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Home » Kate Webster on Quiet Power at TEDxIIT (Full Transcript)

Kate Webster on Quiet Power at TEDxIIT (Full Transcript)

Full transcript of Breaking Thru Barriers Founder Kate Webster’s TEDx Talk on Quiet Power at TEDxIIT conference.


Notable quote from the talk: 

“It really broke. And it was a transformative moment. My passive fears didn’t work. My aggressive power didn’t work either, and it’s how I hurt myself. What worked was my Quiet Power.”


Kate Webster – Founder, Breaking Thru Barriers

Twenty years ago, I had lived with lingering doubts whether I was good enough. By winning your constant acceptance and approval, I defined my sense of self.

But it never felt authentic, and I lost my voice.

One day this board showed me a different way. How to find my Quiet Power and, eventually, my voice.

Some of you may have also struggled to find your voice, especially in dealing with difficult people and discussions. Quiet Power can show you a different way to find your voice, to speak up, but also to change the way you communicate and change your world.

So, what happened that day when I met this board?

I found my Quiet Power. I was a newly-minted self-defense instructor at my first instructors’ conference, and I was so excited to learn new techniques and to network.

Then, I found out that the final event was board breaking, and I had so many fears. Fears about what you were going to think about me. I feared that I was going to look ridiculous, I was going to hurt myself, and I was going to fail.

So I did what I did best, and I looked to the outside for answers and was told I needed to use my strongest technique. And they said, for me that was my front snap kick, using the ball of my foot and a strong snapping action of my leg.

I was so fearful, but I just had to practice, and I thought it meant taking on an aggressive stance, mindset and kick. I didn’t know any other way, and I wanted to make sure I succeeded.

The moment arrived, I faced my board.

Thwack! It didn’t break. I looked ridiculous. I had to try again. Thwack! It didn’t break again.

Now the ball of my foot started to hurt, and I was sure everyone was laughing at me.

One more time. Thwack! It didn’t break, I had failed, and all my fears had come true.

Just as I was about to give up, I looked up beyond the board, and a colleague of mine raised her hand and pointed to the soft, fleshy part, just below the pinkie above the wrist. And I couldn’t believe she was encouraging me to break the board with a much less powerful technique. But I had nothing left to lose.

So I faced the board one last time. I took a deep breath in, and on the exhalation, my shoulders relaxed, I started to believe in myself, connect mind and body, and without further thinking – thwack! The board broke.

It really broke. And it was a transformative moment. My passive fears didn’t work. My aggressive power didn’t work either, and it’s how I hurt myself. What worked was my Quiet Power.

When I believed in myself, connected mind and body, I broke the board effortlessly, and I found my Quiet Power. Since then, I’ve discovered that Quiet Power can be used by all of us, in all areas of our lives, to speak up for ourselves.

But it’s not easy, because we disconnect from Quiet Power. I know because I did just recently.

When I was accepted to give this TED Talk, I received a wide variety of opinions on how to give the best speech possible. And many were worried about whether or not I should show my tattoos. I began to worry too; I lost my voice; I disconnected from Quiet Power, wondering what people watching were going to think of me.

But when I remembered what the speech is about, that quite power is believing in yourself, connecting mind and body and speaking authentically, I realized I didn’t need to cover up my tattoos any more – or anything else, for that matter.

And I could be a living, breathing embodiment of Quiet Power on this stage.

What barriers do you have that cause you to disconnect from Quiet Power?

For me, they were my lingering doubts whether I was good enough. But on the outside, I didn’t look like I had those doubts. I have a Bachelor’s from Harvard University, but I never felt smart enough. I have a PhD from the University of Chicago, but I never felt theoretical enough.

And I have a third degree black belt in karate, but I never felt strong enough.

So, to mask these doubts I created an outside world that was strong on the outside. Strong in my mind, teaching at the university, and strong in my body, teaching self-defense.

But I kept those two worlds separate so that I could take on an aggressive power in each one of them and make sure I fit in. It didn’t work. Didn’t feel authentic.

And that is how I lost my voice. I remember trying to feel theoretical enough at the University of Chicago. And I thought I had to take on their aggressive hegemonic discourse way of speaking.

But when I found out that hegemonic discourse means one worldview that pushes out all other world views, it didn’t feel authentic. It didn’t match my grassroots perspective.

And once I started to believe in my perspective, I started to feel good enough in academia. Likewise, in my martial arts, to feel strong enough, I thought I had to take on an aggressive form of sparring.

But when I found out that for some that meant to take advantage of your opponent’s weaknesses in order to win the fight, that didn’t feel authentic to me. It didn’t match my way of seeing sparring as a dance between two people where you learn and challenge one another.

And it’s not about winning or losing. And once I started to believe in that dance, I started to feel strong enough in my martial arts.

Over time, I deepened my belief in the world of my mind and my belief in the world of my body. And I started to fuse those two worlds together. And as I did that, I saw that so many other people in both those worlds also struggled to speak up for themselves.

My students at the university, they would write strong, insightful research papers, yet when they came up to present their research findings, they lost all conviction in their points.

Likewise, my students in self-defense, they loved learning a palm hand strike or a roundhouse elbow to physically take out an attacker. But when they had to use their voice to verbally defend themselves, they lost the words and any kind of conviction.

I wondered: Why was it that we can be so competent in our lives yet struggle to speak up for ourselves?

To find answers, I looked to the research on communication strategies. Each one of us communicates with a wide variety of people every day. And for the most part, those conversations go smoothly.

But what happens when they don’t? You may have felt the hurt of when a friend makes a snide remark about something you’re wearing, or the embarrassment when the boss yells at you in front of your colleagues.

Or what about the difficulty saying no to a young child begging for that latest toy, game or gadget.

In these conversations, our emotions are strong and our fears crop up, and we go to either end of the communication spectrum. We either passively keep quiet, and we appear weak, small and timid, and we disrespect ourselves because we don’t articulate our needs.

Or on this side, we aggressively overreact. And we’re bold, brash and bigger than life, but we disrespect others because we invade their space.

Then, there’s another communication style some of you might be familiar with – passive-aggressive where we say one thing, but mean another. For example, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.” Here, we disrespect ourselves and others.

The last communication style is assertive, where you believe in yourself, you connect mind and body, you use strong words, clear, direct words, with a strong body language to say what you mean and mean what you say, and communicate effectively.

However, in our society, the one who speaks up the most boldly and aggressively typically wins and earns all the respect. It’s confusing, though.

Because if a woman speaks up, she’s not called bold, she’s called another b-word Bossy, right? But for men or women, if you don’t speak up, you’re called a doormat.

So, how do we find that balance? And why is it that we can be so competent in our lives and struggle to find that balance?

In all the research that I read, something was missing. And what was missing was Quiet Power. When you believe in yourself, connect mind and body, you match your temperament to the situation at hand, and you’re able to speak up and move the conversation forward. And you change the way you communicate so you can change your world.

There are three key skills in using Quiet Power to speak up for yourself.

The first is to flip the script. When you flip the script, you use positive words to push out negative ones. As a result, you don’t have those negative messages in your head.

We all have them. Remember mine? I was going to look ridiculous; I was going to hurt myself; I was going to fail. And it’s what we do with those messages that either minimize or expand our belief in ourselves.

One key tool is positive affirmations. And what I did is I would take an affirmation, put it on a Post-it note, and then put them up around my bathroom mirror so I could see them every day.

And the ones that worked the best for me were “I’m good enough,” “I have a lot to offer” and “I am bold, brave and beautiful.”

So imagine seeing those every day. It was wonderful to help flip the script. One evening, I had a dinner party, and I forgot that I had those messages around my bathroom mirror. So a friend came out of the bathroom, and she was like, “I am bold, brave and beautiful. Kate, what is up with all those messages around your mirror? You seem so confident on the outside.”

And I chuckled and said, “I am confident on the outside because those messages help me feel confident on the inside.”

So your action step is to find some positive affirmations that work for you, put them around your mirror. Or if you don’t want anyone to see them, put them on your screen-saver or on your smartphone, and begin to flip the script on negative messages and deepen your belief in yourself.

The second key skill in using Quiet Power to speak up for yourself is to say what you mean. When you say what you mean, you use clear, direct words to express your thoughts, feelings and opinions.

However, when feelings are strong and fears crop up, it’s hard to find those words. I had a student at the university present her research findings on gender inequality in middle schools, and she made the following points: “Teachers kind of treat boys differently than girls, in the classroom. They call on boys more often than girls, don’t they? I’m sorry. I know they work hard, but they shouldn’t do this.”

You can hear the lack of conviction in her words. And when I shared with her, afterwards, that she uses verbal diminishers to minimize the power of what she’s saying – short words or phrases: just, like, kind of, sort of, questioning tones, questioning tags at the end of your sentences, or unnecessary apologies – when I shared those with her, she was so surprised, and she instantly said, “Doctor Webster, I’m so sorry I did that – wait, I just apologized again. This is going to be hard.” And she’s right: it is hard.

It’s hard because these verbal diminishers are so normative in our speech patterns. So your action step is to first become aware of when you say them. And you might want a friend or maybe a loved one to help you notice when you say them. And then eventually, you’ll be able to remove them from your words, from your sentences, and say what you mean.

The last key skill is to mean what you say. When you mean what you say, you use strong, expansive body language connected to clear, direct words to communicate effectively and with confidence. One key tool is a five-point stance. We have five points on our body: our forehead, our two shoulders, and our two hips.

And when we stand with these outward to the world, it’s a strong stance of empowerment. Not power over somebody else, but empowerment for yourself on the inside.

However, when emotions are strong and fears crop up, we physically diminish some of our points. For myself, when I was, many years ago, struggling to find my voice, I had difficulty speaking up in front of authority figures, such as a boss or a professor. For example, “I’m sorry, I have a question to ask.” Not only have I used an unnecessary apology, but I diminished my shoulder, my hip and even my head. I’ve diminished three points.

Instead: “I have a question to ask.” I’m sure you feel a lot more confident in what I’m trying to say, and I feel more confident on the inside, or at least, it starts to build that confidence on the inside.

My action step for you today is to become more aware of when you use your five points, and when you diminish them. Is it with certain people? Certain times of the day, certain places, certain situations? Any by putting your five points out, sometimes you might want to take on your Wonder-Woman five points if it’s a particularly difficult conversation. Either way, you choose, and you begin to mean what you say.

So, what happens when that good friend makes a snide remark about something that you’re wearing? Or your boss yells at you in front of your colleagues? Or that young child begs and pleads for the latest toy, game or gadget?

Well, the good news is that with Quiet Power, you get to choose. You need to believe in yourself, connect mind and body, match your temperament to the situation at hand and communicate effectively and authentically so that you can change the way you communicate and change your world.

This board, this very board is still not broken, and there is a small part of me that fears – Maybe I’m going to look ridiculous? Maybe I’m going to hurt myself? Maybe I’m going to fail?

And I want to take on aggressive power just to make sure that I succeed. However, today, I have my Quiet Power. I no longer need to worry about what other people think about me. I can uncover my tattoos. I can use a seemingly less powerful technique and step into a power that feels authentic.

And break this board.


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