Atlanta author wants women to stop underestimating themselves

When experts rattle off the secrets to success, they often use words like hard work, talent, discipline, focus. But the one word that is often missing from the mix is what author Valerie Burton calls the missing piece of the success puzzle.

Burton, the Atlanta-based founder of the Coaching and Positive Psychology Institute, said your voice can make all the difference. Women in particular, she said, need to learn how to use their voices more effectively.

In her book, “Successful Women Speak Differently,” (Harvest House, $14), Burton gives women nine habits that can help them communicate in a manner that elevates their careers and personal relationships.

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Studies show that men often overestimate their abilities, a practice known as “honest overconfidence.” Women are more likely than men to underestimate their abilities, speak less confidently about their accomplishments and apply for jobs only when they meet all the qualifications.

Successful women, however have learned to do things differently. They take a different view when faced with challenges and opportunities. They speak with confidence and do not let fear prevent them from making the point they wish to make.

As Burton explains, using your voice isn’t just about your voice. It’s the quality of your voice, how you say the things you say, what you choose not to say, your body language and whether your actions are in line with your words.

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Some of the issues women have with communication are generational. Gen X and Millennial women, for example, tend to end statements with a rising intonation which sounds more like a question than a statement. Some researchers suggest it is the result of younger women being socialized in the 1980s Valley Girl speak, but biology, psychology and other factors can also have an impact on how women communicate.

Burton’s nine habits offer women a script for overcoming common communication problems as well as a list of questions to help women coach themselves into practicing the habits.

Women who need a quick reference will find Burton’s final 7-point memo helpful when preparing for their next critical conversation:

  1. Know your goal before you start speaking
  2. Breathe
  3. Say what you need to say in a kind, but direct manner
  4. Give and expect respect
  5. Listen to the answer
  6. Don’t try to fill the silence
  7. Give the conversation your full attention

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