How to speak up with your ideas, even if you’re secretly scared you’ll sound stupid. [Episode 041]

We're talking about how to speak up with your idea, even if you're secretly scared you'll sound stupid. This is incredibly common!

This impacts everything from sharing your ideas in meetings and reports, even to posting on LinkedIn. "What if they think I'm stupid?" is a super-common bit of self-talk for someone running Imposter Syndrome.

So today we're going to explore how to spot when this is happening, what is going on under the surface, and I want to share with you some really practical step-by-step things you can do, both in-the-moment and on a preventative basis, to speak up feeling confident, losing the fear of 'stupid'.

What You'll Discover Today

  • Understanding the fear - unravelling the roots of why we worry about sounding stupid
  • Are you letting your inner perfectionist decide whether you're expert enough?
  • Why 'growth mindset' and learning from your mistakes makes this fear worse - and what you can be doing instead
  • Building your confidence - practical techniques for clearing the fear of sounding stupid
  • What we need to do in organisations to create a genuinely encouraging environment - and it's not about telling people that making mistakes is ok
  • A beautiful native American saying that can help you to feel ok again, even if a plonker is waving their inner critic around in public, telling you you're wrong

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Note: this is an AI-generated transcript, so please forgive typos.

Welcome to Episode 41 of the Ditching Imposter Syndrome podcast with me, your host, Clare Josa. And today we are talking about how to speak up even if you're secretly scared you'll sound stupid. This is incredibly common when I work with clients. For example, this impacts everything from sharing their ideas in meetings or reports or even posting on LinkedIn. What if they think I'm stupid? Is one of the most common things we do when we're judging ourselves with imposter syndrome. So today in this episode, we're going to cover how to spot when this is happening, what is going on underneath the surface, and I want to share with you some really practical step by step things you can do to speak up feeling confident, losing the fear of stupid. So before we dive in, I wonder if this stat from our research studies might surprise you. Only 11% of people feel totally confident speaking up with their ideas in meetings. So today's episode of the Ditching Imposter Syndrome podcast is for you if you are part of the 89% who goes from sometimes feeling a bit uncomfortable through to full blown, I will tape over my mouth so I won't speak up because I'm so terrified, or if you're working with people who you think might be feeling that way and you want to understand what's happening, what's going on beneath the surface to drive this fear and what you can be doing instead.

So today we're going to talk about understanding the fear, unravelling the roots of why we worry about sounding stupid. We're going to talk about whether you're letting your inner perfectionist decide whether or not you're expert enough, why growth mindset and learning from your mistakes can actually make this fear worse and what you could be doing instead. I'm then going to share some really practical techniques on how you can overcome the fear of sounding stupid instead of pushing on through it. And then we're going to look at what the working culture and environment could do to support people in feeling confident in speaking up with their ideas, sharing their opinions, and asking those questions that can actually turn things around. So the risk of doing nothing about this is that pushing on through the fear. I did a podcast episode recently that if this is a big deal for you, today is the opposite of that one, but it's really worth a listen. It's Episode 33, link in the show notes, and the title is "Why Does Imposter Syndrome Make Your Mind Go Blank in Meetings". And today we're talking about actually, you know what you want to say and you're holding back.

But if you do the whole push on through the fear thing, that episode explains why you can have all your notes written down in front of you, but when that spotlight comes and you want to share that opinion, your mind goes blank until the spotlight moves on. So that's Episode 33. Go and have a listen after this one. So in addition to that, the risk of doing nothing here, of just pushing on through the fear of feeling stupid is you're likely to tone down your message. Self-sabotage in order to protect yourself. You're going to go vague. You'll decrease your impact, you'll have less contribution. It will trigger the fight-flight-freeze response, which means it reduces your creativity. That's a neuroscience thing. From an organisational point of view, you end up with groupthink and heading down very expensive blind alleys, losing creativity, innovation, competitive advantage, hitting the bottom line. So let's start with understanding that fear, unravelling the roots of why we worry about sounding stupid. Now, I remember, gosh, I still remember deep breath when I was 11. We had a teacher at what was called middle school in those days who I won't name, but he actually had a 'Dunce cap'.

So he actually had, I guess it's like a wizard's cone that you had to wear that said 'D' on it for Dunce. If you made a mistake in his class, you had to stand on the table and wear the cap until he decided you'd done it for long enough. Luckily, he wasn't my full-time teacher. He just covered our classes sometimes. But for the people for whom he was their main teacher, a lot of them really struggled. And I know they will have grown up with this terrible fear of being found out as being stupid. Then in my final year at middle school, when I was 12, I had a teacher who I used to push myself quite hard. I was probably a swer. Okay, I'll admit it. And I got into trouble once. And I'd done something that the deputy head teacher had asked me and a few friends to do. Our class teacher was very cross because we hadn't asked his permission. We got stuck in the middle of a bit of a power struggle. And we had to write a letter to say sorry to our teacher for upsetting him. And I did.

And I wrote the word I apologise, whereas everybody else had said, I'm sorry. And he decided I was being a bit Hermione Granger here ahead of my time because I'd spelled apologise wrongly. I'd use two P's. He made me stand up in front of the whole class and ridiculed me for one, using a preposterous word, and two, not even knowing how to spell it correctly. This thing can really ingrain in you from a very young age that making mistakes and getting it wrong is dangerous, and the emotion tied into that is shame. Shame is an incredibly powerful driver for shutting up. It's one of the most painful emotions, and we want to avoid it at all costs. So as an adult, this underlying fear of sounding stupid based on our past experiences creates perfectionism and we feel societal pressure. If we look at the media, if a politician, for example, makes a mistake, they get ridiculed. It's in our culture that mistakes are bad and they're not tolerated, and it makes you stupid as a person, and that creates the shame. So we overthink, we worry about offending others or that they'll judge us. We hold back, we've got to write a report or do a presentation or share an idea in a meeting.

We'll tone it down until it feels safe. Now, if you've hung out with me on the podcast for a while, or if you've read or listened to my book, Ditching Impostor Syndrome, you'll know one of the ways I define imposter syndrome is the secret fear of others judging us the way we judge ourselves. And there's an enormous amount of judgment, self judgment and judgment from others that goes on around making mistakes. So imposter syndrome feeds into this fear. It amplifies our self doubt in a professional setting. And the problem is the more important something is to us, the more loudly imposter syndrome will come out to play because the risks and the benefits are higher, the stakes are raised. So we hold back, we tone down our ideas, we don't speak up because that's how our unconscious mind keeps us safe. So are you letting your inner perfectionist decide whether you're expert enough? The four P's of imposter syndrome from my research studies, perfectionism, procrastination, project paralysis, and people pleasing. A huge proportion of people who experience imposter syndrome are running perfectionism, where they set their standards incredibly high and write it off as fluke, luck, timing, team effort, if they happen to achieve them.

So this is one of the things that's happening when you want to share your idea. The perfectionism is there because if I've set my standards this impossibly high and I come close to meeting them, then I will be safe, then I won't be judged. So that also then applies to the level of expertise we think we have to have to be able to share an idea. We decide we have to be the expert. We have to know everything. We couldn't possibly challenge someone who we perceive as knowing more about something or having more experience. And so we hold back because our inner perfectionist says, I'm not expert enough. One of the ways I regularly see this playing out with clients is they'll keep doing training courses until they feel they've finally gathered enough certificates to mean, Right, now I can speak out. But unless they've dealt with the underlying imposter syndrome that was causing that fear, there are very rarely ever enough certificates in the world to help them feel good enough. That needs to be something that comes from within, not from the external validation of bits of paper. One of the things you can do, if this is the pattern that's running for you, that's holding you back from speaking up with your ideas, is you can actually do a quick self mentoring exercise that I'd like to share with you.

You can look at this and ask yourself, Okay, what evidence do I have that my opinion on this is valid and worth being listened to? What evidence do I have that my opinion on this is valid and worth being listened to? Let five, six, seven answers to that bubble up and then just look through them and allow yourself to feel that, to own that and have that with you before you speak up with your idea to remember that you count, you matter, you are good enough, you are valid. Right here, right now, you have an idea that your heart is whispering or even singing, yelling, screaming. Please share this. I'll teach you about micro-courage in a moment because that can be really useful too. Remember, your views are valid. They might be wrong, yeah? They probably aren't, but they might be. But speaking up with an idea is really important. And there's a flip to this as well that can really help as a mindset shift is, what is the cost to other people of you not speaking up with that idea? One of the reasons we can get stuck in the fear of sharing our ideas and our thoughts and our opinions is because we're worried about how it will impact us.

If we shift our focus instead to be looking at the positive impact it could have on other people, wanting to make sure they avoid what they'll lose out on if we don't share the idea, we're making it about them. And that can really make an enormous difference on the fear. So if you want to flip the fear of feeling stupid if you share your idea, ask yourself, what is the cost to other people of me not sharing the idea? Focus on what's in it for them and feel the fear melt away as it becomes about the difference you can make for others instead of being about you. Then we get onto why growth mindset and learning from your mistakes can make this fear worse and what you can be doing instead. So I know growth mindset is brilliant and fixed mindset is bad, and we're all getting that now and it's being taught in schools. But there's a problem underneath this. If your unconscious mind and therefore your body, because your body feels every thought you think and that creates your experience of emotions are both convinced that making mistakes is dangerous, that you have a fear of failure, that you've been brought up somehow, maybe with one of my teachers, yeah, to think that making mistakes means people will think you're stupid and you're running imposter syndrome, so you've got this secret fear of others judging you the way you're judging yourself.

Suddenly being told that you've got to look positively at mistakes and they're an opportunity to grow and you should make as many of them as you can is a brilliant way to live in constant fear. You're creating a massive inner conflict. The conscious mind is saying, Just see it positively. What can you learn from this mistake, Clare? Who? Cheerleader. Clare made another public mistake and is currently being ridiculed. Versus the inside bit that's like, Oh, wait, last time I made a mistake, I was publicly ridiculed and I'm never speaking out with my opinions again. So you actually need to do the deeper work. You need to be clearing out the fear. So forget feel the fear and pushing on through. Clear the fear, do the deeper work. Something that's often encouraged when we're looking at growth mindset is to go and seek constructive feedback, for example. They say celebrate progress over perfection. That's great. But if what's driving your show is perfection, then you've got this inner conflict running again. So that's why doing the deeper work is actually much more important. Growth mindset can be a really powerful technique, but not when you've got fears running an identity level, which is where imposter syndrome hangs out.

It's more than a mindset issue. Actually, if you want to find out more about that, I did a podcast episode recently on forget focusing on mindset if you want to overcome imposter syndrome. That's Episode 36. That is well worth a listen to explain more about that phenomenon. So let's get practical about this. What can you do to overcome the fear of feeling stupid when you share your ideas? Obviously, you need to start by things like preparing, potentially practising beforehand, making sure that you've got evidence to back up your views, if that's appropriate and possible in that situation, doing the little exercise that I suggested earlier on focusing on your expertise and why your voice is valid and your unique perspectives could actually be just what they've been waiting for. Then, to help you build that confidence, longer term, you can clear out what was causing the fear of feeling stupid. To do that, to find out what those hidden blocks are, let five, six, or seven responses to this statement just bubble up without judgment. Thinking about what you want to say, ask yourself, I can't say this because... I can't say this because let those answers bubble up.

Some of them, you'll look at them, you can just draw a line straight through them. Some of them, though, will be the limiting beliefs and fears. Go and work with someone who's skilled in this work, say one of my certified Imposter Syndrome First-Aiders or Imposter Syndrome Master Coaches. You can get in touch to find out how to connect with one of those. But if you're there in the moment and dealing with the underlying causes, feels a bit like navel gazing and you don't have time for it, I want to share with you what I call my micro courage technique. So if you find that stress, that fight flight freeze response is bubbling up as you're about to share your idea, do my belly breathing. It's in the book, Ditching Imposter Syndrome. It's in all of my courses. It's the press pause technique, 60 seconds with a really specific belly breathing technique to help you reset your stress response. Then the micro courage technique is really simple. You breathe in, you breathe out, you smile, and then you take action and you take the first tiny step. That helps you to reset the stress response, that belly breathing, then the breathe in, breathe out.

The smile is setting the intention to your unconscious mind and to your body's physiology, the endocrine system, the hormone system, that this is going to be a nice experience. Obviously, keep the smile context appropriate. You don't want to be grinning like a lunatic if you're in the middle of some crisis situation. But it's an inner smile of, I'm okay. Right here, right now, I'm safe. I've done my prep. I've breathed in, I've breathed out. I've reset the stress response. Here I go. I'm sharing my idea. And then another really important key is share your idea and then stop. Maybe ask for feedback or opinions. But one of the things we often do when we're feeling scared or feeling stupid is we share our idea and then we start to babble, sharing all the reasons why it's valid, maybe even apologising for it, maybe even suggesting, I know you might think I'm stupid, but no. It's get that groundedness, breathe in, breathe out, smile, share your idea and then let it go. Let go of your attachment to what happens next. Start to imagine it's like a kid going to its first day of school. If the parent or guardian kept holding their hand all the way through the day, they're not going to have a great day at school.

It's the same with your idea. It needs to grow wings that are bigger than you so it can have the impact it deserves. Let it fly. And then we've also got a job to do as line managers, as leaders, HR professionals, business owners, teammates, colleagues, to create a supportive environment where we encourage open dialogue and collaboration, and we speak out when we see anybody criticising somebody for their ideas. So instead of saying, Hey, we're going to have a culture where we tolerate and we support mistakes, I'd suggest we have a culture where there is zero tolerance of personal criticism, because then the rest of it happens automatically. If you try and change a culture saying, We welcome mistakes, they're opportunities to learn, but underneath you've still got this nyan nyan nyan going in the background of, Oh my goodness, Clare was such an idiot with what she said last week. You're not going to succeed in that culture. So instead, it's zero tolerance of criticism. Yes, feedback. Yes, making an idea even better, taking it to the next level, but never personal criticism. And this is the key to helping people to feel safe sharing their ideas.

Is even if their idea is wrong and it's not going to work, they don't feel that there are personal repercussions. And it gives them the confidence and the courage to share it again next time, which increases creativity, innovation, team cohesion, collaboration, prevents groupthink, prevents blind alleys, and creates a place where people actually really enjoy working. And to wrap up today, I want to share with you a Native American quote that I find incredibly useful when I'm on the receiving end of somebody else's opinion and constructive criticism. Being out there in the public eye doing crazy things like publishing books and podcasts mean I occasionally get people who decide that 3 AM is the time when they want to pour, oh gosh, bile into my inbox or onto my social media feed. And it really hurts. It hits hard. Even poor reviews, it's very hard not to take it personally. So I come back to this saying, all criticism is born of someone else's pain. All criticism is born of someone else's pain. If someone criticises you for sharing your idea that says more about them than about you, it's not personal. There are ways to give feedback on ideas that don't cause the other person to crawl into a corner and cry.

People who lash out, people who criticise, people who judge, people who make it personal are very likely having that same internal dialogue about themselves. Now, that doesn't make that behaviour okay, but it helps you to see it's not about you. And it says more about them. And they need help to deal with their inner demons because what they're doing is projecting their pain outside. It's our role in organisations to make sure the culture does not support that behaviour, and it calls it out. If needs be privately, gets the person the support they need. But if someone criticises you or criticures you for sharing your idea, it says more about them than about you. This is not who you are, it's just an idea. So I hope you found that useful. The resources waiting for you over in the show notes are my Ditching Imposter Syndrome Transformation Toolkit. This is an incredibly effective way in the next four weeks of taking your imposter syndrome score down by half. Okay, according to our scorecard, it makes an enormous difference for you. So go and check out the toolkit. You could start creating breakthroughs even before bedtime today.

There's a couple of podcast episodes for you. Number 33 on why does imposter syndrome make your mind go blank in meetings. Number 36, forget focusing on mindset if you want to overcome imposter syndrome. There's a link there on how to get in touch if you want us to connect you with an imposter syndrome first aid or master coach certified in this work. And if you want to become one of our Imposter Syndrome First-Aiders or train as a Master Coach yourself, the First-Aid program is a prerequisite. There's a link to tell you how you can go and book your place on the very next cohort today. I'd love to get to share that with you. I will be back next time when we'll be talking about the curse of comparisonitis and why it's so important to clear this out. This is for you. If you find that everything from social media doom scrolling through to reading the company newsletter triggers that, Oh, my goodness, I'm not as good as they are, the curse of comparisonitis, make sure you subscribe to wherever you love to get your podcasts. Ditching Imposter Syndrome is free every Wednesday to make sure you catch that episode.

I hope you have an amazing week.

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About the author

Clare Josa

Clare is considered a global authority in the fields of Imposter Syndrome, burnout and toxic resilience, and has been an international keynote speaker for over 20 years.

The author of 8 books, a reformed engineer and the former Head of Market Research for one of the world's most disruptive brands, she blends research-backed practical inspiration with demystified ancient wisdom, to help you create breakthroughs in ways that are fast, fun and forever.

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