to be taken seriously.
First of all, it’s about breathing. It sounds simple, but women are big breath holders when we’re nervous, scared or in deep thought. Find a way to help yourself breathe. I learned my best breathing technique while taking ski lessons. My instructor offered tips to help me to relax and breathe on steeper slopes that really scared me.
Tips such as lean out over your skis did not help me, but when she told me to sing, it was like a miracle. It’s hard to hold your breath when you sing. So I conquered many of my fear of steep slopes by singing songs from the Sound of Music. It helped “level” those slopes. I do now publicly apologize to those who had to endure my vocals on the Utah slopes.
I applied that singing and breathing experience to my work life. Before an important meeting, I spend a minute outside the room, in the ladies room, or in my car on the way, visualizing, humming or sometimes actually singing (quietly) to get myself to breathe. Next I square my shoulders, shake my arms loose and enter the room, ready to rock and roll.
As soon as I am in the room, I scan to see who’s there. I take note of any surprises, good and bad. If someone is there whom I don’t know or haven’t seen for a long time, I introduce myself or say hello. It doesn’t matter his or her rank in relation to mine, because in my visualization everything and everyone is “level,” just like on the slopes.
Then I scan the room for my seat at the table. People can play a lot of games with seating. I usually try to sit in the middle, even if I am running the meeting. We’re all “level.”
There are many nuances to standing tall and owning the room, but this is the most important and has served me very well. I think I will always have “The Hills are alive with the sound of music” somewhere in my head. What song will keep you breathing?