March 5, 2016, was the day I started interviewing silenced female leaders for my dissertation. Fast forward to today, I now have data on 65 women. However, this cold March day from two and a half years ago was my first official recorded interview that was later transcribed and analyzed for hours.
These notes were captured in my car as I sat there reflecting after the 90-minute interview. They are private reflections that now represent something more significant. In no particular order:
- Always start with full batteries – I know I was referencing my hand-held recorder, but I cannot help but note the significance of having a fully charged body, heart, and mind when engaging in meaningful work.
- Empathy hurts – felt throat tighten in interview – lump in throat. Wanted to connect, touch, express and my eyes may have given my pain away. I believe that empathy is one of the greatest gifts. For those who share this particular strength, we know the sorrow it can inflict. I will not trade my ability to empathize, but sometimes I have to put it squarely in its place as empathy can cause a great deal of pain.
- It’s okay to sit in silence – this is something that used to cause me so much discomfort, and I would immediately speak to fill the void. I have learned over time that my uneasiness with silence is a form of selfishness. Sometimes we need to sit quietly until someone else is ready to speak. Silence is a gift for someone who is processing what they need to say.
- It is an honor to witness someone’s story – when I wrote this I had just interviewed an executive female with an intense history of feeling silenced. She had never told her story in totality to another person. Often people need a witness to their life and solving or analyzing is not required.
- Voice can emerge with space – I gave space for something to surface; for voice to arise; for healing to lift its eyes even with its head still bowed. There is a view beyond the pain. Voice is never the opposite of silence, and you cannot always flip it on like a light switch. We may speak and utter sound but do not mistake that for having a voice, which takes longer to surface.
That one small question, a slight shift to end the interview, one last chance to gather any last-minute participant thoughts or ideas created the highest level of learning and research finds. We never know how one small question – insignificant as it may be – can be the very thing that unlocks something powerful. As a social scientist and leadership coach, I continue to sit in wonder of the power of a simple question.
What simple question do you need to ask?