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How Can Women Leaders Master Their Inner Critics? 3 Key Takeaways from Leadership Expert Shannon Bayer

August 11, 2023

To challenge the status quo and accelerate our careers, we need to first look within. For women and other underrepresented groups, there are numerous high hurdles to overcome in order to advance in our professional lives and maximize our impact.

Once we address the Uber Hurdle—the foundational hurdle, also referred to as our Inner Critic—we will be able to more confidently address the others.

Understanding our Inner Critic is a critical first step. Shannon Bayer, Principal Consultant at Linkage, a SHRM Company, is an expert on how to identify and coach your “Inner Critic” and take meaningful steps on your leadership journey. Shannon will appear as a keynote speaker at the 2023 Women in Leadership Institute™.

Last year, Shannon hosted a webinar on the Inner Critic with Emmy Award–winning journalist Marilu Galvez, a three-time attendee of the Women in Leadership Institute, who will also appear at the 2023 Institute on the “Intersectionality & Advancement in the Workplace” panel.

While the process of coaching your Inner Critic is always evolving, when you are equipped with the tools to understand and address your Inner Critic, you will be one step closer to mastering this high hurdle to advancement in the workplace.

Why Is It So Important to Master Your Inner Critic?

Every woman is unique, but there is a commonality that extends across the majority of women in the workplace—the confidence gap. And now, after the health pandemic and the resulting global economic situation, the confidence of women leaders is impacted more than ever. Often, women’s jobs are more vulnerable, and during the pandemic, burnout and unemployment rates were higher for women than men. These detrimental effects on confidence, and our ability to demonstrate it effectively, can negatively affect our ability to advance in the workplace. One thing that helps women’s confidence, shares Shannon, is mastering our Inner Critic.

Understanding Your Inner Critic

We all have an Inner Critic—and you may already be aware of your own. Your Inner Critic is essentially an inner voice that is often not positive, and it creates a pattern of destructive thoughts toward ourselves and others.

Above all, our Inner Critic assaults our sense of self-worth and our sense of the worthiness of others. It’s a voice of disgust that tells us and those around us we are not good enough. The essence of the Inner Critic is harshness.

Key Takeaway 1: Mastering Your Inner Critic Is an Ongoing Process

Mastering your Inner Critic is a challenging, ongoing process. Once we understand our Inner Critic and how it affects us in our personal and professional lives, we can explore ways in which we can stay out of this judgment zone.

We all have days or moments where we are judgmental of ourselves or judgmental of others. The goal is to recognize our Inner Critic during those situations and to bring ourselves back to our Compassionate Center.

“It is about balance. It takes time to practice this muscle AND build it,” reiterates Shannon.

In the environment in which women currently operate, it is imperative that we have control over how we see ourselves and how we interact with others. Becoming aware of—and evaluating—our Inner Critic will help us move from a reactive state to a proactive state.

Key Takeaway 2: Four Practices for Coaching Your Inner Critic

Shannon described the importance of putting structure to your Inner Critic by identifying when you are criticizing yourself (“one-down”), when you are criticizing others (“one-up”), and when you are at your Compassionate Center.

Both one-up and one-down have a negative impact. The reality is both cause pain. If your self-talk is negative or gets in the way of you pursuing your interests and goals, you are causing yourself pain. If you are causing others to feel your treatment of them is unfair, you are not only causing them pain, but you are also creating a negative brand for yourself and preventing people from fully engaging with you.

What can you do when you find yourself in either end of the judgment zone? Shannon recommends the following four practices for coaching your Inner Critic:

  • Become Aware – Notice your Inner Critic.
  • Push Pause – Stop the impact.
  • Be Compassionate – Be kind to yourself and others.
  • Get Curious – Ask yourself, “What’s going on here?”

While each of these practices is simple in concept, they are more challenging to implement. They take practice and get easier with time. The goal is to return to your Compassionate Center—where you are worthy and able to fully realize your potential.

“After all these years, I get back to center faster, but I still have to manage one-up and one-down, every day,” says Shannon. “Coaching our Inner Critic is the foundation to empowering us to overcome many things. It begins NOW! You will never have more power than now, just in knowing, having the language to use, and understanding how to coach your Inner Critic. It is the journey, not the destination we will learn from.”

Remember, what you think and feel drives what you say and do.

Key Takeaway 3: Master Your Inner Critic, Then Conquer the Seven High Hurdles to Advancement

The work doesn’t stop here. Now that we understand what our Inner Critic is, how it affects us in our personal and professional lives, and the steps we can take to return to our Compassionate Center, we can apply what we learned to the other hurdles to advancement in the workplace.

During the webinar, Shannon identified these seven hurdles to advancement and included key questions we can ask ourselves to understand how we can begin to overcome them:

  • Bias – How is my internalized bias affecting me?
  • Clarity – How can I get clear about who I am and what I want?
  • Proving Your Value – How can I move beyond doing it all? How can I prove my value as a leader by equipping and empowering others?
  • Recognized Confidence – How can others see me as a bold leader who is willing to take risks?
  • Branding & Presence – How can I claim and demonstrate my unique superpowers?
  • Making the Ask – How should I ask for what I want?
  • Networking – How can I build and leverage relationships?

Though some of these hurdles may seem insurmountable, once you take a step back, reassess your Inner Critic, and find your Compassionate Center, they will become more attainable.

The Big Takeaway

Mastering your Inner Critic is an ongoing process. Understanding what it is and how you can begin conquering it is a great first step. The real challenge remains in the process of recognizing your Inner Critic and practicing the tips provided by Shannon to return to your Compassionate Center whenever you find yourself in the judgment zone. Remember, you are more than you give yourself credit for and you already have the power to master your Inner Critic.

The Women in Leadership Institute™ (WIL) is a four-day learning experience designed to equip women leaders with actionable strategies to overcome the hurdles women often face in the workplace. Shannon Bayer returns to the main stage at the Institute this November 13–16, 2023! Get your ticket.

Dark haired woman watches from audience of conference event

Women in Leadership Institute

NOV. 13–16, 2023 | Orlando, Florida, or Virtual
A 4-day immersive learning experience designed to equip women leaders with actionable strategies to overcome the hurdles women often face in the workplace.

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