It’s not easy being a softly spoken leader. But in some ways, I’d say it’s better.
I started off a lot more quiet early in my career, but over the years I’ve grown in confidence, made mistakes, done some good things and now I feel like my opinion should be heard.
Being softly spoken is part of who you are. You can’t just turn it off and become a different person. So, let’s take a deeper look.
The Challenges of the Softly Spoken Leader
Softly spoken leaders have it tough.
When people think of leadership, they often still think of the ambitious, strong, forceful person smashing down barriers and getting things done.
If someone is softly spoken, or doesn’t stomp on other people’s throats to get to the top, sometimes people don’t consider them to be “leadership material”.
Softly spoken leaders are talked over in meetings, often ignored and can find it hard to get their point across. By comparison, their loud, forceful counterparts may be perceived as more capable and driven.
However, often the loudest people in the room are full of hot air, or just speaking for the sake of it. And if you look closely, the quiet achievers might just be your best leaders.
Is This a Male-Female Thing?
Not necessarily. Although gender does have an influence.
In my experience, males are stereotypically louder, seem more confident and when they tell people to do things, they are seen as “leadership material”.
On the contrary, when women tell people to do things, they are called “bossy” or “dominating”.
According to recent Grant Thornton research, women still only occupy around 24% of senior roles globally.
However, being male or female is not the only factor. I’ve worked with many softly spoken leaders, both male and female.
Some Advantages of the Softly Spoken Leader
Back in my consulting days, I attended an Executive Meeting at a large company. There were a lot of opinions put forward by many of the senior leaders in the room, but one person sat silent.
Then, after a period of watching and listening, he spoke. And when he spoke, boy, did everyone listen. They stopped talking. They heard what he had to say and it changed the course of the conversation as he influenced the other opinions in the room.
Was he the most senior? No, he was equal in rank to the others in the room.
He was softly spoken, and when he spoke, people listened.
So what are the advantages of the softly spoken leader?
1. Softly Spoken Leaders Can Make More Impact
Jeff is going on and on in the meeting, giving all his ideas while everyone waits for him to stop talking. The only thing is, he generally doesn’t stop, and everyone knows it.
After a while, it’s all just white noise and people are rolling their eyes.
Then Tracy pipes up. She doesn’t speak all the time, so people haven’t learned to tune her out. When she speaks, they listen to see what she has to say.
I’ve found that softly spoken leaders are often more selective with their input. They don’t blast the room with words to make their point. They choose them carefully and deliberately.
So when they speak, people listen.
2. Softly Spoken Leaders Listen More
Softly spoken people don’t speak often, they tend to wait and listen to what’s going on around them. When you do this, you gain valuable insights into the discussion.
This means that when you do speak, you’ve processed more of the information and you can make a better point, which takes the previous conversations into account.
If your only focus is on talking, you aren’t really listening, and you’ll miss important information.
How to Succeed as a Softly Spoken Leader
Ok, there are some advantages to being a softly spoken leader, but it’s not all rainbows and unicorns.
Here are my top 3 tips to succeed as a softly spoken leader.
1. Don’t Force Yourself to Say Something, if You Have Nothing to Say
Early in my career, I always felt like I needed to say something. If I was in a meeting, I needed to pipe up with my opinion. But this isn’t always the case.
If you’re just speaking to make yourself heard and you’re not adding any value, then your reputation will take a hit.
Then, people will think you’re softly spoken because you have nothing useful to say.
2. Plan Your Communication to Suit Your Strengths
If you are a softly spoken leader, large meetings probably aren’t your best communication forum. By contrast, you might be better using more intimate settings like individual meetings.
If you have some important information to share, or need to influence a decision, consider using smaller groups, rather than trying to fight against the outspoken people in the room.
3. Do Great Work
Sounds obvious? I know, but it’s true.
Doing great work gives you credibility. Credibility starts to give you respect. Then, people are more likely to listen.
Even if people say you are “too quiet”, or “not ambitious enough”, it ultimately doesn’t matter. Nobody fires someone who does great work. This provides you with more time to build your confidence.
Doing great work will give you confidence, and once you’re regarded as a high performer, you will stand up and shout “Hey, I’ve got something to say!”.
OK, maybe not literally, but you get the idea.
Related: Read more about Important Ways That Leaders Can Earn Respect at Work.
4. Reframe Your Thinking: Softly Spoken = Selective
We have enough dominant, driven and aggressive leaders. Let’s try something different.
When you tell yourself that you are softly spoken, this is a limiting belief. It limits you because you are subconsciously thinking that you should fit the “normal” leadership stereotypes: Strong, Bold, Opinionated, Forceful, Confident.
You might not feel like any of those leadership words apply to you.
So let’s reframe the situation. If you’re softly spoken, you probably speak quietly, or don’t speak often. This just means you are more selective about when you do speak.
Being selective is a good thing. You don’t just pollute the air with words. You add value to the conversation.
Do you agree or disagree? All you softly spoken leaders, let me know in the comments below!
Alternatively, if you would like to ask a question or need some help, you can send me a private message through my contact page.