Edit desk: Using an inside voice

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Jessica Hicks

There’s a lot to be said about those who don’t always speak their minds. 

When they do speak up, the weight of their words is often heavy enough to capture the attention of an entire room.

Those who don’t know me well describe me as quiet or reserved. Those who know me in my truest form, however, will tell you a story about a girl with a vivid imagination and voracious desire to develop and share new ideas.

They will describe someone who takes initiative as a decision-maker, but only after deep reflection about different outcomes and how they might affect others.

Despite the endless stream of thoughts flooding my mind, I am not always one to speak up. In some cases, the words can be resting on the tip of my tongue, yet somehow they are drowned out and left unheard.

When I participate in class, I am typically met with sudden turns of the head and curious gazes as my peers listen to an unfamiliar voice.

When giving a presentation in front of a large group of people, I am often asked to increase my volume so I am better heard.

In elementary school, I was never asked to use my “inside voice” during classroom activities because it was often still too soft to hear.

Yet a version of this inside voice has guided me through my life and placed me in positions that enable me to create great change. This inside voice has been one of my greatest tools in becoming a leader. It reminds me to think thoroughly and carefully before I speak, listen closely to others and meticulously explore each individual’s stories, opinions and perspectives.

Soft-spoken leaders are hard to come by. Not only because their authority can be undermined at times, but because their contemplative nature is often mistaken for absentmindedness. We expect the strongest leaders in our society, from political figures and corporate executives to activists and celebrities, to be bold in their every move.

Research has shown that United States presidents, in particular, are viewed as more effective leaders when they are extroverted. While there is nothing wrong — and much to praise — with being extroverted, problems arise when the outspoken misspeak.

In 2015, before being elected president, Donald Trump ridiculed Serge Kovaleski, a reporter who suffers from arthrogryposis, a disease that limits the movement and normal functionality of the joints.

Trump claimed he did not know what Kovaleski looked like, but Kovaleski said he had been on a first-name basis with Trump for years, invalidating Trump’s unfounded excuses for his behavior.

Though we are approaching two years since our president mocked Kovaleski at a campaign rally, I can almost guarantee it has not been more than two days since Trump made disparaging remarks on his Twitter account.  

Trump, and other egotistical leaders like him, do not realize the power that lies within verbal expression. They simply speak to hear the sound of their own voices, using intimidating and degrading language to undermine others who do not share their opinions.

Rather than listen to two sides of a story or consider perspectives other than his own, Trump takes to social media to attack “crooked” Hillary Clinton and members of the “fake news media,” among others.

The weight of Trump’s rhetoric is substantial enough to silence an entire room, but for all the wrong reasons.

From the time we are children, we are taught if we have nothing nice to say, we shouldn’t say anything at all. This golden rule has been seemingly forgotten by some “leaders” who use hate-driven speech to assert themselves. Other leaders, those who guide their followers with empathy and compassion, have different tactics.

I used to view my habit of thinking before speaking as a weakness. I used to believe the guidance of my inside voice would only lead me to be overpowered by those who always spoke with “outside” voices. Most threatening to my development as a leader, I once thought that I could not succeed as a more subdued, introverted individual.

Despite my initial doubts and the leadership norms that plague our society, I’ve found I connect more with people and inspire positive change through active listening and internal reflection first, speaking up second.

With that in mind, I urge everyone to listen to the soft voice coming from the back of the room. Have patience with those who think before they speak.

They are listening to their inside voices, and if you quiet down for a moment, you will hear yours too.

Jessica Hicks, ’19, is the deputy news editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at jnh319@lehigh.edu.

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