Woman at work in her career: Source Unsplash

How to stop being a ‘good girl’ at work – find your adult voice instead

Emma Wainer, Speaking Coach, tells us why seeking to the ‘good girl’ at work – a behaviour picked up from school and continued with post-education – is harmful for finding your adult voice. If you finding speaking up hard, always want validation before doing so and crave positive feedback, then you need to get on board with Emma’s new rules ASAP! We particularly love Rule 4 and Rule 5. 

Are you still playing but the rules? The ones that were created during your education. The ones that say there are right and wrong answers; that you should work hard and prepare, even over prepare; that you should be sure you are right before you answer.

Education is a system that rewards the good behaviour of children according to those rules. As adults, we sometimes continue to use this approach as a coping mechanism in order to win people over – in essence to be liked. Sometimes, this works brilliantly for us at work, but sometimes it puts hypothetical limits on our behaviour and stops us really reaching our potential.

What does, all this mean for our adult voice?

Well, if we continue to play by the rules, it means we continue to prepare – and over prepare – and postpone.  We end up saying things like, “When I get this qualification, or that experience, then I will speak up – because then I will be the expert. Then they will listen”


We are often postponing the moment. We tend not to speak up or out unless we feel very strongly or we are pretty sure we are right. What do we need to do to change that? Liberate that ‘good girl!’ Be warned this is not for the faint hearted. Tara Mohr, the author of “Playing Big’, says if we are going to ‘play by rules’ then let’s play by these 10 Rules for Brilliant Women. Let’s look at the first 5 and see what they mean for our voice.

Rule 1: Make a Pact

What does your support for others look like? Are you as kind and generous to yourself as you are to others?

I cannot tell you the number of clients I have coached that have told me that they dislike or hate the sound of their voice. That internal criticism causes a great deal of tension. Tension reduces your ability to breath, speak and express. It deadens the expression in your eyes. It reduces your ability to think clearly and respond to what is front of you. If you are speaking to anyone in your working day then that tension is not helping your message land with your audience.

Make a pact to be your own cheerleader for your voice and your message – even if it isn’t perfectly honed! It is time to make friends with your voice. Choose 5 exciting, challenging, wonderful words that you would like your voice to embody over the coming week. Expressive, Grounded, Gravitas, Playful, Engaging…Whatever makes sense to you. Choose 1 per day and play with it. What does it feel like? How can you absorb this into your vocal repertoire?

Rule No 2 – Imagine

Imagine what your authentic awesome voice sound like. Voices react incredibly well to imagination, so if you can imagine it, it can become possible. Really take the time to daydream. Crazy, out of the ball park, frivolous daydream. Now this doesn’t mean we are all going to turn into Anthony Robbins; this is not about striding across the stage and shouting a message from the rooftops. Unless that’s your gig. This is about being authentically you, unreservedly you. You – just turned up 10%.

How does it feel in your body? Close your eyes and imagine how it feels in your body.  Feel how the breath drops down into your body so that you feel calmer, more grounded, ready to engage your audience.

What opportunities would that voice create for you? Your team? Your clients? Isn’t that message worth sharing?

Rule No 3 – Gasp-level Action

Now that we have spent some time imagining what our awesome voice sounds like – we need to take action, but not little baby steps. We need to take a bloody great running jump! We need to scare our own pants off. The thing is, we are so much more capable than we give ourselves credit for, and if we only ever take baby steps we won’t ever reach the playing big stage – if that is our goal.

What speaking opportunity frightens you and makes you say, ‘Not yet’? Really analyse it; are you saying “No, not yet” according to those old rules of being a ‘good girl.’  If the answer is yes, then that is the one you need to set your sights on. If you are not sure, ask two or three brilliant women around you, “Truthfully, could I do this?” If they all say no, then ask what they think you can do, right now. If they all say yes; no excuses. This doesn’t mean you don’t prepare and organise yourself but it means you don’t back down, or put it off. Make yourself and others gasp!

Rule No 4 – Get a Thick Skin

If you are out there using your voice in a way that is truly yours, you will win over many people, who share your values and ideas. You may also attract some constructive feedback (although it rarely feels very constructive).

Criticism around your voice can be tough to weather. Our voice is the outer expression of our inner most thoughts and ideas, so we fear judgement of it. So, let’s toughen up and prepare for it. Let’s let go of that need to be liked by everyone.

What is the worst thing someone could say about our voice and message? Let’s think of 10 ways to positively reframe that criticism. How could we use that criticism to do better next time? It is vital, when it comes to our voice, that we practice in public and fail-upwards.

Rule No 5 – Be an Arrogant Idiot

There are three different energy levels when we speak. Imagine a sliding scale with quiet and mumbling at one end and loud and brash at the other. In the UK we tend towards the lower end of scale and other cultures have their specific space too.

I am going to encourage you to slide up the scale towards arrogant idiot, because there is absolutely no way you would ever reach that. But moving one or two steps towards it will mean a more confident voice, less self-depreciating language, stronger non-verbal communication. Take up just a little more space than you are comfortable with!  Nowhere near arrogant idiot but stronger and more confident.

Now cheerlead that version of you!

Read more of Emma’s advice on taking up space with your voice: This is your reminder to take up space and speak up more

Emma Wainer

Emma Wainer

Hi, I’m Emma, I am the founder, creator and senior coach of Speaking at Work. Welcome to our virtual training and coaching space. I started Speaking at Work after working in the corporate space for 10 years growing a small business. I loved it. I regularly spoke to large audiences, headed up pitches for significant business and coached our clients on how to present.

I was a confident speaker, in fact, I loved speaking in front of an audience. I took a career break when my children were born and gradually that confidence leaked away – my voice began to disappear. So, I enrolled in a 1-year, full-time Masters in Voice, at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. It was transformative. I rediscovered my voice and with it, a passion for helping others find and use theirs to maximise their potential, take up opportunities they are turning away and helping businesses get their message out there.

I love being able to combine the development of the individual with a wider business strategy. Speaking at Work offers training and coaching for all levels of development. If you are looking on behalf of your team and can’t find what need, give us a call and I am sure we can start creating the right course for you and your business.

Connect with Emma via LinkedIn or watch her on Youtube. 

Back To Top