Published on April 21, 2021

How To Speak Up For Yourself When You Don’t Know How

How To Speak Up For Yourself When You Don’t Know How

Have you ever found yourself completely frozen in a moment where you want to speak up for yourself? And later, you think of all the things you could have said? There’s actually a scientific explanation as to why this happens.

When we are faced with an immediate threat, our human nervous system becomes dysregulated. The immediate threat we’re facing could simply be our boss speaking firmly to us about missing a deadline. But evolutionarily speaking, this event will register similarly in our nervous system as a saber-toothed tiger baring its teeth at us.

Now, this nervous system dysregulation can go a couple of ways, according to Dr. Stephen Porges, author of The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology). In all cases, when we face a threat, we’ll first go into fight or flight mode. Our heart will start to beat quickly, our sweat glands will activate, and our field of vision will narrow.

If the threat is severe or lasts for a long period of time, we may even get knocked further down what researcher Deb Dana calls the “autonomic ladder” to a frozen or collapsed state.[1]

In either case, whether we’re in fight/flight or freeze/collapse, our brain has very little access to the ability to engage in coherent communication. This is because we’re consumed with ensuring our safety.

Here’s something important to know: these states of dysregulation are not a bad thing. In fact, they evolved to help us survive. But when we’re worried about our survival, we can’t speak up for ourselves easily.

Ensure Your Safety First

Knowing everything we just discussed, first of all, please forgive yourself if moments are going by where you’re not speaking up for yourself. Ask yourself: was I just trying to survive or stay safe at that moment?

If the answer is yes, then no wonder if you may have found yourself placating or frozen instead of speaking up. You are forgiven. What’s more? congrats! You have a well-functioning human nervous system.


To speak our truth, we need to feel safe. So, the reality is that if you don’t currently feel safe with that boss—or that friend, spouse, family member, etc.—you’re gonna have a darn hard time speaking up for yourself at the moment.

Here are two pieces of good news, though:

  1. The best way to practice this skill, especially at the beginning, is after the fact.
  2. The more you practice these skills, the more you’ll be able to use them at the moment as time goes on.

So, go get somewhere safe you can practice, and dive in and learn how to speak up for yourself.

The Voice Body Connection Process

As a voice and movement coach, I have been teaching voice and somatic practices for over a decade, and I’ve been studying them for essentially my whole life (this is embodied research, after all). To help you speak your truth in any situation, I’m going to introduce you to what I call the “Voice Body Connection process.”

Over the years, I created this process by synthesizing knowledge and methods from theatre and singing pedagogy, communication theory, speech science, yoga practice and philosophy, psychology, and especially Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen’s work Body-Mind Centering.

Here’s what to do: bring your mind to a specific moment that you want to understand more deeply. It can be this moment right now or a moment that you remember from the past. (If it’s from the past, imagine the following questions in the past tense.)

Step 1: Sensation

What is the strongest sensation I feel in my body right now?

We start with this crucial first question. After all, as Bessel van der Kolk’s research teaches us, our bodies keep the score.[2] Before you can speak up for yourself, you need to know what you’re actually feeling. And to understand what you feel, start with your body.


Example: “Right now, my heart is beating really quickly.”

Be sure to keep your answer body-focused!

Step 2: Stimulus

What do I think is the stimulus that led me to feel this sensation?

This is likely a very simple statement about what happened. You should just keep it simple. Otherwise, you might get lost on a thought train.

Example: “And I think it’s because my boss just lectured me about missing the deadline.”

Step 3: Emotions

What are my emotions about noticing all of this?

The next step is to tap into your emotions. If you’re not sure how you’re feeling, here are some basic emotions: anger, fear, sadness, happiness, arousal, disgust, and tenderness. Keep in mind that it’s totally reasonable to be experiencing a range of emotions, and you can include them all.

Example: “This makes me feel angry and afraid.”


Step 4: Desires

Do I have any desires related to everything I just noticed?

Next, you can discern any desires that might be coming from all of this. Sometimes, surface-level desires are covering up deeper ones. So, if you’re confused, keep in mind that human desire tends to boil down to the need for safety, comfort, love, and growth.

Example: “And what I really want is some support to get all my work done and to know that I still have my job.”

Step 5: Presence

The transition to help you feel comfortable releasing your voice

Part of the reason we don’t speak up for ourselves the moment something is happening is that we’re not really present. This is essentially another way of saying that our nervous system is not regulated. If thinking through all of this has gotten you agitated in any way again, take a few moments to breathe.

One of the best ways to be sure that you are present is to blink your eyes and focus on the colors, shapes, and textures of the world around you. As you get better and better, you’ll be able to do this process quickly at the moment!

Step 6: Expression

Sharing your voice

The amazing thing about everything you’ve done so far is that they have allowed you to build a script for yourself! If we put the example all together as written above, it currently reads:


“Right now, my heart is beating really quickly and I think it’s because my boss just lectured me about missing the deadline. This makes me feel angry and afraid, and what I really want is some support to get all my work done and to know that I still have my job.”

Now, you’re not necessarily going to say exactly that to your boss—not all of it is necessary. But maybe, what you say to your boss later in the week is something like:

“Hey, when you spoke to me earlier about missing the deadline, I felt upset. I want to let you know that I had too much work on my plate to get it done, and I need some more support if I’m going to meet the existing deadlines. I want to excel at this job so you and I both feel secure.

Pretty great right? And it’s super clean, too. You’re not getting mad at your boss for their outburst. You’re simply speaking your truth.

Step 7: Communication

A real conversation

After you’ve expressed yourself, it’s important to leave space to see the impact you’ve had on the person or people with whom you’re communicating. This is when the real conversation starts and when speaking up for yourself starts to really pay off.

Keep in mind that this process we just went through might continue ad infinitum. You may constantly need to return to your bodily sensations to know what you feel and want to say next. Do this so that you stay grounded in speaking from your own experience—speaking up for yourself—and not in speaking for anyone else.

How This Will Change your life

You may notice that when we use the word “feelings” in the English language, we could be referring to several things: our bodily sensations, our thoughts, our emotions, and even our desires.


The Voice Body Connection process takes apart these different aspects of our feelings so that we can be clear with them. When we use this process to practice getting safe and clarifying our feelings, we will get better and better at speaking up for ourselves. The more you practice this process, the more you will know what to say in the kindest, most effective way.

More Tips on How to Speak Up for Yourself

Featured photo credit: Melany Rochester via


More by this author

Elissa Weinzimmer

Vocal Health and Confidence Coach and Founder of Voice Body Connection

How To Speak Up For Yourself When You Don’t Know How How to Apologize When You Have Made a Mistake

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Published on May 18, 2021

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.


Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.


Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.


Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.


This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.


Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

More Tips Improving Listening Skills

Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via


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