There are a lot of factors. Experts say that one of the reasons one cannot speak confidently is caused by how he has been interpreting and recording his experiences. It could be an experience during childhood, teenage, or young adulthood.
A child who had always been told to ‘shut up’ may have interpreted and stored in his mind that it would be better to simply shut up rather than speak up. Perhaps, everytime he spoke up, his elders would shout at him, “Shut up!” As a result, he chose not to speak up because he doesn’t want to be shouted at. By nature, we seek to avoid pain; and being shouted at is painful. Thus, to avoid such pain, he chose not to speak up. And this mental programming could stay with him even as he grows of age (unless he will have a new one which is very possible and beneficial).
One experience could lead to an illogical generalization.
A young girl who was laughed at and criticized during a recitation in grade school upon giving a wrong answer could lead to an interpretation and generalization saying, “I am not intelligent. I will never get the right answer.” The truth is that she just gave the wrong answer for that particular question. That’s it! Hence, her statement should have been, “I gave the wrong answer to that particular question.” If she goes further, she can say, “I should read more to know the correct answer.”
Personal negating statements may have come from statements one has heard from someone else he sees as a person of authority or knowledge. Thus, he models it as a logical interpretation even if it is not. For example, when a child does poorly in an exam and an elder would say, “Poor dumb child.” The child hearing it may say, “That’s how things are interpreted.” That’s just wrong!
On the other hand, a child who has always been appreciated, congratulated, corrected the right way and been told of nurturing words would interpret rightly that the world is happy to have him, the world is eager to listen to him, and the world is excited for his performance or presentation.
As a child, I had an experience of both worlds. My late father, whenever he got drunk, cursing words would come out of his mouth. Those curse words were not directed to me but those were bad words to hear still. When I was younger, it is not normal for us to have conversations at home after school for example. On the other hand, I am thankful that I know my father is proud of me. He wasn’t that expressive but I remember that afternoon when I met him and his friend along the way to school. He was a little drunk (which I didn’t like) but he painted a smile in my young heart when he told his friend, “Sinay din kitot ko yan first honor iman ya.” (This is my youngest and I’m proud that he is the First Honor in his class.) I was in Grade 1 then. Looking back, I think I interpreted that as ‘I am doing good and the world is happy about it.’ This positive generalization from that single experience worked to my benefit.
On the other hand, the lack of conversation or opening up with him led me to be aloof and reserved. During my schooling, even at times that I knew the answer, I wouldn’t volunteer to answer. Only when I was called that I would answer. To raise my hand and speak up is not my default setting. You can ask me and I will answer, but that’s it. Period. It was similar to my first year in the corporate world. I struggled in speaking to my workmates and superiors especially during first encounters.
Examining our past and trying to pinpoint the reason of these internal barriers of communication could potentially free us and empower us. It is vital that this will be done with sense of responsibility. When we look back, it could be tempting to point blames to the persons and events that caused us some insecurities and incapacities but this is not the purpose of the exercise. The stance should be, “What has happened? How did I interpret it? What can I learn from this?”(It is always best to do this with a prayer. For some, they may need coaches, counsellors, or therapists.)
The key is to focus on the good and focus on growth. Yes, these things have happened but there are a lot of good things that also happened. As for me, yes, I had those bad experiences as a child. I even had some unruly arguments with my father. But I also remember in my heart those moments when he would tell stories, those moments during the day when he would come home whistling and calling my name and our dog’s name, and those moments when he said, “You won!” as he realized that his king was ‘cornered’ during our late night chess games. (He repeatedly won our chess matches.) Yes, there were a lot of bad times but there could also be lots of good times. Things can be learned from those bad times and they should and could be lessened in our minds; the good times should be multiplied and magnified.
Furthermore, there will always be new experiences, new interpretations, and new memories that we can create. While I was aloof in conversing with other people in the past, I was able to break free from that as I receive new learning, support, appreciation, commendation, constructive feedback, encouragement and wisdom from friends, priests, the community, preachers (like Bo Sanchez), the church, various organizations (like Toastmasters), and other great men and women around.
You and I could choose to live in our sad interpretations of the painful past or choose to create new beliefs, interpretations, and mindset: to think that people are good, to know that you can develop your communication skills, and to believe that the audience or listeners wants you to articulate your message well.
To speak confidently is a choice and is a continuous choice that even people who have reached a certain level of confidence continue to choose. To speak confidently is a skill that can be learned and continuously improved that even people who have reached a certain level of skilful speaking continue to work hard in honing such skill. To speak confidently is a choice and series of actions to reframing our thinking about speaking, to develop good habits to make us better speakers, and to keep growing in this skill which is essential in living, loving, and leading.
New experiences, new models, and new opportunities abound. Use them to your advantage to create better interpretations, better mindset, and better habits. You can choose to speak confidently!