A couple of months ago I wrote about Using Your “Right Voice” in Conflict. I promised that I’d write more on this topic and a number of you have been asking when. I’ll start right now.
In 1982 Carol Gilligan published “In a Different Voice.” It was required reading in grad school in the mid-eighties and touched a chord for me and many of my women friends and classmates. Here, we thought, is someone who’s speaking to us, to what we bring to our work and relationships. Here’s someone who’s acknowledging women’s ways of being and asking the world to acknowledge them, too.
Over two decades after Gilligan first challenged us, the world is still unsure quite what to do with women’s voices. I talk daily with women who second-guess themselves. With women who’ve been speaking with an adopted voice for so long—adopted for a work world that still, by and large, places high value on male ways of knowing and doing—that they’re no longer sure what their own authentic voice sounds like. With women who are realizing that they’re not heard well or enough and have gotten into conflict behavior patterns that, at minimum, aren’t serving them well and may be leaving debris in their wake.
Women, we don’t trust our own voices enough. And it shows. It shows in the way we do conflict and then agonize over it later. It shows in conflict done badly or avoided when it should not have been. It shows in the despair we feel when the need to be liked collides with the equally strong need to be heard. It shows in the fear that confronting conflict will damage the relationships we care most about. It shows in our tears, our anger, and our silence.
For a number of years I’ve taught a course called Interpersonal Conflict, a required class in the graduate mediation program in which I teach. The course calls upon my mediation students to take a look at their own conflict stuff and do some of the same work they ask their parties to do in mediation—confront and work through the important conflicts in their lives. Over the years, I’ve seen so many of my women students fret over the need or desire to be liked, over fear of confronting conflict and creating harm, over the schisms and losses from conflict, and over embarrassment from acting badly in arguments with those they love. They ask, Why is conflict so hard for me?
Maybe it’s hard because you’ve lost your voice. Want to get it back?