How to Speak Your Mind in Your Internship: Finding Your Voice
Now more than ever, finding your voice and speaking your mind seems to be a critical component of being engaged in the larger global conversation on a variety of issues. Young school children to corporate executives have found it necessary and fulfilling to let their voices be heard.
Transparent communication is highly coveted in any professional workspace including internships. However, some employees do not speak up because they do not feel like their ideas and thoughts will be valued. Or, they feel as though nothing will be done about a comment they make or suggestion they give.
The same goes for interns whether paid or unpaid. Depending on what type of industry you intern in, you may or may not feel like “part of the team” because, well, you’re an intern. You are there primarily to train and gain experience. Everyone has probably been there longer than you and they know more than you.
I get how you feel. When I was an intern in college, I didn’t want to come off as a smart aleck so I did what they told me even if I knew I could do it better. But as time went on, I got to know the supervisor and some of the teachers better and felt like part of the team enough to give my two cents. Thankfully, it was well-received.
Your voice defines who you are and the value you bring to a company or internship experience. In many cases, it isn’t that people don’t understand you; rather, it is that your identity is too often being defined by what you don’t say than by what you do say. Consistently communicating what is on your mind helps to ensure your identity isn’t misrepresented.
So the question is not whether you should speak your mind; rather, it is how you should speak your mind without overstepping your boundaries as an intern. Here is some advice:
Keep Calm and Speak On
You’ve probably heard that it’s not what you say but how you say it that matters. There is a lot of truth in that. Be confident in what you want to say and be cool, calm, and collected when you say it.
When people seem rough or are ready to take offense, don’t take it personally. If your boss is particularly hard to work with, speak with intention and be okay with everyone not sharing your view.
This should go without saying but in our harshly divisive society, show respect in your words and in your tone. Since most likely you’re not a full-time employee just yet, let the boss know that you know your place and you value his or her position and opportunity.
Sometimes, people are in a bad mood or have it in their heads that all people are one way when that may not be true about you. For example, someone may think you have an attitude when, in reality, you don’t. (I’ve had this happen to me more than I care to count.) Don’t try to defend yourself. Remember, they are the boss. There is power in being the calmest person in the room.
If There Are Rules, Follow Them
Before you give advice or make a helpful suggestion, make sure you’re following the rules. Bosses don’t like it when interns don’t fulfill their duties but want to jump into something else.
Take time to read the policy book or at least the job duties and ensure that you are doing your part. Your ideas will be more welcomed and appreciated if you’re already following protocol and see an area that can be improved.
Sometimes when a younger counterpart (intern) is speaking to an older counterpart (supervisor), we tend to preface any statement with, “I’m really sorry, but …”. There is no need to do that. People are very busy and don’t have a whole lot of time to hear you out, honestly.
If you think something should be done or not done or changed, drop all the qualifiers and apologetic language and get to the point. Don’t try to fill the silent space with more words because you may end up being less effective. Say what you have to say and then listen for a response.
Don’t Burn Bridges
You may need your supervisor or your co-workers later on in life. For example, you may need for your boss to give you a good reference to get a full-time job after college. You may want to stay connected to your intern co-workers for future networking.
If so, don’t destroy these vital relationships. Avoiding gossip, opinion-slamming, judgment, cursing, yelling, screaming matches, and angry tones, words, emails, and text messages can go a long way in your future endeavors.
There is a reason why certain people get ahead faster than others. It is because they speak up and let their voices be heard. Your work experience is not a contest of popularity but it should be a place in which you grow and mature. If you are deliberate in how you speak, other people will take notice and value your voice.
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