My greatest strength as a communicator is I’ve learned to trust my own inner wisdom and allow that to come through in my communication. When appropriate, I use structure to support this. The effectiveness comes from a combination of practical tools and inner wisdom.
As I grew up and gravitated toward reading and then writing, some of my best memories are of discussing works of fiction with my father. He always listened, took my opinions seriously, and never tried to convince me he was right and/or I was wrong. He asked questions to get me to go deeper into the material. He answered my questions and helped me understand whatever it was I couldn’t understand.
He would also help me with my English papers. He would look at what I had written and talk with me about what to improve. I would rewrite, he would look again, we would talk again. One clear memory is of him bringing me back a pretty significant paper (I was in early high school) and saying: “okay now. This is “C” work. We’ll bring it up to “A” work.” I remember feeling so excited! I could not wait to hear what he had to say and rework the writing up to our high standards!
I operate in much the same way today (though my dad doesn’t read my drafts anymore)
The sad thing is though, after leaving home, going to college, going to law school, and for years after beginning my career as a lawyer, that natural ability (inner wisdom) dimmed, weakened, and shut down. For years.
I entered the world of full time work after college, at a law firm in downtown Las Vegas. It was here that I first learned that yelling and screaming was an acceptable form of communication in some offices. After two years there I went to law school.
During the first five years of my legal career, there were no mentors. Little support. The nature of my job threw me into the deep end of this field called “litigation” and expected to sink or swim. That was normal – and when I got stressed or scared, I attributed it to weakness on my part. Most of my writing sucked during this time. In my third year of being a lawyer, one boss told me “this brief is unreadable. Get it out of here and don’t come back until it’s readable.”
Two things about this guy:
- He was a gifted, brilliant attorney, especially in the court room
- He cared about his employees.
In his mind, he was showing me tough love, which would make me a better lawyer. And he was right. The brief I gave him did suck. It wasn’t even the best I could do at the time – I was so stressed out, afraid, and defensive that part of me had stopped caring. Thing is, no special wrath had been directed toward me. He criticized all the lawyers harshly. It was the way it was. And since I had been raised to be a responsible, independent woman I figured this WAS how it was. I had to go through each day not knowing what I was doing, getting yelled at around every corner, and figuring out on my own how to improve.
It wasn’t until I changed jobs and was into my fifth year as a lawyer that I experienced what it felt like to have a senior lawyer mentor me. I submitted a brief to him that was sub-par at best. I knew it. And I could see from the look on his face that he knew it. I braced myself to be yelled at. I had grown so used to being yelled at and condescended to that I not only thought such behaviour was normal – I thought it was acceptable. I thought it was up to me and me alone to improve my skills with little or no guidance.
He didn’t yell. He took a deep breath and invited me into the conference room. Closed the door. And proceeded to talk with me about the brief. Went through it page by page, analyzing what I had written in the context of the motion that was before the court, and the case as a whole. Told me what needed to improve, and why. With reasonable, compassionate feedback, I turned that “C” level brief into an “A.”
My inner wisdom, dormant for so long, began to slowly wake up
I spent seven and a half years at that job. Thanks to one attorney who was willing to teach me (starting with calling me out on my subpar writing) the art and science of being a good lawyer, I experienced many shining moments with clients using my natural communication talent and legal training that would not have happened otherwise.
In 2006 I got the courage to leave the legal profession and strike out on my own. That has been a series of epic ups and downs, that I will perhaps write more detail about in future posts. The core of that story is in my Ted-style talk: How Great Stories Inspire Action.
The “moral” of this post
We can’t unlock and nurture our talent as communicators without support. We can’t tell our stories in ways that matter without support. As online entrepreneurs and business owners, writing is one of the most important things we DO.
Even though I was raised with loving support to excel in what has become my career of choice (writing and speaking), I (like we all are) was vulnerable to outside forces. I was raised with a strong sense of personal responsibility and independence. I was extremely capable. I am also a highly sensitive person (which I didn’t learn until more recently).
As a result, in a profession known for it’s “shark like” behavior, I took a lot of things to heart that I would have been better served brushing off. I absorbed a lot of harsh criticism (much of it well meaning) that stayed with me, sometimes for years. I became a shell of my former passionate self and most of my interactions were based on stress, fear and defensiveness.
Have you ever tried to go it alone for too long without support? Have you ever believed that seeking and receiving support would make you seem weak? Tell me in the comments.